By Zach Friend
The most recent storms have pushed damages in the County to over $30 million in damage to our local roads and infrastructure, causing some of the most significant challenges in recent memory. The Board of Supervisors declared a third emergency in as many months and has submitted requests to the state and federal government for funding. In the 2nd District, many roads have sustained damage and have caused major impacts – including Valencia, Cabrillo College Drive, Hazel Dell, Redwood Road, Eureka Canyon Sumner, State Park Drive and much more.
In the week, storms brought down trees and wires and slide materials on Valencia. Crews were able to open it to one lane in the slide-impacted areas so that it’s passable for all vehicles. The long term solution will require retaining wall work and road rebuilding in the damaged areas. We have requested that the federal government also cover this damage as Valencia is deemed a federal aid route. The County has been in constant contact with federal agencies and our federal representatives to expedite funding and approvals for these repairs. Since this just happened we are working on an ETA for the retaining wall/two lane opening.
The damage throughout the County was so extensive that the Board of Supervisors made multiple emergency declarations to seek state and federal funding for repairs. Governor Brown approved the declaration for the January storm events and has requested assistance through the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Emergency Relief Program, which could provide additional funding for the Federal Aid Routes (major arterials and collectors) in Santa Cruz County.
The state disaster funding provides coverage (usually up to 75 percent) for the cost of repairs. However, the Governor did not make these funds available for the December storm damage. We are working with our state and federal legislative delegations for funding for damages sustained in December as well. Under the current funding approvals, this would mean that more funding would be available for roads deemed “federal aid routes” (usually major roads such as Valencia) than local roads (such as Redwood). Clearly we’d like to obtain as much funding as possible for all of the damages that have been caused by the recent natural disasters, so we can work to get the repairs on a schedule as soon as possible.
I am keenly aware of the issues that the recent storm damage has caused – not just in this location but throughout our district. They are real and very problematic. In some areas of our district we had days where people were completely cut off from their home as slides had eliminated access or flooding prevented all ability to travel sections of our district.
For Valencia, I know we have significant delays for parents trying to get kids to school that also impact your work schedules and quality of life. The detour has also caused new impacts to neighbors on surrounding streets with many complaints of speeding and increased traffic. Additionally, many have expressed concern about travelling on the one lane areas of Valencia or having school buses travel on the narrow sections. Lastly, I’ve heard concerns over potential delayed emergency response times (because of the detour) and more.
All of these concerns are things I’m aware of and have been working with our partners to address. The Sheriff’s Office and CHP have been performing extra patrols and enforcement on the detour areas and Aptos-La Selva Fire and AMR (ambulance) are confident in their response procedures (even with the detour). We’ve held joint meetings with public safety and the school district to discuss these concerns. The school district, and Principal Lane at Valencia, have been great to work with and have worked to also ensure that parents are informed about the evolving situation. Valencia Elementary, as the time of this writing, has identified two alternate locations for educating students should access to the school be shutoff or they decide they would prefer to proactively move to the alternate locations. They have already created a shuttle system (using smaller buses) and an alternate drop-off/pickup location for parents to minimize traffic and congestion on the road.
The County has had a geotechnical evaluation team on Valencia at the problematic spot conducting daily surveys. They established monitoring points and have been doing daily recordings of the survey pins.
So far, the road is still moving both horizontally and vertically – meaning there hasn’t been any real stabilization of the site. The most recent set of storms caused even greater destabilization of the site and, as a result, it’s closed to bike and pedestrian traffic as well. The road has dropped well over a foot vertically and you can also see the horizontal movement by the cracking (making the road to appear to pull apart in some places). The continued rains made it difficult to assess the underlying stability as it is something that is best measured once it’s dry.
Because of this, the County doesn’t have an ETA on the road fully reopening – but there is absolutely no question that it is a top priority issue for both my office and Public Works. Unfortunately, given that the underlying earth hasn’t been stable it’s not possible to simply do a fill or patch as you would a standard pothole or road repair. However, in my daily conversations with Public Works engineers, they are looking at ways to create a temporary fix for the area – such as the possibility of a temporary bridge. The bridge only becomes a possibility when the underlying ground stops moving as well. I know that a goal of many of in the area would be to at least have a one-way/one-lane option through there and that is something Public Works is looking into or a pedestrian access back to Trout Gulch.
A permanent fix will require replacing the 75-year-old existing culvert, which is a complex job given the amount of dirt on top of the existing culvert. It’s over 50 feet down to the culvert and engineers have been looking at ways to address the long-term issue as well.
Some have also expressed concern about utilities in the area. On the day the road was initially closed, PG&E went out and installed shutoff valves (and a bypass) on either side of the 4” pipe. We also understand Trout Gulch Mutual Water Company has installed a bypass to make sure residents in the area have continued access to water.
With the emergency declaration providing up to 75 percent of the funding needed for certain roads, this leaves a multi-million dollar gap of funding for repairs (even just focusing on top priority repairs) associated with the recent storms. As many of you are aware, just by looking at the condition of our local roads in general, Public Works doesn’t have a few million dollars extra for road repairs. Because of this reality, the Board of Supervisors is looking at the possibility of borrowing to address high priority roads (like Valencia) that were damaged. Options could include the best use of transportation impact fees, Measure D funds, and Surface Transportation Block Grant funds.
Taking out such a loan would most likely mean that other road work (such as planned capital improvements – road overlays, repairs etc.) that isn’t from storm damage might be delayed (in some cases significantly). However, we recognize that these storms have caused situations that must take priority over other road needs. I recognize this is a difficult and frustrating situation and I thank you for working with us as we try to address these very pressing needs caused from the recent storms.
As always, if you have additional questions please don’t hesitate to contact me at 454-2200.