State Route 17 Shaded Fuel Break Project Completed
6.5 Miles of Highway 17 between Los Gatos and the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains now features a completed shaded fuelbreak which has already contained multiple roadside car fires since completion. This highway corridor through the wooded slopes of Lexington Hills serves as a critical escape route for thousands of residents and commuters in this wildfire-prone landscape. Work began for this project on August 26th, 2019 and included the treatment of over 400 acres which protects the infrastructure of Lexington Reservoir, Santa Clara County Fire Station in Redwood Estates, and many other structures.
The $9 million project was the largest and one of the most complex of Governor Newsom’s 2019 priority list wildfire protection projects. Through an unprecedented CALFIRE-Caltrans-Santa Clara County FireSafe Council joint partnership, many challenges were overcome to complete this historic accomplishment. Secretary Wade Crowfoot of the Resources Agency ensured strong environmental protection measures were applied in a way that expedited the project. Work was suspended for periods of time due to rainfall, high fire danger and Covid-19 shelter in place orders.
The collaboration built cooperation among multiple public agencies at the state, county and local levels along with private landowners and contractors. These new relationships will continue to produce additional benefits to enhance wildfire safety in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Construction of the planned fuelbreak was completed on Wednesday, May 27th. Additional erosion control treatments and debris removal continued through Friday, May 29th.
The Santa Clara County Firesafe Council will continue to lead work on complementary projects near the highway to strengthen the fuel break’s effectiveness. The goal is to further improve wildfire resiliency for neighborhoods along the Highway 17 corridor.
Caltrans also plans to continue with additional hazardous tree removal to help prevent dead, dying or leaning trees from falling into the roadway.
The SR17 Shaded Fuel Break Project was a collaboration between these public agencies and was part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment.
Anyone who lives around or travels along State Route 17 — otherwise known as Highway 17 — should be concerned about the possibility of wildfire.
The SR-17 Shaded Fuel Break Project was a part of a larger plan to target evacuation routes in California’s WUIs (Wildland Urban Interfaces). A WUI is a zone where wildland (undeveloped land) meets urban development, like much of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The state of emergency proclaimed by Governor Newsom identified 35 areas most vulnerable to wildfire, including the 6.5 mile stretch of SR-17 between the Town of Los Gatos and Summit Road. Fuel reduction efforts along this evacuation route also included parts of communities adjacent to the highway such as Redwood Estates and Chemeketa Park.
Critical infrastructure, such as power transmission and distribution lines, San Jose Water Company’s water treatment plant at Lexington Reservoir, Chemeketa Park’s water intake, and CAL FIRE’s Alma Fire Station & Helitack Base are protected by the shaded fuel break.
Likewise, the Santa Cruz Mountains’ valuable wildlife habitats and recreation areas also benefit.
The majority of the project occurred off of the highway.