A major construction project to improve safety and traffic congestion on a Santa Cruz County thoroughfare is moving forward following a recent decision of the county Board of Supervisors to put the project out for contract bids.

The plan involves installing more than 5 miles of protected bike lanes on Soquel Drive and a portion of Soquel Avenue in Aptos, along with multiple new crosswalks with flashing lights, traffic signals that will prioritize busses, and new pedestrian ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a presentation given by senior civil engineer Russell Chen.

Dubbed the “buffered bike lane and congestion mitigation project,” the renovation from La Fonda Avenue to State Park Drive seeks to address one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the county for bicyclists and pedestrians.

In 2020, about 19 percent of collisions involving vehicles and bicyclists or pedestrians in unincorporated areas of the county occurred on that stretch of Soquel Drive, according to data from University of California at Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System.

About 2.7 miles of bike lanes will be buffered by 1- to 2-foot gaps between traffic, and another 2.4 miles will be a protected bikeway marked by a 2-foot buffer zone that includes vertical delineators. Bike boxes, which are marked spaces in front of vehicles at intersections, will be added at 27 locations. On-street parking on Soquel Drive in front of Cabrillo College will be eliminated to make way for the buffered bike lane.

“I think it can’t be overstated how important this is going to be for the future transportation needs for the people of Santa Cruz County.”

Supervisor Bruce McPherson

Board of Supervisors chair Zach Friend said the $16.5 million awarded through a state grant for the project was the largest state investment in multimodal transportation in the county’s history.

“It helps address significant issues in the mid-county of safety, in particular around some of the elementary schools that have sidewalk gaps and crosswalk issues,” Friend said.

Part of the Watsonville to Santa Cruz Multimodal Corridor Program, the project is bolstered by $9 million from the county, for a total budget of $25.5 million, according to Chen.

The project will involve installing 94 reconstructed ramps to be ADA-compliant, 70 crosswalk upgrades and 11 mid-block crosswalks with flashing beacons. A total of more than a half-mile of sidewalk gaps will be closed, and 21 intersections will have signals installed that prioritize buses.

“This will help on the bus side improve the transportation time and elements along Soquel in a way that has never been done before,” Friend said, adding that the plan sought to incorporate components that were requested by the public for more than a decade.

Supervisor Bruce McPherson said the project was an important complement to the widening of state Highway 1 and the construction of the Coastal Rail Trail bike and pedestrian path through the county, which might have received more attention. Soquel Drive was more than once referred to as its nickname “Highway 2” during the meeting.

“I think it can’t be overstated how important this is going to be for the future transportation needs for the people of Santa Cruz County,” McPherson said.

Construction is expected to begin this summer and last 12 to 18 months. Temporary lane closures, restriping, and restrictions to some side streets and driveways are anticipated, as are intermittent water and power disruptions, according to Chen. Bicycle and pedestrian access will be maintained during construction.