Once upon a time, our County was a series of small communities along the coast that offered a quiet environment where you could enjoy living in an ideal climate close to the ocean. Traffic, when it arrived, was generally viewed as a temporary thing associated with the weekends and summer months when folks from out of the area tended to visit.
Our climate and ocean environment are still wonderful, but judging from the increasing amounts of traffic that we now encounter pretty much year round, it is apparent that word has gotten out, making it less tranquil than it once was.
If caught at peak times, the drive on Hwy 1 can become an ordeal of an hour or more, and that drive is even more unbearable for those commuting over the hill daily. For many it’s become a matter of needing to plan any significant drive outside of those times to avoid spending prolonged periods sitting in the car amidst stop-and-go traffic.
You used to be able to count on the fact that visitors didn’t know how to use the alternate routes that we locals use, but now—whether it’s the map apps or the fact that there are now a lot more locals than there used to be—many of those shortcuts are becoming increasingly congested too, which makes it trickier to get around the glut of vehicles that clog our roads.
In hopes of at least temporarily alleviating congestion, the County is planning to start the first leg of their proposed Highway 1 Corridor Investment Program in about 2 years with the construction of one auxiliary lane in each direction between 41st Ave and Soquel Drive, with an eye towards eventual expansion to a total of 4 lanes each way, including an HOV lane. The next tier of the program is to extend the expansion further south, adding auxiliary lanes between Bay/Porter and State Park Drive.
Growth is not likely to slow down anytime soon. In fact, everywhere you look there is more housing going in, with major developments in planning or under construction in Scotts Valley, the City of Santa Cruz, throughout the Mid-County corridor and on down to the multiple new homes, office and retail buildings nearing completion in Aptos Village, with a second phase on the way there as well.
And with a recently approved zoning overlay for 5-story developments under its new “Workflex” use category, the County is actively working to add more density for high-earning jobs in the coming years to further stimulate our region’s growth trajectory towards becoming an even busier place over the course of the coming decade.
The challenge will be to see if we can preserve the backdrop of our weather and scenic beauty amidst all this growth in a manner that retains at least some of the character of what those of us who have lived here for the majority of our lives have long cherished. And it would be great to achieve this without turning our backs on the many people who also want to live here, while also seeing whether or not they are able to afford to do so.