Moss Landing segment of scenic trail on hold ‘indefinitely’

Moss Landing segment of scenic trail on hold ‘indefinitely’

MOSS LANDING = For Moss Landing cyclists, stroller joggers and sightseers, the wait for a safe, scenic path crossing the harbor just got longer.

Construction of a nearly mile-long walkway is on hold indefinitely after Caltrans employees discovered a deteriorating retaining wall during a routine maintenance inspection.

The plan was to build a path that hugs Highway 1 from Sea Harvest Restaurant to Phil’s Snack Shack & Deli. The project, part of the larger Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail network, should begin early next year. That is, until a wall entering Elkhorn Slough got in the way.

“Projects are complicated, it takes a lot of moving parts to put the puzzle together in order for them to be built,” said Todd Muck, executive director of the Transportation Agency for Monterey County, which co-funded the project. “This is just, unfortunately, a case where the pieces didn’t fit together in time to move it forward. So we need to fix that and then take care of it again.

The faulty wall hugs Highway 1 on the north side of the swamp, where the trail was supposed to begin with a football field-length bridge to allow people to stroll across the harbor. The wall must be removed and the area stabilized before the project can proceed.

The plan was to build a path that hugs Highway 1 from Sea Harvest Restaurant to Phil's Snack Shack & Deli.  (Graphic courtesy of TAMC and Monterey County)
The plan was to build a path that hugged Highway 1 from Sea Harvest Restaurant to Phil’s Snack Shack & Deli. (Graphic courtesy of TAMC and Monterey County)

Caltrans, the Wall’s owner, will see to its fate. Then the county public works department must secure funds again before they can build the trail, which they fear they may not get. The timeline for all of this is difficult to predict, but it will likely take years.

The county said it will continue to work with Caltrans and coordinate to move forward with the project.

As it stands, the most direct route for pedestrians to get from the beaches on the north side of Moss Landing harbor to the shopping and dining on the other side is through the shoulder of Highway 1, which the California Coastal Conservancy recommends to finance the footpath is dangerous. Signs are directing cyclists to head inland, around the swamp, rather than face that route, he adds.

The Moss Landing Trail would provide safe passage for such cyclists, as well as local tourists, hikers and those with limited mobility.

These projects are taking longer than anyone would wish—the public and the organizations involved alike, said Mari Lynch, founder of Bicycling Monterey, a grassroots volunteer initiative and local partner of the California Bicycle Coalition.

“As far as I know, the retaining wall is where the old bridge used to be, and it makes sense that Caltrans didn’t keep a close eye on it,” Lynch said.

According to a project update issued by the TAMC and Monterey County – Department of Public Works, Facilities & Parks, Caltrans is prioritizing the problem and seeking funds to repair the wall. Such projects are typically approved annually, and subsequent approvals can take anywhere from one to three years, according to Public Works.

Then the district has to find a way of financing, which can also take years.

Public Works had funds to build the trail, about $10.5 million, but the majority were grants that are being phased out due to the wall delay. Now the district has to apply for building funds again before they can build the path. They worry they might not get them because a major Caltrans scholarship is competitive and statewide. The next application cycle for this one will begin in 2024, Public Works believes.

“We would like to see Caltrans use its own accessible funds to carry out this project instead of requiring the county to reapply for grants that it may or may not receive,” Lynch said.

The proposed Moss Landing Trail is a jigsaw piece that connects to the larger network of Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trails. The network, championed by former Carmel Congressman Sam Farr in the early 2000’s, will eventually stretch from Pacific Grove to Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz.

Monterey County residents and tourists can already bask in awe at the ocean as they stroll the 18-mile trail that connects Lovers Point to Castroville. The remaining trails are planned for the northern edge of the county, in areas where projects are difficult to build. Such projects must manage water crossings — at the Port, Slough and Pajaro River — and avoid disrupting farming operations, Muck said. Many sections of the Santa Cruz Scenic District are also underway.

Trail builders must also obtain regulatory approvals to ensure Elkhorn Slough wildlife is protected during construction. Such permits also affect construction planning, Muck said.

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