2023 has been an exciting year because we were able to do something we've wanted to do for a long time: successfully advocate for public transportation funding at the state level.
70%-80% of Funding for Transportation Projects comes from the State Budget
Why did a purely local organization like Friends of the Rail & Trail decide to get involved in the state budget? In the United States, most State and Federal transportation dollars are distributed to local projects through state grant programs. The more money California puts into public-transit grant programs, the more likely we will be able to get the money we need for our Santa Cruz County projects. That's why this year we stepped up our game and leveraged the efforts of a statewide coalition pushing California to invest in public transportation.
And it worked. Governor Newsom signed a new budget with more funding for public transportation than ever before.
34M in NEW State Grants Fund Santa Cruz County Public Transportation
The two most important transportation grant programs for our county are the Transit Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) and a brand new program called the Zero-Emission Transit Capital Program (ZETC). These two programs are bringing 34.6 million to Santa Cruz County over the next four years. The additional funding and rule changes for these grants are significant because we can now fund service improvements to Santa Cruz METRO, buy new zero-emission METRO buses, and design our electric passenger rail project.
It's exciting that we are starting to shift the state budget priorities to invest more in public transportation. Huge thank-yous to our California Assembly members Gail Pellerin and Dawn Addis and to State Senator John Laird, who allowed us to share with them how important it is that California supports local investment in public transportation and who supported our local transportation projects with their votes.
Local Grant Wins in 2023
In addition to the new State funding we won, in 2023 we provided letters of support for three successful regional transportation grant applications. These grants awarded to Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties will fund:
Designing the new Pajaro / Watsonville Station that will connect our electric passenger rail project with the planned new Monterey-to-San-Jose Line.
Improving Santa Cruz METRO service, adding affordable housing at a new Watsonville METRO center, and purchasing zero-emission hydrogen/electric buses.
Developing the Project Concept Report for our Zero Emission Passenger Rail Project. This report will fully define the plan for passenger service on the 22-mile Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. It will include elements like station location, train speeds, vehicle types, travel times, and ridership. It will also include first and last-mile solutions to provide rail users the ability to get to and from the rail stations without needing cars. This initial design phase also helps identify which capital investments, such as track realignment or upgraded bridges, will yield the most benefits.
More Work to Do
Public transportation still receives only a small percentage of California's overall transportation budget. In order to get out of traffic, improve the air we breathe, and improve access to UCSC, Cabrillo, our parks and beaches, and our local businesses up and down the Coast, we’ll have to continue pushing the state to shift more of our state transportation funding to public transit.
As the fourth largest economy in the world, California’s investment and cultural shifts have reverberations across the globe. California currently spends a greater percentage of our transportation budget on roads and highways than even the federal government does. This contributes to transportation being the biggest greenhouse gas emissions sector in California. By changing California’s transportation budget, we can make a dent in global emissions. We’re looking forward to working with this large coalition of transportation, environmental, and labor advocacy organizations to make a big impact over the next couple of years.
Here at home, Friends of the Rail & Trail will continue to keep up the pace in 2024. Our volunteers work hard every day to ensure the Rail & Trail is prioritized and keeps moving forward. We read and analyze every RTC and Board of Supervisors agenda packet. We activate supporters like you when public action is needed. We meet with RTC Commissioners, County Supervisors, METRO staff, and METRO board members. We write letters of support for local transportation grant applications. And we will continue to build partnerships with other local organizations, from climate activists to labor unions, to ensure our County gets the clean, affordable transportation network we’re all dreaming of.
Wondering about Coastal Rail Trail project funding? 50% of the Coastal Rail Trail is fully funded by CA Active Transportation Program grants received in December 2022. These trail projects are all either under construction or moving toward the construction phase. Click here to see the details: https://www.railandtrail.org/bignews/trail-funded-103m-awarded-for-rail-trail-construction