Major road work is coming in 2024, and three major east-west arteries — Murray Street, Highway 1 and Soquel Drive — will all see delays and potential closures over the next few years, which could make an already crowded commute even more time-consuming. Now, Carmageddon keeps you updated weekly on the projects that might slow your drive.
We’ve all been stuck in traffic from time to time around Santa Cruz County, but you might have found yourself staring at brake lights a bit more this summer after running into a smattering of delays here and there. Some of that was standard road repairs, but there were also the ongoing storm-related fixes, the laying of new pipes and the start of Highway 1’s new look.
Now, summer’s over, but the delays continue. And, unfortunately, we’ve got bad news for you: It’s likely to get worse over the next couple of years. Storm repairs, big changes to main roads and long-awaited upgrades to aging infrastructure will all collide in 2024 and beyond, bringing a flurry of closures, delays and detours in the near future.
Murray Street, Highway 1 and Soquel Drive are the county’s major east-west roads — and they all see major work within the next year, which is “unusual” said Steve Wiesner, the county’s assistant director of community development and infrastructure.
Though the major projects around the county provide much-needed, long-awaited updates and infrastructure additions for vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and bus riders, the perhaps-unprecedented amount of work on our roads could lengthen commutes for many.
“This is definitely the confluence of three large projects that all could impact traffic going on at the same time,” Wiesner said. “I can’t think of a time when we’ve had three major projects like that on east-west commutes.”
He added that having all three projects occurring at once was not intended, and that the respective agencies in charge will stay in close coordination, aiming to minimize impacts on commuters.
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“I think it’s more coincidence and circumstance than anything else,” said City of Santa Cruz Public Works Director Nathan Nguyen, adding that funding often drives timelines for public works projects, and much of the funding for these major projects came in around the same time. “Then we’ve been working on getting design and permits, and it just so happens to be a year where we’re all running them at the same time.”
Some of the projects, like the Murray Street Bridge retrofit, are finally kicking off after having been in the works for years. Others, like the three-stage Highway 1 expansion project, are already underway but will require multiple years and stages of construction to fully complete. And more yet, like the push to reopen the eastbound lane of West Cliff Drive, popped up just this past year after an unusually rough winter.
Below, we have compiled a list of road projects with notable impacts happening or beginning in 2024. We will update this page regularly with the latest information on the ongoing projects, as well as any new work that has broken ground and its traffic impacts.
West Cliff Drive repairs
Those who enjoy their winding, leisurely drive along the coast will need to keep taking the Columbia Street-to-Pelton Avenue detour for another two months. And even when that’s done, you’ll still need to head up Woodrow Avenue and use Plateau or Delaware avenues to access West Cliff Drive west of Almar Avenue for nearly another year.
The most visible reminder of this past winter’s atmospheric river deluge is on one of the county’s most iconic roads. West Cliff Drive saw parts of its pedestrian path crumble all the way to the edge of the street, and the Bethany Curve culvert failed, leading to a one-way road between Columbia Street and Woodrow Avenue as well as a full closure of the road between Woodrow and Almar avenues.
But work is already underway to restore West Cliff Drive to its two-way iteration. Granite Construction is working to build new infill walls to support weak areas of the cliff so that both lanes between Columbia and Woodrow can reopen. That’s expected to finish in mid-January, but until then, it’s pedestrians and bikes only on that stretch of road.
The fully closed stretch between Woodrow and Almar will take longer. The city is in the midst of finalizing designs for the culvert repair, and expects construction to begin in spring or summer 2024 and wrap up by fall 2024. Until then, the stretch of road will be fully closed, and the cul-de-sacs installed on Oxford Way and Alta Avenue will remain.
Murray Street Bridge retrofit
The longest-planned project could also be the east-west commute’s biggest obstacle, as the Murray Street Bridge will be operating on one lane of traffic for nearly two years. Drivers will likely have to divert to Highway 1, Soquel Avenue (more on those later) or Broadway.
The bridge running across the Santa Cruz Harbor is finally set for a project that has been decades in the making. The goal is to strengthen the bridge with additional pilings and an improved foundation so it can better withstand earthquakes, as well as widen sidewalks and bike lanes.
The Murray Street Bridge is a major artery that connects the Eastside and Live Oak to downtown Santa Cruz and the Westside, and this 30-month-long project will undoubtedly affect commutes and the general flow of traffic. Senior Civil Engineer Josh Spangrud told Lookout last year that the bridge will oscillate among being fully closed, fully open and having one lane closed. He added that the intention is to have the bridge open for at least one-way traffic as much as possible.
Nguyen said that it’s unlikely the bridge can remain open to two-way traffic during construction, but that he expects eastbound traffic can be maintained for about 20 of the 30 months that the project is ongoing. However, there will probably be some times where the bridge will be closed entirely.
As of early November, the project is slated to break ground in spring 2024 and wrap up in spring 2026.
Highway 1 multimodal project
Everyone knows the bumper-to-bumper woes of Highway 1 during rush hour. Odds are, you’ve noticed slower traffic on the road at most hours recently due to the first stages of the highway widening and pedestrian/cyclist infrastructure project. Unfortunately, you’ll have to get used to that for the next couple of years.
