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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus

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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | santa cruz county

Local organization sues Caltrans over Highway 1 widening

February 2010
Sand City Dunes
If the Soquel/Morrissey Project were built, all the trees and shrubs visible in the photo would be removed, to be replaced by walls of concrete..
Photo Google Earth

The Campaign for Sensible Transportation, a Santa Cruz based coalition, filed suit in October against Caltrans. The basis for the suit is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) which prohibits breaking up a larger project into pieces without adequate environmental analysis.

The Sierra Club, while not a party to the suit, is a member of the coalition. The Club’s National Transportation Policy opposes widening highways and states that carpool lanes (HOV lanes) should come from converting existing highway lanes rather than from new construction.

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission has had widening of Highway 1 as its top priority for a number of years despite the resounding defeat of the Measure J sales tax in 2004 which would have generated over $350 million for the project. The Commission is currently in the process of producing an Environmental Impact Report for widening nine miles of Highway 1 to eight lanes between Morrissey and San Andreas Road including a carpool lane in each direction. This report has not yet been issued and to date has cost over $11 million.

Tired of waiting, the Regional Transportation Commission has begun widening Highway 1 in increments. The first of these projects, called the Merge Lanes Project, added lanes between Highway 17 and Morrissey. It has been completed except for landscaping.

The second project continues the serial widening south and would add lanes between Morrissey and Soquel for a cost of $22 million. Caltrans issued a Negative Declaration for this segment, stating that the project would have no significant environmental impact. The analysis claimed this segment had “independent utility” and did not have to wait for the full environmental impact study for the larger project.

At this point, The Campaign for Sensible Transportation felt it had no recourse except to sue. The lawsuit requests that the Soquel/Morrissey Project be folded into the larger HOV widening environmental study so a complete evaluation of the greenhouse gas emissions, visual and biological impacts, and full consideration of alternatives could be made.

A key component of the Soquel/Morrissey Project involves the reconstruction and lengthening of the La Fonda Avenue Bridge across Highway 1 so as to accommodate the full eight lanes that are envisioned in the HOV Lane Widening Project. The accompanying photograph shows that bridge as it currently exists. If the Soquel/Morrissey Project were built, all the trees and shrubs visible in the photo would be removed, to be replaced by walls of concrete.

To reduce traffic congestion, the Sierra Club advocates the most energy- and land- conserving and least polluting solutions including better bicycle and rail connections and transportation demand management. Numerous studies have shown that widening roads does not work and relieves congestion for only a short time. Other strategies which have been shown to work, such as ramp metering and congestion pricing, are not part of the widening project.

Campaign members are working to raise community awareness and contributions for the lawsuit. To learn more visit

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