After years of community concern about safety along Highway 9 between SLV schools and Felton, culminating in 22-year-old Josh Howard’s death in a vehicle vs. pedestrian accident, progress is gradually taking form. The Highway 9 Corridor Plan is to be voted on by the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) on June 27 at Santa Cruz City Hall. Meanwhile, more than 1,400 community members have signed a petition urging the RTC to expedite safety improvements.
Since the February 21 accident that took Howard’s life, Supervisor Bruce McPherson and RTC member Mike Rotkin have been pushing for improvements to happen rapidly, given the multiple agencies they have to work with.
In March, McPherson and Rotkin met with concerned members of the community and Howard’s family. The community members requested:
* A timeline for implementing the Highway 9 Corridor Plan by improving the Highway 9 shoulder between the schools and downtown Felton for pedestrian and cyclist safety.
* An interim solution to add signs to direct pedestrians and cyclists onto alternate routes that would get them off the narrowest part of the Highway 9 shoulder, onto bypass routes at Fall Creek Drive and Clearview Place.
* Improvements to the crosswalk on Felton Empire Road at Gushee and Cooper Streets increase safety for those taking the bypass routes.
On April 4 numerous members of the SLV community attended the RTC meeting in Watsonville. A member of Howard’s family spoke, and the RTC confirmed that Highway 9 safety between the schools and downtown Felton is their top priority project.
On April 18, McPherson and State Assembly Member Mark Stone hosted a meeting with elected officials, including Representatives Anna Eshoo and Jimmy Panetta, and the representatives of Caltrans, the TRC, Public Works, CHP, and SLV Unified School District to discuss ways to expedite the process.
Coming out of that meeting, County Public Works began work on the following projects:
* Signs alerting pedestrians and cyclists to alternate routes along Fall Creek Drive and Clearview Place
* Pothole repairs along Fall Creek Road to make that route safer
* Improvements to the crosswalk on Felton Empire Road
Unfortunately, all other proposed improvements must be approved, planned, and funded (in part) by Caltrans, because they involve a state highway. Caltrans works at a slower pace than the County.
The community can expect a statement from Caltrans at the upcoming June 27 meeting of the RTC. McPherson’s office encourages SLV residents to attend to show Caltrans the community’s unwavering resolve to get these improvements made. McPherson’s office is also reaching out to the school district to explore ways to educate parents and students about alternate cyclist and pedestrian routes that avoid the narrowest part of the Highway 9 shoulder. In the meantime, Fall Creek Drive and Clearview Place are the best ways to stay off Highway 9 when traveling between the schools and Felton on foot or on bike.
The wheels of state agencies turn more slowly than most in the community would like, but Felton resident Joni Martin said, “This process has truly been a collaboration between the SLV community and elected officials, particularly Supervisor McPherson and his staff, who have demonstrated their commitment to do what they can to push the process along, and in advising community members about how they can help influence the process.”
The June 27 meeting of the RTC (9:00 a.m. at Santa Cruz City Hall), should provide more concrete information about when and how further improvements along Highway 9 itself may take place. Residents are advised to attend.
More information at www.sccrtc.org/projects/streets-highways/hwy-9-plan.