Trees will start to come down next week along Highway 1 in Santa Cruz and actual construction will start in March, but the real headaches in widening each direction of the freeway to three lanes between Morrissey Boulevard and Soquel Drive won't start until June.
That was the take-away from a kick-off meeting about the transportation project held Thursday.
Starting around June 15, Highway 1 will be entirely shutdown at night in that area for 7-10 days while CalTrans crews tear down the overpass to fit the newly-widened road.
Regional Transportation Commission officials said this will be the only closure during the 15-month project to add a third lane to both the north and southbound directions.
“There will probably be a period of hours when that will happen at night,” said RTC Chairperson Kirby Nichol. “We are very sensitive to people that need to go to school, to work and to the hospital.”
The 50 or so attendees at the “project kick-off” meeting at DeLaveaga Elementary School in Santa Cruz on Thursday asked several questions that stumped RTC officials, such as how students would get to schools with the bridge closed and how people on one side of the freeway would catch buses on the other.
The La Fonda bridge rebuild was the biggest concern for many residents. That part of the project will take between six and eight months with construction beginning sometime in June after nearby schools are on summer vacation. This will, however, affect Harbor High School and DeLaveaga Elementary students this fall who cross the bridge to go to class.
“Have you thought about alternative routes and the number of shuttles [you will provide] for students to take next winter when the La Fonda bridge is down?” asked DeLaveaga Principal Ruth Smith.
Some people complained that what is now an eight-minute walk to get to a bus or to the school would be a half an hour walk to cross at Morrissey.
RTC Project Manager Kim Shultz said that they don't have a set plan for the number of shuttles or the routes they will travel, and will be studying that over the next month.
Residents in the Prospect Heights area who need to catch the bus on Soquel Avenue asked if those shuttles could be made available to them. Shultz said he will look into that possibility.
Traffic flowing off the freeway into neighborhoods is already a problem with the freeway as it is, residents said. Some asked if there was a plan to deal with intensification as people get off the freeway to escape the lower speed limits in the construction zone. RTC Executive Director George Dondero said that “cut through traffic” has always been a problem, but hopes people will stay on the freeway and “obey the lower speed limits.”
Email and notifications to the press will be used to alert the public of partial or complete shutdowns, they said.
Many in the meeting were concerned about plans to cut down about 200 trees and its effects on wildlife. The transportation officials said the trees would be replaced three times over, with 600 native California trees replacing foreign eucalyptus and acacia.
Officials will begin clearing trees out next week before birds build nests in them.
“One part we are very proud of is the plant list," said Shultz. "Over 150 coast redwoods will be planted along this section.”
As with any proposed change in Santa Cruz, there were three people outside the meeting protesting the widening. Santa Cruz High School student and People Power activist Zoe Altenberg was outside burning photo copies of $5 bills to make her statement that the $18 million highway widening is “a massive waste of money.”
She was joined by attorney Jim Danaher of Live Oak who said that most of the traffic is caused by the 26,000 people who commute to work on Highway 17.
“I am not opposed to people having that lifestyle, but for all of them to drive over there by themselves is incredibly wasteful,” said Danaher. “I would like to see more buses and carpooling networks.”
How will you handle the road closure? What can they do to make it better? Tell us in the comments!