End Scenic Route
By Gary Singh
ONE OF the most curious roadside distractions in this county sits on southbound 280 right after you cross Alpine Road coming into Santa Clara County from the scenic stretch along the San Mateo County peninsula. A sign sits there on the right side of the freeway that says "Santa Clara County Line," meaning you are now officially entering the county of Santa Clara. Right underneath that sign, another one says, "End Scenic Route."
That's right. As soon you as you enter Santa Clara County, the scenic route is over. It's done. Terminated. Finished.
Of course, there's probably a logical reason why it ends at the county line, but you can't help but bust a gut when driving by this. I mean, is Santa Clara County that much of a concrete-covered wasteland that the scenic route just isn't allowed to continue within its limits? Don't we get a chance to rectify the situation? What gives?
Well, it turns out these matters fall under the auspices of the state of California, and the Department of Transportation's website says that what makes a highway scenic depends "upon how much of the natural landscape can be seen by travelers, the scenic quality of the landscape, and the extent to which development intrudes upon the traveler's enjoyment of the view."
Now, a cynic—or in my case, an idealist mugged by reality—might automatically assume that such a statement rules out pretty much every highway in Santa Clara County, but not so! Highway 9 going from Skyline Boulevard down to Los Gatos is the only officially designated State Scenic Highway in this county. We have just one.
But it also turns out we have three other stretches of highway that are "eligible" for, but not yet "officially designated," State Scenic Highways. What, exactly, does that mean? I'll tell you, and this is a perfect example of California state bureaucracy at its finest. Basically, in two separate processes, the stretch of road has to first become eligible for scenic status and then be officially designated as a scenic highway.
The DOT's website says that "the status of a proposed state scenic highway changes from eligible to officially designated when the local governing body applies to Caltrans for scenic highway approval, adopts a Corridor Protection Program, and receives notification that the highway has been officially designated a Scenic Highway."
The Corridor Protection Program involves several ordinances and policies relating to the regulation of development intrusive to the scenic views, the control of outdoor advertising and careful attention to all landscaping in general. For example, the protected corridor along Highway 9 includes Villa Montalvo and Hakone Gardens. If a highway is on the "eligible" list, then the city or county with jurisdiction over the lands adjacent to the highway must put together a proposal for the Caltrans Scenic Highway Coordinator for whatever district those cities or counties fall under.
Again, Highway 9 is the only stretch of pavement officially designated and only two others in Santa Clara County are eligible: 280 from the county line to 880 and also Highway 152 in what's called South County.
Since we've spent the last 40 years designing a county built on sporadic developments of freeways and expressways, all scenic values have been lost in the process. So instead of Scenic Route 280, you may as well lobby your district councilmember for something like Horrid Route 82, Hideous Route 101 or Eyesore Route 87.
Lastly, according to the DOT's website, scenic highway designation will "enhance community identity and pride, encouraging citizen commitment to preserve community values; Enhance land values by maintaining the scenic character of the corridor; and provide a vehicle for the community to promote local tourism that is consistent with the community's scenic values." Voilą. Considering how many people come to San Jose as tourists, I guess you could say it's perfectly consistent with our scenic values.