Connector Project Not quite Ready

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

March 14, 2024

The Morro Bay-Cayucos Connector Bike Way will run from the south end of Studio Drive to North Point in Morro Bay, roughly following the curve of the highway on the ocean side of the fence. File photo

Not so fast — the Morro Bay-Cayucos Connector Bike Path Project isn’t quite as ready to go as we thought.

Estero Bay News was contacted by Elizabeth Kavanaugh of County Parks who wanted to correct something we reported, that the connector project had all the permits it needs. 

She said, “This project has not yet been approved by Coastal Commission. We anticipate a Coastal Commission hearing in the upcoming months.”

She told EBN that the project actually needs several permits before it can move towards construction, including the biggie — a Coastal Development Permit or CDP — from the Coastal Commission. 

After they get that one, which she explained is the one most likely to cause changes to the project, they will also need permits from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and State Fish & Wildlife, which has jurisdiction over any project that intrudes on a wetland like Toro Creek, which empties onto the beach at the connector site.

Spanning the creek, which Kavanaugh said is from 150-180 feet wide, is where the biggest chunk of the cost is as well. She said Caltrans, which recently finished replacing the Northbound Toro Creek traffic bridge, is now intending to replace the southbound bridge too, widening it for bike lanes. 

The Connector Project will also need a bridge, though not as hefty of one as the Hwy 1 traffic spans.

“Right now,” she said, “it’s a stand alone bridge over Toro Creek.” She said it could be similar to the steel bridge the City of Morro Bay put in over Morro Creek, reserved for pedestrians and bicycles. 

Asked if it would be stylish, possibly made to look like a famous bridge, she said the preference of the community is to make it as unassuming as possible, to preserve as much of the view as they can. It will likely be steel, and Kavanaugh said the Toro Creek Bridge would be the biggest expense with the project.

There is also another portion of the Connector’s route that will need a small bridge, as there’s a major highway drain pipe emptying out there.

One other potential snag has arisen, as the homeowners of the row of bluff top homes on Morro Bay’s Toro Lane have filed a lawsuit seeking to make the Connector route move away from their dead end street.

Kavanaugh said the lawsuit isn’t stopping their progress on the project, as the County Counsel’s Office has told them to keep marching along with the project.

Nevertheless, she asked EBN to fix the misstatement in our previous story because she didn’t want the folks on Toro Lane to think the County was somehow circumventing the process.

County Supervisors recently amended the design contract with Cannon Corporation on the Connector Project and the California Transportation Commission approved $7.4 million from the Active Transportation Grant Program to fund construction of the Connector Project.

Supervisors awarded an additional $650,000 “to complete the Plans, Specification, and Estimate [PS&E] package from the current 60% completion milestones to the final 100% completion milestone,” reads a County report on the project.

Once the design is done, and presuming the permits are awarded and the lawsuit settled, the County would then be ready to move towards construction phase. But how does one land $7.5 million in funding for a project that has no permits yet? Kavanaugh said their main milestone with the grant monies was to secure all the needed right-of-ways, which the project has done, the biggest of which was the purchase of the former Chevron Dog Beach, which was purchased from Chevron by the Cayucos Sanitary District as part of its new treatment plant project. That beach is now under the jurisdiction of the City of Morro Bay.

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