Help support rail right of way purchase
have been hoping for years that, someday, they might walk and cycle
in the Santa Cruz County rail right of way, a 31-mile transportation
corridor that runs from Davenport to Watsonville. Until recently,
the prospect seemed as though it might become a reality. Unfortunately,
opposition has arisen and now threatens to derail the project.
There isn't much controversy around the idea of having a rail trail
in Santa Cruz County. Most people seem generally enthusiastic about
the chance to walk or ride their bikes away from cars in the flat,
scenic corridor. The trail will encourage tourism, increase property
values along the trail, and provide transportation alternatives
to Hwy. 1. The disagreement begins when discussing the best way
for the county to purchase the corridor from Union Pacific.
There are two options for buying the corridor. The first involves
accepting $11 million of State Prop. 116 money (specifically earmarked
for Santa Cruz County) and matching it with transportation funds
already allocated by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation
Commission (RTC). The second option involves taxing residents as
part of the highway widening sales tax measure planned for the November
In the first option, the State will provide the $11 million only
if the county moves forward with some form of passenger rail service
such as the proposed recreational Trolley. For many, this is a fair
trade off. In fact, many people like trains and think the idea of
moving around Santa Cruz by rail attractive.
The second option of a tax measure is fraught with complications.
A recent RTC survey showed that the tax measure is likely to fail
at the polls. Following on the heels of both a statewide bond measure
to compensate for the deficit and Measure F, a tax measure by the
City of Santa Cruz, it seems even less likely that voters will want
to tax themselves again in order to create a wider highway.
Unfortunately, a handful of people who live adjacent to the railroad
tracks, particularly in Aptos, are opposed to the Trolley and are
working hard to derail the project. They are now claiming that accepting
Prop. 116 money is financially risky because the Trolley will not
be profitable, forcing repayment of the money to the State. This
argument falls apart when one examines the facts: since 1990, when
California voters approved Proposition 116, nearly $2 billion has
been distributed to counties all over California. In that 13-year
period there has never been a case where a county has had to return
money to the State.
Even more important, one of the contenders to operate a passenger
rail service, Roaring Camp, has written to the RTC guaranteeing
to provide recreational rail without fare box subsidies for up to
50 years. Cliff Walters of Roaring Camp wrote, "We would work directly
with the State Transportation Commission to make sure we are in
compliance with their requirements of the bond funding."
Further, the State provides a 10-year period to establish a rail
project. If the proposed recreational trolley project is not successful,
it is likely that another project will have been established within
the 10-year period. In late January, the Santa Cruz City Council
expressed interest in a solar-powered rail shuttle possibly between
Long Marine Lab/ Seymour Center and the soon-to-be-built Monterey
Bay National Marine Sanctuary Visitors' Center.
RTC member Supervisor Ellen Pirie appears to have been swayed by
the vocal opponents and has abandoned her campaign promise to support
alternative transportation projects. Pirie is now speaking out against
the Trolley proposal.
Supporters of the Trolley proposal include the Sierra Club, the
Santa Cruz bicycling industry, and many businesses including the
Seaside Co. and Seascape Resort, as well as small businesses.
It isn't clear why people who don't like trains purchased homes
next to the railroad tracks. What is clear is that Santa Cruz County
needs transportation alternatives. Over 1000 rail trails have been
developed in the U.S.--over 50 of these in California. Monterey
County recently accepted Prop 116 money and is now developing rail
and pathways for its residents. Santa Cruz County needs to do the
The Sierra Club favors transportation that is energy and land conserving
and is the least polluting. The Trolley project and the use of the
rail corridor for bicycle travel has enormous potential to reduce
automobile trips in Santa Cruz County.
How to help
Contact your Santa Cruz County Supervisor to support using Prop.
116 monies to purchase the rail right of way.
Write a letter to the editor in support of this purchase and the
Attend the RTC public hearing on this issue, 7:00 p.m., Thursday,
March 4 at the County Supervisors Chambers, 701 Ocean Street, Santa
Cruz, to show your support. Project opponents will be there, and
we must have a good turnout in support of the project.
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