SANTA CRUZ COUNTY — A group of local transportation organizers is hoping that, within the span of a decade, a passenger rail will run from Watsonville to Santa Cruz, making stops at hubs where busses will whisk passengers to further destinations.
For commuters who wish to eschew motorized transportation in its entirety, a 32-mile bike and pedestrian path will run alongside the train tracks from Davenport to Watsonville.
This ambitious project is the vision of Friends of the Rail Trail (FORT), which on June 24 launched Coast Connect, a group tasked with drumming up community interest and support for the project.
The rail-trail project would provide an economical way to get to work and reduce traffic, and take a chunk out of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions, more than half of which comes from vehicles, said FORT Board Chair Sally Arnold.
The project, described by supporters as a “complete transportation solution,” could also make cross-county day trips possible for residents, further bolstering the economy, Arnold says.
“Our primary purpose is to help people envision what life could be like if we had a rail-trail service,” she said. “It’s going to make life better for people in the community and it’s going to help the economy.”
FORT has been working to make a bike and pedestrian path next to the rail line since 2002, a project that rail supporters say could connect the Central Coast to the greater Bay Area transportation infrastructure and, by extension, to the rest of the world.
With 20 separate segments of trail stretching throughout the county, each jurisdiction will be responsible for their sections of the trail. In places, that work has already begun.
In Watsonville, a stretch that runs from Lee Road to Ohlone Parkway is slated to open in the fall.
“Not only does the rail line provide our local economy and companies and provide hundreds of jobs, but I’m really excited that it can also bring passenger rail on that very same line,” Watsonville City Councilman Felipe Hernandez said. “Let’s start now, planning now for a solution that truly includes Watsonville with high-quality passenger rail transit.”
In Santa Cruz, a one-mile stretch of trail from Bay Avenue to Natural Bridges Drive is estimated to be completed by September.
The trail is slated to be complete by 2030, and the rail line will soon follow, organizers say.
And the plan has largely been green-lighted.
The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) in 2018 approved a plan to allow Lakeville, Minn.-based Progressive Rail, Inc. to take over the rail-freight operations in South County. The company’s plans at the time included possible passenger service.
A Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge rejected a legal challenge to the company’s contract in 2019.
The RTC is now mulling options for what the rail line will look like, and will present the best option to the public in September.
The project also has its detractors, including the groups Santa Cruz County Greenway and Trail Now, both of which hope to see the tracks replaced in their entirety with a bicycle and pedestrian path.
Trail Now Executive Director Brian Peoples says that the county’s system of tracks and aging trestles is not equipped to handle the estimated 60 trains per day traveling 45 miles per hour.
Peoples also says that the rail line is not wide enough to safely hold a train and trail.
“We think the rail is a waste of time and money,” said Peoples, who envisions a future when not rail, but legions of people on foot and bicycle—and a fleet of pedicabs—helps to reduce traffic and lessen greenhouse gasses.
But all of the group’s concerns have already been addressed, said FORT member Mark Mesiti Miller, who pointed out that the Regional Transportation Commission in a rare unanimous vote showed its support for the rail-trail project.
The passenger rail service portion of the project will cost an estimated $325 million. It is funded by Measure D, the 2016 half-cent sales tax created to fund countywide transportation projects, which provides about $1.6 million per year for infrastructure preservation of the rail corridor. In addition, the State Rail Plan identifies $1.5 Billion for projects in the Central Coast area, some of which will be allocated for the project.
The rail-trail will cost $283 million, and will also be funded by Measure D, as well as a mix of state and federal funding. Funding for both portions of the project will also come from donations and local matching funds.
“This project will change the way people get around forever,” Miller said.
By Todd Guild
To read the original article on the Pajaronian click Transportation Advocates Touting Rail-Trail Project.
Six months ago, I spoke with Sally Arnold, the Friends of the Rail and Trail Board Chair, about their vision for Santa Cruz County. The non-profit was created in 2002 with the end goal of “a 32-mile rail corridor and pedestrian pathway from Davenport to Watsonville.” Arnold and I caught up this past week, and while FORT’s motivations remain the same, Arnold was excited to share the newest updates on the transportation system. On June 24th, FORT launched Coast Connect, their newest campaign, with hopes of creating more community support for the Rail and Trail system.
Arnold immediately dove in and explained the need for Coast Connect, “FORT has always been very policy focused and we really excel at that, but it’s so easy for community members to get lost in the details. We realized there was a bell curve of understanding in our community. We have outliers with strong opinions, but mostly a huge portion of people that don’t know what’s going on with the rail and trail. How do we reach the middle group and share this excitement with the general public? They’re the ones who will really benefit.” COVID-19 has also thrown a wrench into the wheel of public understanding. Arnold lamented, “We can’t go to farmer’s markets, fairs, and parades. We have such a great dedicated team of volunteers that can’t work, so how do we get the news out?”
