Narrow bridges

Ask Lookout: West Cliff Rd near Natural Bridges has been a mess, it seems for years. What is the heist?

If you’ve walked along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz in the past five years — and it’s probably all of you — the deteriorating sidewalk near Natural Bridges State Beach, complete with cautionary tape and miscellaneous road signs, probably stood out.

You have questions, we have answers. Find all Ask Lookouts by clicking on the chart and ask your own question, sending it to [email protected] with the subject line “Ask LO”.

A solid portion of the sidewalk has collapsed, significantly narrowing the passable path. Barriers and torn pavement stretch from Chico Avenue to the intersection of Swanton Boulevard with West Cliff Drive, just off the parking lot that overlooks Natural Bridges, for about a block to a block and a half.

At first glance, it looks like erosion from years of crashing waves might be the cause. It turns out that erosion is the main cause, but the damage comes from another source: the winter storms of 2017.

Remember that intense winter, with downed trees strewn across Santa Cruz County, inevitable road closures, and no solid answer to the question: how long will it take to fix all of this?

The good news: West Cliff’s storm damage repair is the last repair left after the 2017 storms in the city of Santa Cruz, and it’s expected to be completed in July.

Since April, public works staff have been working hard to repair storm damage, move the footpath further to West Cliff Drive, and build a retaining wall, barrier and guardrail.

This is welcome information for those who miss their walks or night walks at Natural Bridges, but it might have you wondering: Why did a relatively mundane storm repair project just end, five years after the damage? initials?

Lookout has dug into this question, and we’re looking forward to it, too. Which City projects, taken from the Public Works Department’s Investment Projects (PIC) plan, will start near you and when?

The sidewalk under repair along West Cliff Drive.

(Kevin Painchaud / Belvedere Santa Cruz)

We’ve put together a handy map showing all the public works projects planned by the City of Santa Cruz through 2026. Just click or tap points on the map and you will see what is expected when.

We list projects by year because it’s nearly impossible to narrow down a project’s timeline to start and end months. Therefore, the projects are color coded according to the year in which construction is expected to begin. These are just projects that are currently scheduled to start in 2023 or later. Deadlines are of course subject to change.

There are dozens of existing projects that are already underway that are not listed on our map. There are a lot of details about these projects, their timelines and other details about the city website.

(Let us know any additional questions at [email protected].)

But back to the question: why does it seem to take so long to get the job done?

Well, all thanks to a long process necessary to get these types of projects off the ground, both at the county and city level. The West Cliff project is a municipal project, and we spoke with the city’s public works officials to understand how their system works.

Short answer: It’s complicated. Any project requires funding (state, federal, or local), permits, and sometimes a study.

Mark Dettle, director of public works for the city of Santa Cruz, outlined the steps the department might have to take — and the number of levels of government it might have to go through — in order to fund projects. He says grants often won’t cover the full cost of a project and the remaining costs will fall to the city.

“It’s pretty typical for the city to fund 30% of the project design so the environmental studies can be done, and you have a good chance of getting a grant,” he said. “Most granting agencies want a shovel-ready project fairly quickly. So we’re looking at matching about 25% of local funds, and then we’re looking at grants or federal funding for the rest.

He cites the San Lorenzo River Lagoon culvert project, which involves providing a water level control system to prevent flooding and “reduce or eliminate breaches in the lagoon”, as an example of how quickly with which things can change.

“We went out and got a grant for a major part of this project,” he said. “Then the estimate showed that the first grant was much less than what the project would cost, so we had to increase the grant, and now we are able to bid on the project.”

The culvert project is just one of 13 projects currently underway.

In total, funding can take several years to materialize. The long-awaited Murray Street Bridge Projectfor example, has been in limbo for years due to convoluted and sometimes unreliable funding sources.

“It’s the last bridge that hasn’t been seismically retrofitted in the city, so there’s a program for that, there’s a federal contribution, and there’s a state match,” Dettle said. . “We had everything ready to go probably 10 years ago and the state dropped their game, and that game fell on local funding, and that’s not something a city can tend to afford. right away.”

Overall, the funding required for projects is a moving target, according to Dettle.

“We always try to keep funding and grants aligned; we do a really good job of leveraging our local funds to get grants or state money to go ahead and build projects,” he said. “As the railway, for example, is financed with local money from 2016 Measure Dbut we also just applied for a $35 million grant to fund the construction of stages 8 and 9 of the railway. We always look to the future.

Funding, however, is fair a seemingly shape-shifting piece of the puzzle that’s breaking through on a public works project. Obtaining a permit can be just as labor and time-consuming, and also requires some preliminary work.

“The time of obtaining permits depends – a Corps [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] the permit can take a year, especially if you have to do a organic review“We have been working for about two years on obtaining permits for the San Lorenzo River culvert project. We are ready to start construction, but we are still waiting for that permit from the Corps.

If that seems a bit long, it took 20 years to finalize the plans for the Murray Street Bridge project and to sort out all the confounding factors.

“You must write design plans, obtain permits, and respond to any changes to permit and design requirements,” Dettle said, adding that any delays in the process can cause permits to expire. “The actual construction is usually the easiest part of the project.”

It’s no different for small projects.

The city’s senior civil engineer, Josh Spangrud, said public works needed multiple permits to begin construction, in addition to resource shortages.

“We had to get a coastal permit with a biological notice and an archaeological permit,” he said. “Then CZU moved some people who would have worked on the project, and COVID slowed everything down.”

But the truth is that, even at random, permits can be obtained quickly and there are many resources to innovate, it is not known what could delay the start of a project.

“We like to think we have a master plan, but for a lot of these projects we’re pretty reactive,” Spangrud said. “If there’s a water main break or something like that, and an entire street needs fixing, it ruins the master plan.”

With these conditions in mind, check out the map above.