Santa Cruz County

Highway 17 commuters follow jobs over hill

Special Report: Highway 17 commute mess

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - If you've ever traveled on Highway 17 during commute hours you know how much of a mess that can be. The majority of the commuters don't have any other option but to take the highway to get to work in Silicon Valley.

Highway 17 is known for its twists and turns, but for the thousands of drivers who use it every morning, it's the traffic that really grinds their gears.

Watsonville resident, Michael Gaither, who has been commuting to Silicon Valley for decades said he's seen a lot of bad drivers on the road. Gaither decided to write a song drivers could relate to, appropriately titled "Highway 17."

"Honestly I wanted it to be funny. I wanted it to just illustrate some of the nonsense that happens on that road and hopefully people relate to it," said Gaither.

Santa Cruz resident Angela Madden is another long time commuter. Like many others, she takes the bus to avoid getting behind the wheel.

"Riding the bus is definitely a better option for me. There's Wi-Fi on the bus. My boss is super cool so I can use my commute time for my eight hours a day and I don't have to stress out being in the car like everybody else," said Madden.

About 20,000 people take Highway 17 from Santa Cruz to San Jose every day. It's a good hour drive so some folks on the bus like to use that time getting work done. The question is why do so many work over the hill?

"The reason is we have a talented workforce. Over 50 percent of the city of Santa Cruz has at least a bachelor's degree or higher. That puts us at the top of the charts. (We are a) very educated, tech-savvy community," said Santa Cruz Economic Development Manager J. Guevara.

While the brain drain is flowing in the direction of Silicon Valley, Santa Cruz said it's trying to keep techies local.

"We are going to become Silicon Valley's first community with a gigabit fiber to the home network. What that means is that every resident in every business will have firsthand access to world markets with at least a gig," Guevara said.

Heather Gorley, who lives in Scotts Valley has been a Highway 17 commuter for 35 years. 

"The commute has gotten to be the worst it's ever been," said Gorley.

But until Santa Cruz can improve its tech industry, it's over the hill Gorley goes.

 "Well I'd like them all to stay home, and I'll continue on the bus," said Gorley.

The Santa Cruz Economic Development manager said by 2018 new technology will bring more opportunities and companies to the Central Coast. The city hopes to cut out the long commute for some drivers.

Here's a link to the "Highway 17" song: http://youtu.be/JCL2sFyUNCo

 


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