Like many community members, FORT was in dire need of socialization. Enter Coast Connect, “FORT’s primary face to the community… As a clear explanation of our broader vision to the community, Coast Connect will be a vital piece of FORT’s comprehensive transportation system throughout the county and beyond.” So far, Coast Connect has attracted quite the list of endorsers, like Justin Cummings, John Leopold, John Laird, Donna Meyers, and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing.
Much like Coast Connect’s role in FORT, Arnold was eager to move away from the details, and instead passionately addressed the benefits of this future transportation system. “It’ll improve the economy, environment, and our community’s health, safety, and equity… So many commuters are cut out of jobs and educational opportunities. Access to easy and safe public transport is the answer to these inequities.” Arnold hopes the new campaign will drum up public support and encourage awareness, “that FORT isn’t just about the Rail and Trail, it’s a unified vision of what could happen, it’s shared, and it belongs to anyone that wants to implement it, whether making neighborhood streets more walkable, improving Metro Bus routes, or getting on a bike.”
On top of the new campaign, Arnold proudly summarized other recent FORT achievements. “A lot of our work is invisible, it doesn’t look like anything is happening, until it’s almost done. We’re now beginning to pull things together, the West Side trail between Bay and California will open in the fall, and the neighbors already love it. We’ve finished the design on the Bay to Wharf segment and are applying for funding soon. A Watsonville segment will also be finished this fall.” In addition to trail segment construction, Arnold had much to say about the rail as well. “We’re moving towards our own little Promontory Point moment. The Watsonville City Council just voted unanimously to tell the RTC that they want the rail on the corridor and construction should start in Watsonville first. The Pajaro Station will link to the rest of the state and the rest of the world. Commuters will easily travel from Watsonville to Gilroy, Salinas, and Monterey.” Finally, the RTC is currently conducting a study on 4 different potential vehicles, 2 bus and 2 rail, and will recommend one this fall.
It might be difficult to take in so many wonderful developments! But don’t worry, you can now keep up with and voice your support for FORT’s fast-moving vision at coastconnect.org.
By Katie Evans
To read the original article on Press Banner click FORT's Newest Campaign: Coast Connect.
KSQD Talk of the Bay
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In this segment of Talk of the Bay, Rachel Anne Goodman talks with Sally Arnold, board chair of Friends of the Rail and Trail, a nonprofit advocating for public use of the recently acquired rail line in Santa Cruz County between Watsonville and Davenport. Their new project, Coastconnect just had its kickoff. www.coastconnect.org.
Sally Arnold has been a Santa Cruz resident since 1976. She is a retired public school teacher and community activist. She is a the board chair of Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail and Trail, member of Sierra Club Transportation Committee, the working group of Campaign for Sustainable Transportation, and the Bicycle Advisory Committee to the Regional Transportation Commission. She is excited about the potential of the Coast Connect vision to unite various community groups, businesses, and individuals around a positive vision for our county.
By Rachel Goodman
To read/listen to the original piece click Santa Cruz Rail and Trail Update.
By Rachel Goodman
To listen to the original interview on KSQD click Talk of the Bay 4/22/20 with Sally Arnold.
A 32-mile combination light rail line and pedestrian and bicycle trail from Davenport to Watsonville may finally be on the road to reality, according to backers of the project. It’s been a dream of Santa Cruz County transportation planners for decades. But opponents still say the project is impractical and should be scrapped in favor of only a trail, with no rail.
Regardless, the fate of the largely abandoned freight right-of-way that runs the length of the county is still years away from being decided.
The new optimism over the so-called Rail and Trail project comes as county officials line up a series of events designed to build public support for the plan, which has been under discussion as far back as the late 1980s. This week, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission and the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District will stage a pair of informational open houses: Tuesday evening in Santa Cruz and Wednesday evening in Watsonville. Meanwhile, construction officially began last month on the first major segment of the project, a 1.3-mile section on the western edge of the city of Santa Cruz.
“Finally, finally, after three decades, we’re breaking ground,” said Stephen Slade, executive director of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, at a groundbreaking ceremony on January 25. Local politicians, neighbors and community leaders attended.
Sally Arnold, board chairwoman of the advocacy group Friends of the Rail and Trail, said this will be a pivotal year in the life of the project.
“It’s pivotal because we’re going to get this segment built,” Arnold said, noting that construction on a second segment, in Watsonville, is scheduled to begin this spring. “And then it’s also pivotal because this is the year that the Regional Transportation Commission is studying the different modes of public transit they might choose to put on those tracks.”
This year’s developments have been a long time coming.
California voters approved funding in 1990 to allow counties like Santa Cruz without passenger rail service to purchase freight lines for public transit. As freight traffic on the Santa Cruz to Watsonville Branch Line dwindled, discussions about adapting the line for passenger traffic gained steam.
