By April Short

It’s been called one of the most dangerous highways in the state, and the City of Santa Cruz intends to change that.

Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission has teamed up with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the Federal Highway Administration to work on improving the State Route 1/17 Interchange. Congestion and collision are the key factors that will be addressed by the city’s Merge Lanes and Highway Lanes Widening projects.

“I think [the construction project] is actually very necessary because when I come home, it‘s usually bumper to bumper traffic going past the fishhook,” said Tony Armor, a local contractor who frequently takes Highway 17 to get to work in the Silicon Valley. “It’s always been a problem. I think it’s because there are just not enough lanes to handle the traffic.”

The project includes building auxiliary lanes in order to extend weaving and merging distances when entering and exiting the freeway, and constructing two new carpool lanes, one in each direction.

These lanes are intended to be restricted to vehicles transporting two or more people. The project would currently extend from Morrissey Boulevard in Santa Cruz to Larkin Valley/San Andreas Road in Aptos.

“I would say the design work for the project is roughly 20 percent completed,” George Dondero, executive director of regional transportation reported Jan.18. “Right now, the project is in the environmental stages.”

The project recently hit setbacks as the Santa Cruz Business Council unexpectedly withdrew its support. But it now hopes to acquire additional funds to secure its $400 million budget through a sales tax measure.

A majority of the Business Council does not believe that this measure will pass, because a tax increase is hardly a popular move during rough economic times.

Despite the Business Council’s lack of support, the project board has proceeded to develop a plan to spend the tax revenue, should the ballot measure pass.

“In my opinion, the best thing to come from this project would be that people could ride a bus from one end of the city to another, and actually be able to do it in a reasonable amount of time,” Dondero said.

Santa Cruz resident Kate O’Malley, who uses Highway 1 occasionally for work, said that the current expansion project should only be the beginning.

“Right now I feel they are only working on a small portion of the problem,” O’Malley said. “I think eventually they will need to complete work on the highway past Soquel in order to avoid causing deadlock traffic out there.”

Kathleen Elmore agrees.

“Highway 1 needs work,” said Elmore, a longtime Santa Cruz resident. “I would like to see an extension to the project go through; I think it needs to go all the way to Watsonville.”