We saw something last week that you don’t often see, in fact, that I don’t recall ever seeing: unanimous agreement on the Rail Trail.  The occasion was the meeting of the Regional Transportation Commission.  The Land Trust, Bike Santa Cruz County, Friends of the Rail and Trail and the Great Trail group all supported the staff recommendation. The recommendation was about how to deal with some surprising obstacles in building the North Coast segment of the Rail Trail.

Everyone also agrees it was complicated, so I’ll spare you the details. What everyone agreed to was RTC basically using the environmental impact report process to decide whether to build the trail on the coast side of the tracks or the inland side, or whether to abandon the tracks all together. The report will take about nine months, so our rare unanimous agreement will likely last until early next year when the commission will pick which option to follow.

The process is necessary to speed up decision-making so that the entire project can be built before time runs out on the $6 million federal grant that is funding the North Coast segment of the Rail Trail (along with $4 million in Land Trust matching funds). Advocates for the “trail only” approach said at the meeting that they want RTC to pick the “trail only” option. They have the problem that the time it will take to undo the basic Rail Trail plan would certainly mean losing the federal money.

But that argument is for another day. After the meeting I chatted with Miles Reiter and Great Trail’s new Executive Director, Gail McNulty. We all agreed we want a great trail and decided to leave it that vague. Why ruin a day when we all agreed on something?

Stephen Slade is the Executive Director at Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. He has two daughters who have grown up in Santa Cruz and he tells them no matter where they go as adults, it won’t be as good as where they grew up.

Find out more about Stephen Slade…

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Smart, clean, electric rail transit is in our future and we’re right to keep the active rail line ready to be upgraded. Since 1990, US passenger rail ridership has increased by 67%, while bus transit dropped 16%. Option 1, by far, offers the best level of service, already has significant engineering completed, and would be most likely to break ground in time to not lose funding.
    We should pay attention to the growing body of evidence that our community supports rail and trail, and we should prepare to do what Monterey County is doing: They’re extending service from Santa Clara county into Salinas. We can meet them at Pajaro.
    http://www.tamcmonterey.org/programs/rail/salinas-rail-extension/

  2. Stephen,

    The “agreement” you speak about is belied by your statement: “They have the problem that the time it will take to undo the basic Rail Trail plan would certainly mean losing the federal money.” Before you were saying that environmental studies and redesign proposed by the Great Santa Cruz Trail Group would take “years.” Now it appears it can be done in 9 months. And you are predicting the conclusion of a new RTC “study,” even though the time delays you have consistently predicted have vanished. It’s no wonder why the Great Santa Cruz Trail Group questions many things being said by the RTC and the Land Trust regarding the trail. First Segment 7, the only segment with a true engineering plan, comes in at double the budgeted cost, thanks to very expensive retaining walls, culverts, moving buildings, etc–all to preserve a train that will never be funded or approved by voters. Now the trail that is “25% funded” and “designed in the award-winning MBSST plan” turns out, according to federal surveyors, can’t be built on the trail as designed and probably can’t be started until after 2020, losing millions of dollars in federal grants (poof! so much for 25% funded). The arguments put forth by the RTC and the Land Trust are cracking all around, as the reality of doing what you propose meets the facts on the ground. I hope the Land Trust board will look carefully at how the facts continue to shake the foundation of the RTC and Land Trust’s position and reevaluate where it stands. The mission statement of the Land Trust is “to protect, care for, and connect people to the extraordinary lands that make this area special.” I respectfully suggest the Land Trust get out of the train business and go back to its stated mission, which WE ALL AGREE is a good one!

    1. Dear Bud,

      The study of the North Coast segment can be done in MONTHS, but undoing the Rail Trail Master Plan will take YEARS, 8 years according to RTC staff estimates. So if the Trail Only approach was chosen for the North Coast, it would mean the loss of Federal funds for the North Coast segment because of the time restrictions of that Federal grant.

      We certainly think that helping fund the building of a trail that connects 92 parks fits into our mission of connecting people to the lands that make this area special.

  3. Given the obstacles and time constraints to remove the track it is safe to say Option 2 is dead on arrival.

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