APTOS -- A plan to build out Aptos Village has been on one drawing board or another for a quarter-century, bringing hopes for more housing and amenities and fears of development.
But that high-profile project suddenly lurched forward during the past year, taking another step Thursday when local transportation authorities committed $690,000 toward Soquel Drive improvements that developers say is needed for the project to go through. In all, the county's Regional Transportation Commission handed out $5.3 million for a variety of projects.
"It's been nearly 30 years since there have been any improvements in that area," Supervisor Zach Friend said. "You've got one side of the street that was built in the 1800s and is not (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible. ... This deals with pedestrian safety, disability transport, the (Santa Cruz) Metro, bike safety and the road."
The project needs a green light from the state Public Utilities Commission, which is awaiting a deal between the county and rail operator Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway over a new road planned through the project area. The street project begins before Aptos Creek Road and goes through the Trout Gulch Road intersection, adding sidewalks, bike lanes a bus pullout and traffic signals at both intersections.
Other RTC awards include $900,000 to help resurface a stretch of Freedom Boulevard in Watsonville and $675,000 to rehab Laurel Street in Santa Cruz. Most funds
Not everyone was on board with the Aptos Village plan. The Regional Transportation Commission's bicycle committee made the project one of several objections, saying developers should pay for needed improvements in an area that serves as a launching pad for mountain bikers and a way-station for road cyclists.
But supporters said developers are picking up a big part of the $3 million tab, and that the work is needed anyway.
"The improvements need to happen irrespective of whether the development happens," Friend said. "This is a long neglected stretch of roadway."
The county is also spending $1.2 million for an ongoing sewer replacement in the area. County Public Works Director John Presleigh said both projects are badly needed, adding that the street project includes just $300,000 in county money.
More than half the funding comes from developer fees, Presleigh said.
"That's what we do with these development fees," he said. "We put them in sidewalks, signals, things like that."
A representative of Barry Swenson Builder said the company is paying about $1.3 million in traffic impact fees for the Aptos Village Plan alone, plus a host of other county fees related to the project. The San Jose-based company also is installing millions of dollars of infrastructure within the project area, in the form of new streets, sidewalks and more.
"Those improvements are required for the development to happen," said Mary Gourlay, project development project manager for Barry Swenson Builder. "We have well over $6 million of public benefits that we're offering as part of our project."
While the bicycle committee voted not to fund the project, an advisory group on elderly and disabled issues strongly supported it.
In another decision, the Regional Transportation Commission decided not to fund a Santa Cruz Metro pilot project that would have subsidized the purchase of folding bikes for passengers. Supporters floated the project as one way to address an ongoing problem of passengers with bikes being unable to ride when limited bike slots fill.
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