After nearly six years of waiting for bicycle and pedestrian improvements to Highway 9, the City of Saratoga and the towns of Los Gatos and Monte Sereno are finally seeing completion of the majority of the upgrades in the most problematic spots of the dangerous thoroughfare.
Started in November of 2006, the project included a master plan on how to improve the treacherous highway that crosses the three municipalities, from Saratoga's Big Basin Way to Los Gatos Boulevard.
The project also involved Santa Clara County and Caltrans as some of their land was included in the corridor.
Without money to make all the improvements, including wider bike lanes along Highway 9 and pedestrian pathways, engineers worked with the towns involved to secure funding.
On Sept. 15, the 4.4-mile section claimed the life of a motorcyclist who died as a result of a crash at the intersection of Highway 9 and Saratoga Avenue. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital, according to Sheriff's officials.
Highway 9 is also the location where a Monte Sereno bicyclist and a Saratoga woman died in early 2004, where a Saratoga girl in 2007 was seriously injured, where two more bicyclists were injured in 2009, and saw another fatality involving a Cupertino bicyclist in July of 2010.
Government officials from the three communities have been meeting for the past few years with representatives from BKF Engineers to design the highway upgrades.
The project has been funded by Highway Safety Improvement Program federal monies awarded to the City of Saratoga. Once all its components are finished, the cost for the entire project will be about $3.5 million.
"This road has been very dangerous for everybody, from cars to bicyclists to pedestrians," said Saratoga Mayor Chuck Page. "This road will never be 100 percent safe and it's up to all of us to watch out for one another. If we all take responsibility for our own safety, it will be as safe as can be."
Mayor Page urged local pedestrians and bicyclists to be cautious when crossing, walking or riding along the highway. "Anytime cars get near pedestrians and bicyclists it can get ugly," he said.
Los Gatos Parks and Public Works Director Todd Capurso noted the City of Saratoga became the lead agency in managing the contract because most of the physical improvements were in the city and it only made sense for one body to manage the program. "I think the upgrades have helped make the highway safer. (Highway 9 is) also widened east of Highway 17 for bicycle traffic," Capurso said.
The project's first phase, administered by the Town of Los Gatos, was completed in the fall of 2008. Bike lanes on both sides of the road and two pedestrian-activated lighted crossings at Massol and Vickery avenues were completed from Saratoga Avenue/Big Basin Way to town's city limit near Massol Avenue. The upgrades, which cost just under $1 milion, were funded by a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant with matching funds from the cities.
The project's second phase, which has not yet started, will consist of adding pedestrian paths on sections of Highway 9 that currently lack them from Saratoga Avenue to the Los Gatos city limit. This portion of the work is expected to cost less than $1 million. Stretches where they're needed have been identified, but have not yet been completed. The work will be administered by the City of Saratoga.
This part of the work is currently being bid, according to the project engineers.
The upgrades also include new medians, bicycle loops at signaled intersections, and widening of the Highway 9 corridor in Los Gatos to accommodate a bicycle lane, installation of curbs, retaining walls, driveway modifications, crosswalks, signage, and striping between Saratoga and Los Gatos on Highway 9.
The project's third part, which focuses on the intersection of Austin Way at Highway 9, should see dramatic improvements in safety because of a big right-turn movement for bicyclists and pedestrians that are crossing, and vehicles often don't pay attention or yield to their passage.
On Oct. 19 at 4 p.m., City of Saratoga officials will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the corner of Highway 9 and Austin Way in the parking lot of the La Hacienda Inn in Monte Sereno, 18840 Saratoga-Los Gatos Road, to celebrate the completion of this part of the project.
The less-than-one mile portion of the upgrades at this intersection, which started early this year, is almost done. It's expected to be completed by the end of fall and includes adding a small bike lane at Los Gatos Boulevard and Highway 9 and bicycle detection at the intersection. This portion of the work will cost about $416,000, said Saratoga senior engineer Iveta Harvancik.
The speed on a section of Highway 9 has also been reduced from 50 to 45 mph, according to Harvancik.
Not scheduled for construction yet, it will involve additional unspecified upgrades which have not been funded. It will most likely include extra pedestrian paths in Saratoga and Monte Sereno. In between this section of the highway is Santa Clara County property, and would primarily be located between Fruitvale Avenue to Greenwood Road. Expected cost for this portion of the work is about $1 million.