Legislature Approves $2 Million for Wildlife ‘Undercrossing’ to Improve Highway 17 Safety

Motorists on heavily traveled Highway 17 through the Santa Cruz Mountain could face fewer deer in their headlights, thanks to a $2 million state grant.

The California Legislature last week included in its final budget a proposal to fund a project that will connect more than 30,000 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains currently separated by a busy four-lane highway.

Hikers and wildlife will be able to better enjoy the mountains after the Highway 17 Wildlife and Trail Crossings Project is completed.

The proposal consists of $2 million to finish the project's design and construction, which includes a wildlife undercrossing and a trail overcrossing on Highway 17, the route connecting San Jose and the Bay Area to the Santa Cruz County beaches.

“The Highway 17 Wildlife and Trail Crossings Project will create a secure crossing for trail users to experience the beauty of our natural scenery and terrain while, at the same time, facilitating the safe movement of our wildlife in the Santa Cruz Mountains,” state Sen. Dave Cortese said in a statement.

Once the project is complete, wildlife should be able to find food and mates more easily. The project will also fill gaps in the Bay Area Ridge Trail and Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, while linking other local trails, Cortese said.

The project, spawned by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, will also improve highway safety by reducing the chance of collisions between drivers and animals.

“One of the greatest challenges in furthering Midpen's mission to preserve a connected greenbelt of public open space are land uses that fragment habitats and create barriers to the safe passage of wildlife, as well as people," Midpen General Manager Ana Maria Ruiz said in a statement.

“Highway 17 fragments thousands of acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains, limiting the ability of animals like mountain lions to find food and mates, and blocking several regional trail connections,” she said.



  1. That’s neat-o and all, like Liberty Canyon in So-Cal and what’s sought by some for Coyote Valley, but what about improving motorists’ safety, the normal meaning and use of the word “safety” in this context?

  2. @NOT, motorists in this country are free to choose their own level of safety, which they do based on their perceived risk, by adjusting their speed and how carefully they drive. If taxpayers spent billions of dollars to flatten the Santa Cruz Mountains and add more lanes, motorists who currently drive at the too-high speed of 55 miles per hour in some sections would drive 90. The crash rate would stay the same. I don’t drive to Santa Cruz very often, but when I do, I realize we are lucky to have Highway 17, and I do it safely.

  3. I drive safely on all roads, and I also believe policy shouldn’t be cowed by the miscreants (who are growing as a portion of the population as the state goes into decline). If 17 could be re-engineered to be safer, so many would not drive worse even if some would. I’d like to see the road improved even though I have done fine on it as it is.

  4. @ Jerry: Wouldn’t it be cool if Musk’s Boring Co. drilled a tunnel from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz?

  5. Hopefully he, too, realizes Musk isn’t the party for this or other such projects.

    The tunnels Musk builds are 14 feet outside diameter, 12 feet inside diameter, and support one (1) roadway lane for road vehicles, or for a small train as with the smaller London Underground subway tunnels and vehicles, or a rec path. Musk’s project involves small, one-lane tunnels for Tesla electric vehicles.

    There’s also a lot of hype but not much delivery at all with anything else. Don’t even get started on the ridiculous tunnel system idea he and others discussed for going underneath metro areas. (No serious thought of access, nor of access points and congestion there, or on how anything drawing traffic would get congested there, as with often stupid flying car ignorant dreams, with even more that won’t happen as imagined)

    Any tunnel wouldn’t go to Santa Cruz but to somewhat north of it, between Santa Cruz and the Scotts Valley area. A 15-mile base tunnel in that vicinity, or going under nearly all the distance between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz, makes no sense for roads since it would have to be much larger than Musk’s tunnel bore (which won’t admit conventional railways, either, though it could BART) and multiple lanes. It doesn’t matter that Norway set the record for a road tunnel (two lanes) at that length. Less than that would satisfy road needs.

    Re-engineering the non-freeway portion could go up to a 6-7 mile tunnel, a base tunnel under the main ridge or something close to it, to escape the worse portion of the road now. (Between the Reservoir’s southern end and Scotts Valley area) 6-7 miles is impressive in and of itself (and likewise costly). An access road open as a rec trail could be included, so long as there was off-freeway access at each end. Some tunnels could be used in less ambitious re-engineering as part of curve straightening or removal. Bridges or viaducts as well as tunnels might be needed.

    A longer tunnel and again, a base tunnel under the main ridge or something like it, needn’t have part along the ridge as might highway 17, would support a custom rail line such as BART or special light rail vehicles. VTA light rail vehicles are narrow enough, but too tall to fit in Musk’s tunnels. A base tunnel from San Jose itself through the Diablo Range at its widest point to the Central Valley was once conceived by default, by the state high-speed rail project. (Anything but the Altamont Pass that makes sense, and be sure to force trains through San Jose because politics, not engineering, matters most to San Jose and South Bay interests) That would be world class at 50 kilometers (31 miles), of which there are half a dozen, perhaps. FYI.

    Tunneling would indeed improve highway 17 or enable rail service. Just use real tunneling parties for serious jobs like that.

    Also, reviving the old rail service between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz can’t be done, as some of it is now underwater, and other parts are now private property. If you can convince the NIMBYs, there’s a chance at a base tunnel under the ridge near the reservoir now, but going south instead of turning where the reservoir is, reaching the end of the line now on the other side, at Olympia northeast of Felton — not the best route for the 2020s onward.

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