Widen Highway 1 or invest in alternatives?
What’s your highest priority?
Despite a State mandate to lower greenhouse gas emissions and at a time when the Gulf Coast is being smothered in oil, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC) is driving hard to begin construction on yet another segment of a wider Highway 1. The current project is the one-mile stretch between Morrissey Boulevard and Soquel Avenue.
Widening Highway 1 continues to be the highest priority for the Regional Transportation Commission, to the detriment of more sustainable transportation choices such as developing the rail corridor, improving transit, and building bikeways and sidewalks. The estimated cost for creating the envisioned eight-lane highway from Santa Cruz to Larkin Valley Road is $640 million.
An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is required for this nine-mile highway project, which would add new part-time carpool lanes and new exit-to-exit auxiliary lanes. But the SCCRTC and Caltrans plan to begin building the Morrissey to Soquel Avenue auxiliary lanes segment without the EIR. They have self-approved a minor environmental study that does not meet EIR standards and only looks narrowly at the current one-mile segment. The minor study does not examine the big picture of impacts of the full widening project, such as induced traffic and increased greenhouse gas emissions, nor does it examine environmentally superior alternatives.
The Sierra Club and the Campaign for Sensible Transportation believe proceeding this way is illegal under CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act. The Campaign for Sensible Transportation is currently suing Caltrans to include the segment in the EIR for the whole project. Until the EIR is complete, there will be no data on whether widening the highway would produce more greenhouse gas emissions than other alternatives.
The Sierra Club believes that the Regional Transportation Commission is not investing adequate resources in alternatives to the 1950s auto-centric model of highway widening. Placing the highest priority on sustainable transportation choices instead of on highway widening would enable people to get around with less driving.
Instead of widening the highway, more resources should be invested in Transportation Demand Management programs which can reduce automobile trips. Such programs offer incentives not to drive and not to drive alone, and include free or low- cost bus passes, discount parking for carpools, vanpools, bike shuttles, emergency rides home, car sharing, and infrastructure projects which make it easier and safer to walk and bike. As an example, if there were more pedestrian and bicycle bridges across Highway 1, fewer people would drive if their destination were nearby but on the other side of the highway. If there were a bicycle trail along the rail corridor as there is in many other cities in the United States, many more people would travel by bicycle than do now. Many cities have both bike trails and passenger trains side by side on their rail corridors.
Providing safe ways for children to walk and bike to school can dramatically decrease the number of car trips to school. Designing and building mixed-use projects, including affordable housing, enable people to live near worksites and stores instead of having to drive to work and shopping. Providing more low-impact travel choices is the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
California Climate Action Goals call for reducing greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. According to the City of Santa Cruz Climate Action Coordinator, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have increased 13% in Santa Cruz from 1996 to 2008 instead of decreasing. To achieve the 2020 goal, emissions would have to drop 38%.
The way to decrease transportation emissions is to prioritize and invest in more efficient modes of travel. This means more than cleaner burning cars. It also will require less individual car use and more sustainable transportation choices for people.
How to help
• Contact your Santa Cruz County Supervisor (all are members of the SCCRTC) and tell them to make sustainable transportation the highest priority for the Regional Transportation Commission.
• Offer to host a fundraising coffee at your house where a member of the Campaign for Sensible Transportation would present a slide show.
• Contact Paul Elerick, 688-2304, or visit sensibletransportation.org for more information or to make a donation.