Work continues on a dedicated bike path connecting Morro Bay and Cayucos, paralleling the beach and running atop the bluff; and if the County is successful in getting a big State grant, it could finally happen, fingers crossed.
Elizabeth Kavanaugh, with SLO County Public Works, recently gave a presentation to the Morro Bay Planning Commission on the so-called “Cayucos-Morro Bay Connector Trail.”
It’s a project that’s been in the works for over a decade and would establish a dedicated bike trail on the west side of Hwy 1, beyond the highway safety fence.
The biggest hurdle — getting ownership of the former Chevron Dog Beach — was done in 2020, with the City of Morro Bay owning the southern portion of Dog Beach and SLO County the northern part.
In 1929, Standard Oil built the Estero Marine Terminal, shipping crude oil that was piped to the Coast from the Bakersfield Area to Bay Area and Southern California refineries.
The marine terminal, now owned by Chevron, closed in 1999 after a new oil pipeline was completed. It’s unofficially called “Dog Beach” because people are allowed to let their dogs off-leash, a practice that both the County and City of Morro Bay want to continue.
The Cayucos Sanitary District facilitated this ownership change as part of its new water reclamation/sewer treatment plant project being built about a mile up Toro Creek Road.
The CSD took over one of the terminal’s two undersea oil-loading lines to use as a wastewater discharge pipe for its new plant.
“This change of ownership is an important step forward for this trail because both property owners want to see this trail built,” Kavanaugh said.
Much of the paperwork for what would become a segment of the “California Coast Trail” is done. “The County,” Kavanaugh said, “is about halfway done with construction drawings for this trail. Environmental review is complete and we are heading into the permitting phase next.
“We will be applying for a Consolidated Coastal Permit at the Coastal Commission,” she added. “We anticipate that process will take a year or so. Construction drawings will be completed once we know what changes Coastal Commission will require. Followed by building and environmental permits.”
The County now estimates the project to cost about $6 million. Needless to say, the County, which is the lead agency for the project, needs the some help.
“Most of our trail projects are built with money received from completive grants,” Kavanaugh said, citing as the example a $3.1 million grant they got to build a trail connecting Santa Margarita to Garden Farms traversing the Santa Margarita Ranch. “SLOCOG has provided grants in the past for the soft costs of the Morro Bay to Cayucos Connector and we have applied for a $6 million grant to construct this trail through Caltrans’ Active Transportation Program. We are hopeful we will get this grant. Keep your fingers crossed!”
She added that they have other possible funding sources in mind, should the ATP grant fall through.
Though it might seem like a simple project, it’s rather complicated to run a paved bike lane over the top of sand dunes. “The $6 million construction costs includes 1 mile of new trail and improvements to existing bike paths in Morro Bay and Cayucos, including a bike light at Highway 1 and Old Creek Road, signs, and striping. However most of the $6 million price tag is the new 1-mile segment.”
The bike lane needs four “bridges” to span gaps in the bluff top. The biggest of them is at Toro Creek.
“The longest over Toro Creek will be 200-feet long,” Kavanaugh said. “These are the expensive elements of the trail.” Design plans show a steel girder bridge over the creek, similar to the one the City put in spanning Morro Creek.
In the meantime, Kavanaugh said residents who might want to help the process along, can contribute to the project through County Parks. “County Parks welcomes endowments and gifting for specific projects,” Kavanaugh said.
The County Parks Endowments & Gifting website is: https://slocountyparks.com/donation/endowments-gifting.
“Although there is not a specific donation fund set up for the Morro Bay to Cayucos Connector Trail project, if anyone is interested in donating to this project they can contact the County Parks office at (805) 781-5930.”
So if the State approves the grant, when would the project start? “As for a schedule,” Kavanaugh said, “it is hard to predict without knowing when the trail construction will be funded. If we get the Active Transportation Grant we anticipate construction will start in 2023 and be completed in 2024.” Such grants normally come with a deadline to use the money or lose it.
The scope of the project goes far beyond just a bluff top trail. It includes improvements to the North Point Natural Area — paving the trail that will run up the old Hwy 1 route, now degraded into a gravel path, and wind down to connect with the parking lot.
It also improves the bike path that goes up Beachcomber Drive to Sandalwood Avenue and over to the City’s bike path running through the Cloisters, and behind the high school to Atascadero Road.
From there riders can go west to the Embarcadero and the waterfront via the Morro Creek Bridge.
Or they can take the other bike route that goes behind the power plant to Main Street.
On the Cayucos side, improvements will be made at the end of Studio Drive to accommodate more parking and a staircase down to the beach is also planned.
Along the highway, where people park to go down to Dog Beach, the plan is to make improvements there as well.
Though the bike path is some time off, the area will soon become a major construction zone, as Caltrans has a project to replace the northbound bridge over Toro Creek. That project will re-route all Hwy 1 traffic in both directions onto the southbound bridge.