In 2012, with the help of $11 million in state funds, the Regional Transportation Commission purchased the right-of-way from Union Pacific Corporation for $14.2 million. The following year, the RTC approved a master plan that detailed the rail and trail combination. And in 2016, the county asked voters to approve Measure D, a one-half cent sales tax increase, with 17% of the proceeds going toward the proposed Coastal Rail Trail.
Opponents argued the concept was impractical and expensive, that trains would be noisy, and that an active rail line would cut off coastal access in large swaths of the county. A community group called the Great Santa Cruz Trail Group, which later changed its name to Greenway, commissioned its own study that recommended turning the right-of-way into only a trail, saving millions of dollars in construction and operating costs even after paying back the state for the purchase of the tracks.
But Measure D passed overwhelmingly. In 2018, the RTC approved a contract with Minnesota-based Progressive Rail to eventually develop passenger service on the tracks. Then, last year, commissioners approved a “Unified Corridor Study” that incorporated the Coastal Rail Trail in the area’s overall transportation scheme. RTC Executive Director Guy Preston said the question of what to do with the right-of-way is essentially settled.
“According to the commissioners, that battle is over,” he said. “The direction that transportation is going in this state is for more sustainable methods. It’s for active transportation. It’s for mass transit. So, it is very important that we consider both components.”
The section of the Rail Trail now under construction runs from the corner of Bay and California Streets on the West Side of Santa Cruz to Schaffer Road on the western edge of town, where it will connect with the Wilder Ranch bicycle path.
“30-thousand people live within one mile of this segment,” said Sally Arnold of Friends of the Rail and Trail. “And people will be able to push their strollers, walk their dogs, get on their bikes, roll in their wheelchairs safely away from traffic.”
By Scott Cohn
To read the original article on KAZU click Has The Santa Cruz County Rail And Trail Plan Finally Turned a Corner?
January has been a momentous month for the Coastal Rail Trail in Santa Cruz. We began construction of Segment 7 – Phase I on Tuesday, Jan. 21. This 1.2 mile long bike/pedestrian path will run from Bay and California streets to Natural Bridges Drive. Construction is expected to be completed in about eight months, by the end of summer 2020.
When Phase II of Segment 7 is built, there will be 2.9 miles of Coastal Rail Trail in Santa Cruz from Natural Bridges Drive to East Cliff Drive connecting over 30,000 residents who live within one mile of the trail to schools, work, beaches, shopping and other activity centers.
Friends of the Rail and Trail threw a community party to celebrate the Segment 7 groundbreaking on Saturday, Jan. 25, at Ingalls Street along the alley next to the rail corridor. The well-attended event included inspirational speeches from seven government and nonprofit officials who have played important roles in securing Rail Trail funding and community support.
After Santa Cruz Mayor Justin Cummings spoke, Friends of the Rail and Trail and Ecology Action gifted the City a $14,000+ check for a bike/ped counter to be installed during construction. The City is grateful for this special contribution and applauds FORT for hosting this exciting and energizing celebration!
At one of many event booths, our Transportation Planner Claire Gallogly explained plans for upcoming Rail Trail Segments 8 and 9 to enthusiastic community members. Connecting the east and west sides of Santa Cruz, highlights of these segments include a new bike/ped bridge at Rodeo Gulch and a 10-foot wide multiuse path across Santa Cruz Harbor.
These 2.5 miles of Segments 8 and 9 will serve the 48,000 residents who live within one mile of the corridor where 15 schools and 37 parks are located.
Also this month, the first stretch of Coastal Rail Trail to be completed—our Trestle Trail Project—was recognized as 2019 Project of the Year by the American Public Works Association, Monterey Bay Chapter.
The Trestle Trail Project has replaced the previous 4-foot wide walkway on the San Lorenzo River Railroad Trestle Bridge with a new multi-use trail that is 10 feet wide providing safer and easier biking and walking between the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Seabright area and between the Santa Cruz Riverwalk levee and downtown.
The Trestle Trail, Rail Trail Segments 7, 8 and 9 together with other projects will provide a 32-mile long separated bicycle/pedestrian path along the coast and is a part of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission’s Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network Master Plan.
This exciting plan—over 20 years in the making—was first imagined by former U.S. Representative Sam Farr who spoke at the Segment 7 groundbreaking celebration. The ceremony repeatedly acknowledged the entire community’s important role in passing Measure D which continues to contribute tax dollars to Coastal Rail Trail segments.
For more information, please visit www.cityofsantacruz.com.
