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A Letter to the RTC

This letter was sent by Liz Levy to the RTC on June 10, 2016:

Dear RTC Commissioners and Staff,

  1. I understand that the RTC's Tier I project is a high-level, long-range master plan and that the Tier II project area is defined as the Soquel Avenue to 41st Avenue space only. RTC staff has confirmed that the RTC's TRIP plan proposes the addition of lanes on both sides of the highway for three project areas:
    • Soquel Avenue to 41st Avenue
    • Bay/Porter to Park Avenue
    • Park Avenue to State Park Drive
    I am concerned that the RTC hasn't posted any details of the proposed six auxiliary lanes on its website. If you are proposing that voters of this county approve $100 Million for a project that will add about six miles of non-through lanes to the highway, requiring the removal of nearly all of the existing landscaping, why are there no documents describing the details? Or is this “public hearing” simply your way of saying to the public, “Come listen to what we've already decided to do, and we'll fill in the details later.”
  2. What evidence has the RTC collected that adding six exit/merge lanes between Soquel Drive and State Park Drive will lessen congestion for the south county drivers you claim to be satisfying? Is there data to suggest that a large number of south county drivers are exiting at State Park, Park Avenue, Bay/Porter, or Soquel Avenue? I assume some of them are exiting for jobs in the 41st Avenue business corridor, but there's already an auxiliary lane between Bay/Porter and 41st Avenue.
  3. Auxiliary lanes, as defined by the Federal Transportation Administration, are supposed to be built where “interchanges are closely spaced…and local frontage roads do not exist.” Each of these three segments is roughly a mile long. That is not closely spaced. Two of the proposed mile-long lanes would be adjacent to existing frontage roads, namely Soquel Avenue and McGregor Drive, both on the south side of the highway. This project is not following FTA guidelines, and therefore could introduce unintended consequences and problems.
  4. Auxiliary lanes are not through lanes, they are designed only for entering and exiting the highway between interchanges. But if you make them a mile long each, you are either turning a blind eye to illegal use, or you are knowingly tempting drivers to pull into and out of these lanes as they try to position themselves further down the road through the traffic, thereby perhaps “lessening congestion,” but also increasing the risk of side-swipe and tailgate crashes.
  5. The RTC has provided no evidence that the proposed six auxiliary lanes will “reduce congestion” or “shorten commute times”, as you have claimed in your mass-mailed brochure that announced the June 16, 2016 meeting date. Further, your staffer Mr. Shultz has confirmed with me that the Draft EIR does not directly address the environmental impacts of these six miles of lanes. Rather, it states, “Future Tier II projects will be subject to separate project level environmental analysis…”
  6. What evidence do you have that adding these six auxiliary lanes will reduce neighborhood cut-through traffic? What specific neighborhood cut-through traffic are you referring to?

    You are asking the public to comment on a proposal that has no substantive data, evidence, documentation, or environmental analysis.

Everyone agrees that Highway 1 is congested, but it is also one of the most wasteful forms of transportation in the county. For about 70% of the vehicles on the road, there are one (for trucks) to six (for large SUVs) empty seats being hauled every morning and evening from home to workplace and back. This unused capacity is what makes the highway so inefficient, and accounts for 60 percent of the greenhouse gases produced in Santa Cruz County. Adding more lanes will only produce more carbon emissions.

The fact that the RTC has collaborated with the Santa Cruz Business Council on a poll gauging voters' opinions on highway widening suggests that it is the Business Council, not south county commuters, that is lobbying for highway expansion. This is ironic, since business owners and other employers hold the key to solving commute-hour traffic congestion. Employers are in the best position to encourage carpooling or offer incentives to modify workers' habits, through ride-matching, subsidized transit, vanpools, flex-time, telecommuting, bike lockers, showers, guaranteed rides home for emergencies, pre-tax benefits for transit and vanpools, or even cash for no-drive days. If the employers in Santa Cruz County all agreed to aim for an average of 2-3 employees per vehicle in their parking lots, or actively supported alternate forms of transportation, it would relieve congestion and reduce commute times faster and at a far lower cost than a multi-million dollar highway construction project.

What's in it for employers? Real business benefits! More parking for paying customers, reduced delivery times for incoming and outgoing goods, and extra money in workers’ pockets formerly spent on fuel. Employers in Santa Clara County who already offer transportation benefits (such as Google, Facebook and Apple among many others) utilize them to attract the best and brightest to their companies. One would think the employers in Santa Cruz County might want to do the same.

If more workers were passengers instead of drivers, the effects on the broader community would also be positive. A recent study in Massachusetts has shown that a one-percent decrease in vehicle miles driven would result in $20 Billion savings statewide (previously attributed to fuel purchases, vehicle and road repairs, and traffic collisions), and savings of 23 million metric tons of carbon emissions over 15 years. You can read the report by clicking on this link.

People, not asphalt, can solve this problem, but it requires that employers recognize the benefits for both themselves and the community, and to make the commitment. Widening the highway with six additional miles of asphalt will increase noise, pollution, and health risks, and serves only to perpetuate the wasteful habit of solo-driving to work. I cannot support this project, and will continue to work for its removal from or defeat at the November ballot.

– Liz Levy
   Soquel, CA