Construction along Soquel Drive.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

More construction coming: Soquel Drive work scheduled for summer

The What: Santa Cruz County commuters often turn to Soquel Drive as an alternative to Highway 1, but during the past five years or so have they have begun experiencing the same backups on the route. Beginning this summer, the county will break ground on a number of improvements, including more protections for cyclists, upgraded traffic signals, crosswalk upgrades and accessible ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Officials estimate the project will cost between $20 million and $25 million and take between 12 and 16 months to complete.

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The So What: The 5.6-mile stretch of Soquel Avenue/Drive from La Fonda Avenue in Santa Cruz to State Park Drive in Aptos has been the backup plan for Highway 1 commuters for years, and — due to its congestion — has been nicknamed “Highway 2” by some. Project leaders say the improvements will make the trip faster and safer for drivers, transit riders, cyclists and pedestrians.

Still, transit officials acknowledge that no construction can occur without some level of disruption and slowing on the route. The planned groundbreaking also would take place around the same time as the Murray Street Bridge overhaul — a 30-month project that planners acknowledge will cause wide-ranging traffic issues rippling outward from the Twin Lakes area of Santa Cruz.

By the numbers: The improvements include:

  • New striping and construction of 2.7 miles of buffered bike lanes (conventional white-striped lanes).
  • New striping and construction of 2.4 miles of protected bike lanes (physically separated from other traffic, typically by bollards).
  • 22 intersection upgrades with adaptive traffic signals (technology used to ease the flow of traffic).
  • 96 crosswalk upgrades.
  • 100 updates to ADA-accessible ramps.

The Background: The project has been in the planning stages since January 2020, county senior administrative analyst Amanda Rotella told Lookout.

“We want to ensure ease of use across modes of transportation,” she said. “We’ve done a number of outreach efforts to key stakeholder organizations — we’ve received feedback from Santa Cruz Metro, Soquel Creek Water District and the like.”

In regard to neighbors and business owners along the route, Rotella said the project team has reached out to a number of homeowners associations and individual property owners in hopes that no one feels surprised about the project’s process or the impacts.

How will it be paid for?

Katie Demaio, senior project manager for Aim Consulting and part of the 10-person project team, said that the county has received $16.5 million from the SB 1 Solutions for Congested Corridors Program from the California Transportation Commission, and will also use $3.5 million in county funds.

Voices: Supervisor Zach Friend, who represents some of the project’s most affected areas, said that this specific area of Soquel Drive needs to be improved not just for the current commuter traffic, but even for a reduced load. He said the project will vastly improve the commuter experience, and could improve alternative modes of transit as well.

“This is a pretty massive transportation investment in our community that’s very under-discussed,” he said. “When the highway feels pressure, Soquel then gets the burden — these improvements are important.”

Demaio agreed, and said that Soquel Drive is a great model for alternate transportation, and could provide further opportunities for people to get out of their cars.

“All of these updates will help make the road even more friendly,” she said.

A map showing the Soquel Drive project.
A map showing the Soquel Drive project.
(County of Santa Cruz)

What’s next: Because the construction related to the project could disrupt area commuters and residents, officials have scheduled two online events to address questions and concerns prior to groundbreaking. This Wednesday, Aptos residents can tune in to the virtual community workshop to hear about the effects on District 2; the following Thursday, Jan. 20, Live Oak and Soquel residents can hear about the impact on District 1.

Registration for each virtual community workshop is available below:

District 2 (Aptos) — Wednesday, Jan. 12 — 6 - 7:30 p.m.
District 1 (Live Oak, Soquel) — Thursday, Jan. 20 — 6 - 7:30 p.m.