By City Beat
To read the original article on Santa Cruz Waves click Rail Trail Award, Celebration, and New Directions
By Kyla Linville
To listen to the original news piece by KSBW click New Phase of the Rail Trail in Santa Cruz County Getting Underway
Santa Cruz County’s Friends of the Rail and Trail is accomplishing big feats this week! A large segment (Segment 7, connecting Natural Bridges Drive to Beach Street) will begin constructing with a bang this Saturday, January 25th. You can attend the event with a live old-time string band, snacks, and valet bike parking from 1-3 pm at 402 Ingalls Street. I caught up with the lively and optimistic Sally Arnold, Friends of the Rail and Trail Board Chair, to hear more about FORT’s progress.
We dove right into Arnold’s vision for Santa Cruz, “The Monterey Bay Scenic Sanctuary Trail is a network of trails, and our rail trail is the backbone of it, but there’s a bunch of spur trails that connect to it… Santa Cruz has developed and grown right along the tracks so much, a big proportion of our population and our schools, businesses and our parks are all within a mile of our tracks, because our tracks were here first. We have a master plan involving all of the spur trails, and it has been approved by all the various jurisdictions: the counties, the cities, and the Coastal Commission… Imagine a network of trails that lead to the rail. You can take your bike, wheelchair, or stroller on this flat, safe, car-free space, until you get to the station.” While this level of transportation will only be accessible in our brains for quite some time, “a straight shot from downtown businesses to Wilder Ranch, without having to get involved with traffic,” will soon be ready.
Since 2002, FORT has been advocating to create public transportation and a walking trail along 32 miles of Santa Cruz County coastline, from Watsonville to Davenport. Currently only one section of the trail has been built, over the San Lorenzo River Trestle near the Boardwalk. While it’s easy to understand FORT as a singular project to update Santa Cruz public transportation, it’s much more complicated. Arnold broke it down further, “There’s two twin paths, part of an integrated system, one is the trail and the other is the rail. The trail has been divided into segments, numbered 1-20, north to south.” Arnold then described the planning processes that are occurring now at many segments, “There’s a designing phase, and engineering phase, and an environmental stage.”
A running rail system will come a bit farther down the line (pun intended). While the rail is already laid, it needs more maintenance before use. Additionally, before the rail can be used, the RTC needs to pick a type of high capacity transit, including buses and many modern rail vehicles. Arnold laughed, “We’re trying to discipline ourselves to not say ‘train’ because train makes people think of a 19th century locomotive and we’re talking about much lighter vehicles now.” The RTC and METRO will be presenting several possible transit alternatives in the middle of February, including a trial run of a possible vehicle from Capitola to the Boardwalk. Arnold made a great argument for a rail vehicle instead of buses, citing the Unified Corridor Investment Study. She pointed out many advantages to rail transportation, like major grant money, quicker commute times, lower costs, and higher carrying capacities than buses.
While this massive undertaking seems like quite an expensive venture for Santa Cruz County, Arnold easily pointed out the Rail and Trail funds. Measure D, the Santa Cruz County transportation tax, pays for the planning stages, but the physical construction can be paid through state and federal grants. “Another complicated piece is Caltrans… They have billions of dollars to give to local municipalities that want to establish passenger rail service… We are all paying taxes into this state rail fund, so we might as well get some back. It’s no longer a question of ‘I don’t want to pay my taxes for rail.’ You already are.”
When I asked Arnold about her motivation, she animatedly spoke of conserving our environment. “There’s a lot of pandering going on about climate change, and I always hear, ‘I can’t do anything about it. It’s those big oil companies.’ Well, this is something we can do locally, to make a dent in half of our carbon emissions… If we provide quality bike infrastructure, more people will get out of their cars and onto their bikes. It’s one thing to wag your finger at someone and tell them to get out of their car, but if you’re not providing a viable alternative, it’s not reasonable or fair.”
Looking past the January 25th event, many more groundbreakings are scheduled. The next segment will probably be Segment 18 in Watsonville, “a key point in connecting spur trails”. Arnold hopes for community support and feedback, “If the elected see that there’s a big enthusiasm in one direction, they’re going to act more quickly, with a lot more confidence. That’s why we really want people to come to these public meetings and show that we’re supporting it… Our next message for the community: Let’s pick a really excellent rail vehicle.” Arnold’s final words on the Rail and Trail rang optimistically and greatly inspired me, “It’s a legacy project. It’s not something we’re working on for ourselves, but for the next generation… When you’re dreaming big, real change takes real time.”
For more information on the Friends of the Rail and Trail visit https://santacruztrail.org/railtrail/. If you’d like more information on the RTC and METRO public meetings to decide on a transit vehicle, please visit https://sccrtc.org/projects/multi-modal/transitcorridoraa/. You can view the Unified Corridor Investment Study at https://www.sccrtc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/UCS-Final-January2019.pdf.
By Katie Evans
To read the original published piece on Press Banner click Real Change Takes Time
Press coverage of the Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail & Trail and the Coast Connect vision.