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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | santa cruz county

Let's Get Real (Response To Ellen Pirie's opinion piece in the Mid-County Post)

Let's get real

by Debbie Bulger, Sierra Club, Santa Cruz County Group Transportation Committee

Last issue Supervisor Ellen Pirie wrote in favor of the sales tax for widening Highway 1. We oppose this tax. (Measure J).

We agree that Highway 1 is congested during commute hours. However, the proposed sales tax (approximately $5,000 for every household in the county) is not only bad for the environment, it will NOT relieve the gridlock. And the proposed tax would last for 30 years-long beyond any short-lived benefit gained from this largest construction project ever proposed in our county.

Transportation experts agree: You cannot build yourself out of congestion. To believe this is wishful thinking. Wishing congestion would go away will not make it happen. To go into debt for 30 years and not fix the problem is fiscally irresponsible.

The hard, cold truth is that building another lane will just enable more people to sit in traffic. It's not what we want to hear, but it is the truth that most politicians do not have the courage to tell their constituents. We all want to believe in miracles.

More delay

Pirie's claim of reducing travel time by a factor of two is based on internally inconsistent information in the Caltrans Route 1 Project Study which for some reason claims remarkable (some would say unbelievable) improvement for the southbound segment between State Park Drive and Larkin Valley Drive. The same study shows that travel times will actually get longer for all northbound traffic with widening.

More pollution

The Modern Transit Society has documented that carpool lanes actually increase pollution, not decrease it. By adding two more lanes to Highway 1, more noxious exhaust fumes will spew out of tailpipes, and we will be making an even greater contribution to Global Warming. Increased particulate matter could harm the lungs of anyone downwind.

Noise pollution will greatly increase.

More cost

Instead of being a balanced plan as proponents claim, Measure J gives highway widening precedence over every other project. Other transportation programs are already being cut to raise money for widening Highway 1.

We think widening Highway 1 would not only use the $363 million currently estimated, but will also eat up the money designated for local road repair, the coastal bike trail, the Pajaro rail station and senior and disabled transit. The real costs of the widening are unknown because the engineering designs and EIR will not be completed for at least three years.

Estimates have essentially doubled since 2001. How much do you think the cost will rise before construction begins?

Public Safety

We can improve police, firefighter and ambulance access faster and cheaper by using techniques learned on Highway 17 and by investigating dedicated bus/emergency-vehicle lanes, possibly on improved highway shoulders.

A better way

The Sierra Club supports programs like the one Texas Instruments implemented here in 2000 which eliminated 16,000 commute trips for their employees by rewarding workers who did not drive alone.

We support transportation systems that minimize impacts on the environment and minimizes consumption of limited resources. The county's own Regional Transportation Plan envisions lots of choices such as an improved bus system, rail, bikeways, and ferries.

We could buy the rail corridor and use it for bus rapid transit, a bikeway, personal rapid transit, and/or rail.

It does not make sense for a coastal county to tax itself for a project that would accelerate climate change. We need lots of transportation choices. By expanding transit options instead of relying only on the highway, we could both reduce carbon emissions and move more people more efficiently.

Widening Highway 1 won't eliminate congestion. Let's pursue smarter transportation projects that are kinder to the environment. See for more information.

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