A Freeway Won't Run Through It
New state budget kills Hatton Canyon Freeway--once and for all.
Thursday, July 6, 2000
After 48 years, the Hatton Canyon Freeway project is finally dead. On Friday, with the stroke of a pen, Gov. Gray Davis killed any remaining hopes that a freeway would be built through Carmel''s Hatton Canyon. His approval of the 2000-01 state budget, which includes $2.5 million to purchase Hatton Canyon from the state Department of Transportation (CalTrans) and give it into the care of the California Coastal Conservancy, delivered the coup de grâce to an issue that has divided the community for years. The money to save Hatton Canyon will come from the $2.1 billion parks and coastal protection bond authored by Assemblymember Fred Keeley.
Prying Hatton Canyon out of CalTrans'' hands "would be driving a stake through the heart of the freeway," Keeley says. "This is very good news for those who oppose it."
Keeley has been working to consummate the purchase of CalTrans-owned acreage within the environmentally sensitive Hatton Canyon. "We now have what amounts to a willing seller," he says. Once the sale is final, the land will become a park.
The Hatton Canyon Freeway would have been a 2.8-mile long stretch of freeway running nearly parallel to Highway 1 from Carpenter to the Carmel River Bridge, relieving traffic on the heavily used stretch of road around Carmel Valley and Rio. However, the freeway was opposed by canyon homeowners as well as environmentalists. The freeway would have wreaked havoc on the canyon, which encompasses 10 acres of wetlands, some 7,700 native Monterey pines, and at least one federally endangered red-legged frog discovered by a CalTrans biologist. Opponents also say the freeway would have been a waste of taxpayer money. The latest CalTrans estimate puts construction costs at $51.6 million, but opponents have estimated the cost to be as high as $120 million.
The project has been planned since 1952 and has historically enjoyed some powerful advocates. But over the years, a consortium of freeway opponents, both grassroots and politically powerful, have rallied to kill the freeway, arguing that traffic problem could be solved by cheaper and more environmentally friendly methods within the existing Highway 1 corridor.
In 1982, the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club reversed its position supporting the freeway. Then, the retirement of State Senator Henry Mello and County Supervisor Tom Perkins, both big freeway supporters, as well as the elections of Keeley and County Supervisors Dave Potter and Lou Calcagno in the mid- to late ''90s turned the political tide against the freeway.
In 1996, a consortium made up of the Hatton Canyon Coalition, the city of Carmel, the Sierra Club and the Monterey Regional Parks District prevailed in a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the freeway''s Environmental Impact Report. The success of the lawsuit, says the Hatton Canyon Coalition''s Gary Tate, "led to the realization that this project was not going to be built."
Locally, the final blow came last year when the Transportation Agency of Monterey County voted to divert county funds earmarked for Hatton Canyon to the Prunedale Highway 101 Bypass.
"This is one of the major environmental battles in the history of the Peninsula," Tate says. "Now the Hatton Canyon will become open space, because that''s what it deserves to be."