SALINAS — A new $55 million Castroville Boulevard interchange project can move forward thanks to state legislation authored by State Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, to address the project’s impact on the endangered Santa Cruz long-toed salamander.
The legislation also applies to much of the overall $400 million Highway 156 improvement project, which includes the interchange along with a four-lane widening proposal and a new Highway 101 interchange.
Signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom late last month, Senate Bill 1231 allows the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to issue an “incidental take” permit for the species. The permit requires species-specific minimization and avoidance measures, as well as full mitigations on habitat impacts from the project for the salamander.
Legislation signed by Gov Newsom allows Highway 156 Castroville Boulevard interchange project to go ahead by addressing threatened salamander habitat near the project site. (Monterey Herald file)
The project had been stalled because the salamander is considered a “no take” species under state law, which prohibits any disturbance of its habitat.
Monning said he was pleased the Governor signed the legislation allowing “necessary road improvements for SR 156, improving the safety and mobility for residents and visitors while minimizing the impacts to the compromised species’ habitat.” His office noted the current two-lane highway is a major transportation corridor allowing access to the Monterey Peninsula and the Central Coast region but that “poses a significant threat to driver safety,” while pointing out there have been more than 500 collisions on the roadway since 2005, a rate 20% higher than the state average.
The highway is considered Monterey County’s top collision site and one of its most heavily traveled and congested roadways.
Transportation Agency for Monterey County executive director Debbie Hale, whose agency is partnering with Caltrans on the project, said TAMC is in the process of hiring a specialist to survey the project area and propose appropriate habitat to state and federal agencies for mitigation. She thinks the legislation will actually benefit the salamander species in the long run.
“We believe that this habitat preservation approach will, in fact, be a win-win for the species, which will receive more quality habitat, in greater acreage, than will be affected by the project,” Hale said. “Our goal is to coordinate with a known habitat management entity, such as the Elkhorn Slough Foundation.”
Bolstered by $30 million in local Measure X sales tax funding, the interchange project includes moving the interchange east of the existing interchange, and replacing the lone stoplight along the highway with an overpass and three roundabouts, one on either side of the overpass for vehicles exiting and entering the roadway, and one near the Monte Del Lago neighborhood. It would also include widening the highway to four lanes between the old and new interchanges.
The project is currently scheduled to begin construction in 2022.
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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment