Relief in sight for the “Aptos Strangler”

Bus on Shoulder, Transit, and Trail all in a Single Project!

by Barry Scott

Renowned transit expert Jarrett Walker coined the phrase “the Aptos Strangler” during his public 2016 presentation at the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission (RTC). He was referring to the compound transportation knot that exists where our three transportation corridors: Soquel Drive, Highway 1, and the Branch Rail Line all converge near the heart of Aptos. The two rail bridges aren’t wide enough for a trail and are also narrowing points for the highway, preventing a Bus on Shoulder project.

In a brilliant stroke of infrastructure planning, the RTC, in coordination with Caltrans and the Santa Cruz County Public Works Department, is starting work on a combined project package to untie the knot. The planned project will:

  • Widen the Highway 1 bridge over Aptos Creek and Spreckels Drive
  • Replace the two railroad bridges over Highway 1 with multimodal bridges that can accommodate both the Rail Trail and future rail transit
  • Expedite and fund construction of the full length of Rail Trail Segment 12. This segment runs from State Park Drive to Rio Del Mar Boulevard. In between, it crosses the highway to connect Seacliff neighborhoods to the inland side of the freeway, continues into Aptos Village, and then crosses back over the highway into Rio Del Mar.


Right now, the project team is developing the mapping to be used for the environmental studies and preliminary layouts. The environmental phase of the project has begun and is expected to be completed in 2021; then the final design work can begin. Construction is expected to start in 2024, pending the availability of funding. We’re pleased to see a projected construction start date of 2024, considering how long projects of this scale typically require.

The combined project makes room for both trail and transit on new rail bridges, funds the construction of the trail, and adds room for Bus on Shoulder on the highway. By integrating these projects into one, the planning and development time for each will be reduced and the different project elements will all be able to take advantage of multiple funding sources. If you’d like to learn more of the project details, click here to go to the RTC fact sheet. 


Measure D Highway Corridor funds and other local RTC funds are being used to do the necessary work to get the project ready for construction, and will be used as a match for future SB1 and federal construction grants. By obtaining environmental clearance by early 2022, this project will be able to compete for grants from state programs such as the SB1 Solution to Congested Corridors Program, the Local Partnership Program, and the Active Transportation Program.


Our thanks go out to the Project Delivery Team; including RTC Executive Director Guy Preston, County Public Works Director Matt Machado, and the RTC staff; for putting together this creative project that leverages our local tax dollars to get as much bang for the buck as possible.

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