Highway 1 Corridor Investment Program
The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC), in cooperation with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), is analyzing alternative investments to relieve congestion on State Route (Highway) 1 in Santa Cruz County. For purposes of environmental analysis, the project is divided into two components:
- Tier I – A long term, program level analysis for the future of the Highway 1 corridor between Santa Cruz and Aptos. The Tier I concept for the corridor would be built over time through a series of smaller incremental projects (referred to as Tier II projects).
- Tier II – Project level analysis of a smaller incremental project within the Tier I corridor which would move forward based on available funding. Each of the Ties II projects would have independent utility and benefit to the public and Highway 1 operations.
The first Tier II project currently under review are north and southbound auxiliary lanes between 41st Avenue and Soquel Drive and a pedestrian/bicycle overcrossing of Highway 1 at Chanticleer Avenue. Preliminary design and environmental analysis will begin on a second Tier II project in Fall 2016 for the construction of a pedestrian/bicycle overcrossing of Highway 1 at Mar Vista Drive in Aptos. This project will have a separate environmental document for public review and comment latter in 2017.
Environmental Document and Open Forum Public Hearing
The combined Tier I/Tier II Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment (DEIR/EA) were released to the public was released for public review and comment in November 4, 2015, through January 25, 2016. Caltrans received a total of 263 letters, emails, and recorded comments from individuals, organizations, and public agencies on the draft environmental document. This correspondence generated over 900 separate comments for which responses are required as part of the final environmental document.
In review of the comments received, the project team has identified a need to update the air quality, natural environment, traffic operations studies, and reporting of the cumulative impacts of the project alternatives. Update of these studies is required due to changes in regulatory guidelines and requirements, and to properly respond to the comments received on the draft document and technical studies.
The hard copies of the Draft EIR/EA are available in archive at the following libraries: Aptos, Capitola, Central Library, Live Oak, Scotts Valley, and Watsonville. Copies are also available for viewing at the RTC’s Office; 1523 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, 95060, and available online here.
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Purpose and Need for the Project
The Highway 1 Corridor Investment Program is a planning and funding program focused on the section of Highway 1 between San Andreas/Larkin Valley Road and Morrissey Boulevard. The long term concept of the Tier I project is to reduce congestion, promote the use of alternative transportation modes as a way to increase transportation system capacity, and to encourage carpooling and ridesharing.
The goal of the Highway 1 Corridor Investment Program is to address several different needs in the existing transportation system:
- Bottlenecks along Highway 1 in both the southbound and northbound direction that cause congestion on a regular basis during peak travel periods.
- Travel time delays that are experienced by commuters, commerce, visitors, and emergency vehicles at various times of the day.
- “Cut-through” traffic, or traffic on local streets, that occurs and is increasing because drivers seek to avoid congestion on the highway in search of “short-cuts”.
- Limited opportunities for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross Highway 1 within the project corridor.
- Recognize the limited funding available from state and federal sources and to be prepared to compete for discretionary funding opporunities when it periodically occurs at the state or federal level.
Preliminary Design/Environmental Analysis
The environmental evaluation of the Corridor Investment Program is referred to as the Highway 1 Tier I/Tier II Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment (DEIR/EA) and meets both state and federal environmental requirements.
The Tiered approach to the project represents a significant shift from the earlier plan to seek construction of the entire project at one time. This shift was necessitated by both the lack of state and federal funding, and the cost estimates of the full project- well beyond what could be generated locally and dedicated to the highway corridor. The current plan allows for a balanced approach to address the range of needs in the county; including local street and road maintenance and repair, school traffic safety projects, bus service and elderly/disabled transportation, pedestrian, and bicycle projects, and preservation of the rail corridor.
Three scenarios are being evaluated as part of the Tier I program level environmental analysis to identify the long term vision for the Corridor:
- The High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lane Alternative – adds a bus and carpool lane in both the north and south bound direction for the nine mile corridor; includes auxiliary lanes (connecting on-ramps with the next off-ramps) between most interchanges and metering lights on the on-ramps
- The Transportation System Management (TSM) Alternative – includes auxiliary lanes (connecting on-ramps with the next off-ramps) between most interchanges and metering lights on the on-ramps
- The No Build Alternative
The No Build project alternative forecasts future conditions along the corridor in the event no capacity or significant operational improvements are made to the highway. The No Build baseline condition of the corridor is then compared with the two project build (the HOV and TSM) alternatives to identify both adverse and beneficial impacts along the Highway 1 Corridor.
Traffic performance measures of the respective project alternative during baseline conditions (when the environmental studies began in 2003) and future year 2035 projections are shown for the respective period directions:
- Northbound morning peak period from 6:00 AM to 12:00 PM (Noon); and,
- Southbound direction in the afternoon/evening peak period from 2:00 PM to 8:00 PM
The Tier I project scenario chosen as the long term corridor concept will be implemented as funding allows, through smaller Tier II projects of independent utility and benefit to the public and Highway 1 operations.
The current Tier II project under environmental review includes north and southbound auxiliary lanes between 41st Avenue and Soquel Drive and a bike/pedestrian overcrossing of Highway 1 at Chanticleer Avenue. This project is compatible with either of the Tier I project build alternative (the HOV and TSM project alternatives). Construction of this project could begin as early as Fiscal Year 2019-2020, depending on funding availability.
