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August 18, 2022

A welcome relief

APTOS — After months of taking a circuitous route to take their children to and from school and to run everyday errands, residents of a small Aptos neighborhood on Aug. 7 for the first time walked across a new bridge that connects them to their community.

County officials opened the temporary bridge on Valencia Road after a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by dozens of neighbors and school district officials.

Aptos resident Kassandra Thomsen she has taken the one-hour drive to her kids’ school, three times per day since the bridge was closed on Jan. 22.

The short trip, which normally takes about 15 minutes, was turned into a sizable road trip early this year, when heavy winter rains damaged the road and the bridge that spans Trout Gulch.

County officials closed Valencia Road on Jan. 22, and Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez closed Valencia Elementary School a week later.

That forced students to relocate to Mar Vista Elementary School, Cabrillo College, Aptos High School and Rolling Hills Middle School.

The temporary bridge was welcome relief for the neighbors, and for parents whose children attend Valencia Elementary School.

“This is a big day for us,” Thomsen said. “It really does feel like we’re getting our lives back.”

The winter rains took a toll on the county, causing $129 million in damages at 320 sites, Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend said.

While the Valencia Road bridge repairs carry the largest price tag, the county is still struggling to complete all the repairs, Friend said.

“We recognize that we still have a long way to dig our way out of the damage,” he said. “But the fact that we can restore that access back to people is really the gift we’ve owed you for quite some time.”

The Federal Highway Administration in March approved the $4 million bridge repair plan. The temporary span will allow workers to continue working on a permanent replacement.

“We are so, so grateful that we now have our main way into our campus,” said Valencia Elementary School Principal Caryn Lane. “It has been a long journey for our teachers, our kiddos and our families and the people we care about that we share our community with.”

Rodriguez praised county officials who quickly completed the necessary paperwork needed to secure funding.

“Today is truly a fantastic day for our community, and for the school of Valencia,” she said. “When the going gets tough we come together and we make sure our students have the best of all of us.”

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