WATSONVILLE—One month after Pajaro Valley High School (PVHS) unveiled its long awaited sports complex, another massive project years in the making took a giant leap forward.
The California Transportation Commission on Wednesday approved an $11.7 million grant to help the city of Watsonville build a pedestrian and bicycle highway overpass near Harkins Slough Road that will give PVHS students safe passage to and from campus.
The project, which in total is estimated to cost $15.8 million, still has a few roadblocks its needs to clear. But Watsonville Principal Engineer Murray Fontes said design work could go out to bid next year, and construction could begin as early as the 2022-23 fiscal year.
“The city is thrilled that we were awarded the funding,” Fontes said. “We’ve been working on this for close to 20 years.”
Pajaro Valley High Principal Matt Levy called the project “huge.” Currently, students have only one walking route to campus: a six-foot-wide sidewalk alongside a road that leads to an on-ramp for Highway 1.
“It can be dangerous,” Levy said. “There’s always a lot of cars on that overpass.”
Watsonville beat out hundreds of jurisdictions across California for the funding, which comes from the state’s 2021 Active Transportation Program (ATP). In all, the state distributed roughly $285 million to 50 different projects. Watsonville notched the sixth-highest score of all applicants.
It was the city’s third attempt at the competitive ATP grant.
This time around the city asked PVHS students to write letters to the commission about what the overpass would mean for their safety. It also included photos of what a typical day at the campus’ lone entrance on Harkins Slough Road looks like before and after school.
“Those [photos] speak for themselves,” Fontes said.
The project was included in the city’s Complete Streets-Safe Routes To School plan, a 472-page document that outlines numerous potential pedestrian and traffic safety projects at 15 Watsonville schools. It was created by the city, Pajaro Valley Unified School District and Ecology Action.
As part of the plan’s construction, Ecology Action examined pedestrian access and safety around each of Watsonville’s schools. Planner Amelia Conlen said it was “striking” to see the number of PVHS students who had to walk on the road because of limited pedestrian access.
“Students are frequently walking in the bike lane, spilling over the sidewalk into the bike lane,” she said. “There’s a lot of traffic headed there in the morning. It is a pretty chaotic scene… We’re thrilled that [the city of Watsonville’s] hard work finally paid off.”
The grant will not only help fund the overpass, but it will also fund improvements to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure around elementary and middle schools that feed into PVHS. In addition, the funding will also be used to provide pedestrian and cycling safety courses at those schools through Ecology Action.
Along with bringing students a sense of security when they come to and leave campus, Levy said the overpass would be a benefit to the community when PVHS starts holding events as Covid-19 restrictions begin to loosen. Construction of the school’s 450-seat performing center is also forthcoming, and will further make the PVHS campus a community asset, Levy said.
“I think this is sending the school in a really positive direction and [making it] a place that students and the community can also be proud of along with the other two high schools in the district,” he said. “To be able to feel proud to come here and be able to feel safe coming here. It’s exciting.”