Highway 9 in Ben Lomond

Last week the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission posted the “Draft Highway 9 — San Lorenzo Valley Corridor Transportation Plan” on its website and is soliciting public comment before the plan becomes final.

More than 18 months in preparation, the draft “Hwy. 9/SLV Complete Streets Corridor Plan” provides a catalog of proposed projects along the roadway as well as a comprehensive, long-term “vision” for the coordination these projects, all aimed at improving “multi-modal access and connectivity, safety and security, operations, economic vitality and environmental quality,” according to the report.

With Hwy. 9 serving as the “main street” in the communities of Felton, Ben Lomond, Brookdale and Boulder Creek, some residents have been advocating for “traffic calming” devices, more turn-outs and more safety beacons for crosswalks for many years. Others residents have resisted earlier town planning efforts and roadside improvements they saw as “over-urbanizing” the small towns they wanted to see preserved as rural and mostly undeveloped.

“The fact is we have urban levels of traffic, and the challenge is to figure out the best ways to keep it comfortable and increase safety,” said Brianna Goodman, transportation planner for the RTC. According to the draft report, more than 16,000 vehicles a day travel the highway between Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek and more than 21,000 vehicles go between Felton and Ben Lomond, and those numbers do not include the “bulge” of special event and tourism traffic during summer months.

The plan notes the total population of the four towns served by Hwy. 9 has increased from 9,273 in the 2000 census to 17,443 in 2017 — an increase of 88 percent — with data showing about 77 percent of workers driving alone to work. Felton seems particularly hard hit with 122 percent increase the amount of time it takes to get to work since the 2000 census.

The plan details projects proposed from the entrance to Henry Cowell State Park just south of Felton all the way to the Mountain Store north of Boulder Creek, with a total of 36 “relatively near-term” projects prioritized in the plan. These projects are focused on expanding pedestrian and bicycle access, including widening roadway shoulders for new bike lanes in several key locations, improving the safety of several key crosswalks, improving center turn lanes and increasing traffic flow at key “choke points”, particularly at the SLV schools campus, and “reorganizing” parking in several roadside parking areas. The prioritized projects are fairly evenly distributed with eight proposed in Felton, six in Ben Lomond and seven in Boulder Creek.

The long term “vision” of the plan is outlined as follows: “A well-designed complete street does not just work better; it feels better, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists, and it looks better, with enhanced aesthetics and amenities that complement the setting and adjacent uses.”

Goodman explained the public outreach that went into drafting the plan and project priorities, including an on-line survey with more than 400 responses, a community meeting back in May, 2017 and focus group meetings with representatives of business groups, school officials, parents, cyclists, state parks and community-based service groups for what would be a “a truly a community-based, bottom-up plan”.

This was done with the full support and cooperation of CalTrans, according to Goodman, which helped pay for the plan with a $250,000 grant to the RTC and is ultimately responsible for the safety and maintenance of the state highway.

“CalTrans wants this plan, they need this plan, for their own maintenance and project planning,” Goodman said.

Goodman added that CalTrans is planning to repave the entire roadway in the next five years.

The plan is critical to leveraging the $10 million allocated to improving the Hwy 9 corridor with Measure D funds, the transportation improvement bond approved by voters in November, 2016, according to Rachel Moriconi, Senior Transportation Planner for the RTC.

“We can probably leverage the Measure D funds for about five to ten times the $10 million we have from a number amount grant and funding sources,” Moriconi said.

A link to the draft plan is available attached to this story at www.pressbanner.com.

The RTC is will hold two community meetings in Felton and Boulder Creek that will allow residents to study maps and see architectural renditions of proposed projects, gather input on the draft plan and make comments before the plan becomes final. The first is Thursday from 6-7:30 p.m. at Felton Community Hall, 6191 Hwy. 9. The second is Feb. 6 from 6-7:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Boulder Creek Elementary School, 400 W. Lomond Street. The RTC welcomes comment made via email to: slvplan@sccrtc.org with the subject: “Hwy 9/SLV Plan Comments”, or by postal mail to the RTC office, 1523 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA, 95060. Written comments are due by February 15.

Contact Patrick Dwire at pdwire@pressbanner.com or (831)438-2500.

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