SANTA CRUZ -- The recent dry spell has given construction crews time to catch up on building new Highway 1 lanes between Soquel Drive and Morrissey Boulevard, which makes county transportation leaders hopeful the project can be finished by the end of summer.
The heavily traveled corridor through Santa Cruz is undergoing a $22 million transformation to add a lane in each direction that will connect the onramps and offramps to improve traffic flow. The one-mile stretch is considered the most congested in Santa Cruz County.
The Regional Transportation Commission of Santa Cruz County will receive its monthly update on the auxiliary lanes project at a meeting 9 a.m. Thursday in the Watsonville City Council chamber.
Bruce Shewchuk, the commission's resident engineer, will present a report on delays and the progress made with dry weather during the past couple of weeks.
Heavy rainfall during December forced the contractor to sit on the sidelines for days at a time, delaying the original completion date by several months.
"The winter rains through the Christmas period slowed progress on the northbound retaining walls," Shewchuk wrote in his report to the board. "The contractor is claiming differing site conditions required installation of a shoring system, now in place, more extensive than originally envisioned."
The contractor, RGW Construction of Livermore, is working nights and weekends to complete as much work as possible before the next rain, said Karena Pushnik, the commission's spokeswoman.
Much of the work has been focused on retaining walls with four of five retaining walls complete.
Some work has started on the footings for sound walls, and construction of the walls should begin in March.
There's also been progress in widening the southbound lane of Highway 1 by grinding the existing pavement in preparation for the new asphalt.
The new lanes must be finished before traffic can be shifted and the center column of the La Fonda Avenue Bridge removed and rebuilt.
Commission officials expect the new La Fonda Avenue Bridge to be up by early summer, Pushnik said Wednesday.
County transportation officials originally estimated the highway project would take two years to complete. However, RGW Construction said the work could be done in half that time, only a year.
The contractor's aggressive schedule did not include any potential delays due to rain or any other unforeseen circumstances such as site conditions and drainage problems.
Commissioner Randy Johnson said expanding that part of Highway 1 is critical due to the concentration of medical offices, hospitals and health services in the area.
"When you drop from Highway 17 to 1, you kinda hold your breath hoping there won't be a huge backup at the Fishhook," Johnson said. "Once it's done I think it will be very helpful, not a complete remedy but a partial one."
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