TLDR: Good news for Rail Trail construction: Segments 7-11 updates plus Ultimate Trail beats ‘Interim Trail in Segments 8 and 9 EIR.
Segment 7b Construction Underway: Westside to the Beach
On the lower Westside, construction is underway for Rail Trail Segment 7b from Bay and California to the beach. The trail will flow next to the railroad tracks behind Neary Lagoon on a gradual descent to Depot Park and then emerge at the roundabout at the foot of the wharf.
This new section of trail will give kids in the Depot Park and Beach Flats neighborhoods a protected and less steep route uphill to the Westside schools, and people on the Westside a safer route to the beach and beyond.
Kyle Kelly, Santa Cruz City Schools Trustee, spoke on Twitter about the importance of the Segment 7 Rail Trail:
“Bay View Elementary has ~338 students and most live less than ¾ of a mile from the Rail Trail. With the new path, they have a safe route to school that frees Santa Cruz from more car traffic.”
Segment 7b grant funding also includes funding for bicycle and pedestrian education for all grades at Bay View elementary.
Boardwalk to State Park Drive: Grant Applications Submitted
Segments 8, 9, 10, and 11, which stretch from the Boardwalk to State Park Drive, have all applied for construction funding! The way that projects like these get funded is the agency responsible for the project uses our local tax dollars from 2016 Measure D to act as a local match to apply for state and federal grants. If successful in this round of funding, we can expect construction on these segments to start in the next 18-24 months.
The Rail Trail has a great track record for getting grant funds, and we are confident that these new segments will also score high in the grant application process and be awarded funds. Our thanks go to the City of Santa Cruz Public Works department and the County of Santa Cruz Department of Public Works staff for everything they have been doing to make these projects successful, including but not limited to their grant-writing efforts. They are unsung heroes of the Rail Trail!
Segment 8 & 9 Draft EIR Confirms Ultimate Trail is Best
The Draft Environmental Impact Review (DEIR) for the Rail Trail from the Boardwalk to 17th Ave has been released and contains good news: the official Proposed Project continues to score the highest among the build alternatives. This means that trail construction can continue as planned with the trail built next to the tracks.
Alternative Scenarios in the DEIR
Many folks have been wondering why there is still discussion of the ‘interim trail’ in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for Rail Trail Segments 8 and 9, despite the track-removal idea being defeated in the last election by a landslide.
Environmental reviews are created to learn the most environmentally friendly way to complete a project. At the heart of this process, planners always study at least 3 different scenarios: the Proposed Project scenario, at least one alternative-build scenario, and a no-build scenario. After the study, they score each scenario in all the different environmental impact categories. Then they add up the final scores to get the overall environmental-impact rankings. The final report is extensive and measures impacts on nature, such as trees and native-animal habitat, as well as impacts on people, such as aesthetics and air quality.
For Rail Trail segments 8 and 9, the Ultimate Trail option with the trail built next to the tracks is the official Proposed Project. Before the election, an ‘Interim Trail’ option was added to the EIR as one of the alternative study scenarios to be scored against this Proposed Project.
DEIR Study Results are In
The Draft EIR has now been released, and the study has confirmed that the Proposed Project (the Ultimate Trail Configuration) is superior to all other build scenarios. Here is an excerpt from the Draft EIR summary, where you can see the final scores. The acronyms in the table go from least impact to greatest impact. NI = No Impact, LTS = Less than Significant without Mitigation, LTSM = Less than Significant with Mitigation, and SU = Significant & Unavoidable impact.
We can see from the completed DEIR that the proposed project ‘Ultimate Trail’ option has lesser environmental impacts than the other build options. Compared to the Interim Trail option, the Proposed Project requires fewer trees to be cut, has less disruption to habitat, and has fewer overall environmental impacts. This is unsurprising since the ‘Interim Trail’ option would require first track demolition and trail construction, followed ultimately by trail demolition and track and trail re-construction.
Segments 8 and 9 Trail Project Moving Forward
Because the completed DEIR shows that the Ultimate Trail option is best for the environment, the planners can continue moving forward with the project. All of this is great news for construction starting on time. Current estimates put construction starting sometime next year in 2023 or early in 2024, pending a grant from the California Transportation Commission (CTC). We expect to hear about final grant awards in early December from the CTC.
You can read the whole DEIR here, it’s interesting to look at one of the steps that we take in California to protect the environment.
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Friends of the Rail & Trail is a grassroots transportation advocacy organization.