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.