Let's Get Real (Response To Ellen Pirie's opinion piece in the Mid-County
Let's get real
by Debbie Bulger, Sierra Club, Santa Cruz County Group Transportation
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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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