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May 30, 2023

Santa Cruz County scores money for hydrogen busses, affordable housing projects

Countywide efforts to bolster environmentally-friendly bus service and build low-income housing were given a boost Monday, with the announcement of a $38.6 million award from the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA).

The money will allow Santa Cruz METRO to purchase 24 zero-emission, hydrogen-powered buses, including construction of a hydrogen fueling station.

The funds will also go to ongoing efforts to create more than 180 affordable housing units at the County’s two main transportation hubs.

The money was announced during a noontime press conference at the main METRO station in Santa Cruz.

The county also received a $3.45 million grant that will go toward the Project Concept Report and environmental study for the Regional Transportation Commission’s (RTC) Zero Emission Passenger Rail and Trail Project.

“It’s going to give us an incredible amount of clarity about how to move forward with that project,” said RTC Board Chair Manu Koenig. “It’s going to help us plan some of the most beautiful segments of the coastal trail, down by Harkins and Gallgher sloughs where you can see a ton of beautiful bird species.”

The County’s award is among $690 million awarded to 28 public transportation projects statewide, which is part of the state’s Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program, said California Transportation Secretary Toks Omishakin.

“I love to see projects that combine zero-emission buses, and bus service with affordable housing,” he said. “You talk about a win-win? That’s a win-win.”

METRO officials envision a future with all-day bus service at 15-minute intervals from Watsonville to locations throughout the county. Plans also include express service between Santa Cruz and San Jose with 15-minute commute periods on Highway 17.

Sasha Kergan, Deputy Secretary of Housing and Consumer Relations at the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency, said the creation of housing near public transportation reduces overall housing costs and increases bus ridership, which in turn takes cars off the road and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. 

This includes Pacific Station in downtown Santa Cruz, a mixed-use development that combines the METRO station with 120 units of affordable housing above. It also includes revamping METRO’s Watsonville Transit Center to a four-story building with 60 affordable housing units above.

“These investments support people every day,” Kergan said. “In how they get to their jobs, how they get to school, how they get to and from the places in their community and adjacent communities. It’s really best when we can stick the landing by getting housing located close by transportation investment as well.”

Koenig said the buses will be a part of the County’s bus-on-shoulder program, which when finished will establish a bus-only lane on Highway 1 from 41st Avenue to Freedom Boulevard.

“These 24 new hydrogen buses we’re going to get, they’re going to be running faster here than anywhere else in the state because they are going to have priority on the highway,” he said. 

They will also be equipped with transponders designed to keep signal lights on Soquel Drive green longer, allowing them to flow easier.

“We are going to make the most of this new fleet, you better believe it,” Koenig said. 


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