One trip on Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Aptos will show you that the first phase of this project — one that aims to improve public transit and individual automobile travel on the highway as well as install improved pedestrian/cyclist infrastructure — is already underway. That phase — consisting of adding auxiliary and bus-on-shoulder lanes between Soquel Avenue and 41st Avenue, as well as the construction of a pedestrian/bicycle overcrossing at Chanticleer Avenue — is on pace to wrap up by the end of 2024, said Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) spokesperson Shannon Munz. She added that RTC does not anticipate any full closures of the highway, but that it cannot say for sure as crews are typically able to plan out only three weeks ahead.
“If and when we do have to do a full closure, we do our best to do them in the overnight hours so that they don’t have a large impact,” she said.
Phase 2 groundbreaking is on its way. That phase involves similar work on a different section of the highway, including new auxiliary and bus-on-shoulder lanes between Bay Avenue/Porter Street and State Park Drive, along with a bicycle/pedestrian overcrossing at Mar Vista Drive in Aptos. Last Thursday, pre-construction work began with clearing and grubbing along the sides of the highway.
Munz said that Phase 2 is slated to break ground in early 2024 and wrap up by the end of 2025, which means both stretches of the highway will be under construction at the same time for about a year. “So we would essentially have construction on the highway from Soquel Drive all the way to State Park Drive,” Munz said.
Soquel Drive buffered bike lane and congestion mitigation project
Yet another major artery is going to be down in some capacity for a year and a half starting in the spring. Although officials don’t expect to shut down the road entirely, those who use Soquel Drive frequently know that having even one lane out of commission can mean a massive slowdown.
Soquel Drive has long been an alternative route for Highway 1 commuters when they tire of the gridlock. As a result, Soquel Drive is no stranger to its own stretches of bumper-to-bumper traffic, all while accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists. This project seeks to improve the flow of traffic, enhance safety for bicyclists and improve travel time for bus riders.
A project three years in the making, the total scope of the work involves 5.6 miles of Soquel Drive from La Fonda Avenue in Santa Cruz to State Park Drive in Aptos — considered the busiest section of the road. For automobiles, it involves resurfacing and restriping the roadway, installing traffic signals that adapt based on real-time traffic demand at 22 intersections as well as traffic signals that recognize buses and prioritize green lights when a bus is at an intersection.
For cyclists, the project will add 2.7 miles of buffered bike lanes, with wider striping giving more room for bikers, and 2.4 miles of protected bike lanes, which involve a full structure separating the bikers from cars. For pedestrians, the project will include numerous sidewalk and crosswalk upgrades, including 100 ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the majority of the traffic impacts will come from the work to resurface and repaint the roadway. Wiesner said that is most likely going to begin in summer 2024, but that date is not set in stone. In total, the project is expected to take up to a year and a half, with the aim of wrapping up by the end of 2025.
County Community Development and Infrastructure Communications Officer Tiffany Martinez said she does not expect the road to be fully closed during construction. Members of the public can subscribe to the Road Impact Notifications newsletter for the latest updates.
Pure Water Soquel project
The wastewater purification project started on Laurel Street in Santa Cruz this year, which was the reason for the occasional lane closures and heavy machinery along the road.
That is going to continue into 2024. Nguyen said that before work begins on the 8 miles of pipeline that stretches from Santa Cruz to Live Oak, where the purification facility is expected to be operational by fall 2024, crews have to repave and repair the roadway along Soquel Avenue. He said that is likely to cause traffic disruption, but how much and for how long is not clear yet.
Sewer lining on Front Street
Beach traffic on Front Street in Santa Cruz is more or less nonstop in the spring and summer, so you might want to consider driving a few blocks up Laurel Street and taking Center Street toward the beach, Boardwalk and wharf in the spring.
City public works will begin a sewer lining project on Front Street between Spruce Street and the roundabout by Depot Park in spring 2024. Sewer lining entails repairing any leaks or cracks in a pipeline to maintain a smooth flow of material.
While Nguyen said that this project is expected to take about one to two months, the area in question will have a number of pits in the roadway for worker access, and commuters — including beachgoers — should expect detours.
Bay Street paving project
Side streets will be the name of the game for a few weeks in the spring for drivers on Bay Street in Santa Cruz. Palm, Dufour and Bellevue streets can get you to Bay, while Laurent Street, Van Ness Avenue and Laurel Street can get you to California Street during the work on Bay.
The portion of Bay Street beginning at the Mission Street intersection and stretching to California Avenue will undergo a paving project in spring 2024, rendering that section of road impassable. Nguyen expects that to wrap up within three to four weeks of groundbreaking.
Big Basin Highway 9 closure
Caltrans made fairly quick work of the
massive slide between upper and lower Glen Arbor Road
this past winter, but the winding Santa Cruz Mountains road isn’t out of the woods yet. Starting in spring 2024, the state transit agency will close one alternating lane of traffic at all times to complete storm repairs on the road at the edge of Castle Rock State Park, just to the northeast of Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
Caltrans District 5 spokesperson Kevin Drabinski said that there is not yet an estimated completion date, as the agency is still finishing up the repair design. The dates will become clearer as groundbreaking draws closer.
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