Future Tier II projects will be subject to separate project level environmental analysis as part of the project development process and will be consistent with the long term (Tier I) vision chosen for the Highway 1 Corridor.
The prioritization of Tier I improvements or project phasing will be performed separately for the auxiliary lane and interchange improvements based on their potential to relieve congestion and minimize traffic hot spots along the corridor. As currently planned, following are the primary elements of the phased improvements under a limited funding scenario:
- Construct auxiliary lanes and bike/pedestrian overcrossings in phases, including replacement of the Capitola Avenue, Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, and Aptos Creek Bridges. Projects in the highway to accommodate auxiliary lanes would be completed consistent with the long term Tier I vision chosen for the corridor. After the 41st Ave – Soquel Dr Auxiliary Lane project, the next Tier II projects would likely be auxiliary lane projects between Park Ave – Bay/Porter, and State Park – Park Ave.
- Construct full or partial interchange improvements consistent with the long term vision for the corridor, including widening of local roadways, and ramps to accommodate future ramp metering.
- Construct new median HOV lanes if the Tier I HOV Lane Alternative is selected for the long term vision of the corridor.
The improvements listed above are prioritized based on traffic operational conditions and the timetable will be determined primarily by available funding.
Construction Cost Estimates
Tier I Corridor Alternatives
Planning level construction estimates (including all project development costs and right-of-way) for the Tier I Corridor Alternatives are $600 million for the HOV Lanes Alternative and $250 million for the TSM Alternative (in 2015$). Typically, project development costs (environmental documentation, final design engineering, right-of-way administration, construction management, program oversight, public outreach and contingencies) range from 40 to 50 percent of the estimated construction cost.
Tier II Auxiliary Lane Alternative
The preliminary construction cost estimate (excluding project development work) for the Tier II 41st Ave/Soquel Dr Auxiliary Lane and Chanticleer Ave pedestrian/bicycle overcrossing is $18 million, which includes nearly $1.5 million for right-of-way and utility relocation. Construction of the Tier II project between 41st Avenue and Soquel Drive could begin as early as Fiscal Year 2019-2020, subject to the availability of funds for project development (including final design, right-of-way, project management, oversight, public outreach and contingency) and construction for a combined total estimated cost of $29 million.
Existing and projected future state and federal transportation revenues are insufficient to fully fund the Tier I Highway 1 Corridor project as a single project as the cost estimate for HOV alternative Tier 1 project is $600m, about $100m over the amount that would be raised by a half-cent sales tax over 30 years even if all revenues were dedicated to this project. The tiered approach to environmental analysis provides options to make incremental improvements to the most heavily traveled corridor in the county, Highway 1.
- 41st Ave – Soquel Dr Auxiliary Lanes and Chanticleer Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge: $4 million is available for design and right-of-way from State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). An additional $2 million in STIP funds have been reserved for the construction phase. Total project development and construction costs are estimated to be $29 million
- Highway 1 Mar Vista Pedestrian/Bicycle Overcrossing: $7.5 million has been programmed in STIP and Regional Surface Transportation Program (RSTP) funds. Preliminary design/environmental analysis will get underway on this project in Fall 2016.
Potential Future Funding
Projecting future transportation funding is very difficult given uncertainties associated with state and federal legislation and economic conditions. Following is a summary of potential funding sources.
- Local Sales Tax: A transportation sales tax measure has been placed on the November 2016 ballot which includes five categories of transportation projects, one of them for highways. The ½ cent sales tax would generate approximately $17 million annually allocated to projects throughout the county in the Transportation Improvement Plan. The Highways Corridors category would receive 25% of the funds which would total approximately $125million over 30 years. Highway 1 projects include three (of the five auxiliary lanes in the Transportation Systems Management (TSM) alternative of the Tier 1 and likely none of the ramp meters), two bicycle/pedestrian overcrossings and other demand and safety programs not included in the Tier 1 or 2 projects, including the Freeway Service Patrol and Carpool/Vanpool Programs.
- California State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP): Made up primarily of revenues from the sale of gasoline, are generally considered most appropriate for larger regional projects. Historically, this source of revenue has provided between $3 million to $5 million per year for projects in Santa Cruz County. Due to the recent drop in the state gas tax, no new funds are currently anticipated until approximately June 2022.
- Regional Surface Transportation Program (RSTP): Approximately $2.5 million to $3 million annually for projects in Santa Cruz County. This funding source is dependent on federal transportation appropriations.
- Other Local Revenue Generating Mechanisms: A vehicle registration fee or traffic impact fees could be considered in the future to provide funding for Highway 1 and other projects in the county, however both of these fees raise relatively small amounts of funds.
- Other State and Federal Funding Sources: State or federal infrastructure investment programs or bond measures, road user fees, and special grants. From time to time, opportunities arise to fund projects that are essentially “one-time” events. California’s Proposition 1B Corridor Mobility Program, passed in 2006, provided funding for transportation projects statewide, including $13.8 million for the construction of the Highway 1 Soquel/Morrissey Auxiliary Lanes Project completed in December 2013. Another example includes federal sources such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which provided more than $12 million for transportation projects in Santa Cruz County. These projects were able to move forward because they were closer to being “shovel ready” and were in a position to meet state and federal funding requirements.
Senior Transportation Planner