Editor's Note: California Local is committed to providing information from as many sources as possible. We invited Bud Colligan, local philanthropist and a major proponent of the Greenway Initiative, to submit an op-ed about the issue. Publication of this piece does not signify endorsement.
For more information, perspectives and resources, click the Santa Cruz Rail Trail box in the right column.
By NADENE THORNE, BOBBI BURNS and BUD COLLIGAN
Measure D, the Greenway Initiative, has generated more dialog than any measure in the history of Santa Cruz County. Why all the attention and unfortunate vitriol? Both sides of the issue believe strongly that their approach to dealing with our unused rail corridor is the correct one. In this climate of disinformation, it’s important to do the research and use common sense when doing a reality check of the situation.
The opposition to Measure D claims the ballot initiative is complicated, but it is not as complicated as they would have you believe. A YES vote tells the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) that you support building an interim wide, safe, continuous bike and pedestrian trail from Live Oak to Watsonville on the out-of-service rail corridor, and preserving the corridor for possible future passenger rail. A NO vote maintains the status quo: planning for a trail adjacent to the railroad tracks (100-year old tracks that will have to be replaced for any future train), which will cost at least $100 million more than the Greenway trail, all so we can keep unusable tracks for an unfunded train at some undetermined time in the future. Some of the misinformation promulgated by the No on D campaign and the actual facts in the YES on D response are highlighted below.
We need to use the rail corridor for a passenger train because it is our only alternative to Highway 1 traffic.
In order to fund a train, the RTC would have to come up with $1.3 billion over thirty years, which would require a 1⁄2 cent local sales tax increase and hundreds of millions of dollars in successful grant applications. We have $200 million in unfunded road repairs in the county. How does spending $1.3 billion on a train that has low ridership projections make sense in our small county? Even if a train were ever built, it would take less than 2% of the traffic off of Highway 1. Bus-on-Shoulder and a reinvestment in METRO routes, services, and equipment will offer a lot more bang for the buck - and sooner - than spending $1.3 billion on a train along a single fixed track that goes nowhere near our major employers or colleges.
We’re getting a trail and keeping the rail option; we don’t need Measure D.
Much of the corridor is too narrow for a train and a trail, and would require massive concrete retaining walls, the removal of hundreds of heritage trees, the construction of “floating viaducts” and 5 miles of detours onto busy streets in South County and Capitola Village. Due to these issues, building a trail next to the rail costs over $100 million more and will lead to years of delay due to lack of funding.
Measure D will slow down trail construction that is already in motion, and stop the RTC from ever seeking funding for a train.
Measure D will NOT stop trail construction: the RTC is presently doing the EIR and all planning for the Greenway trail (the interim trail) simultaneously with the trail-with-rail. And, according to the RTC, Measure D would NOT require the RTC to stop planning or seeking funding for future transit on the corridor. Measure D will inform the RTC about what the people of the county actually want.
If we railbank the corridor, we’ll never get a passenger train because rails are rarely reinstalled once a trail is built.
Railbanking will be required whether the county pursues a trail only OR a passenger train because using the rail corridor for anything other than freight service requires either railbanking or buying out property owners with rail only easements. Further, railbanking ensures the corridor remains intact, including its current easements. Railbanking has been used to turn 24,000 miles of unused rail lines in the U.S. into trails. The reason trails are rarely turned back to rails is because the economics do not warrant the return to rail, and the trails are enormously popular. Santa Cruz County is the ideal location for a rail-to-trail given that freight rail service is no longer economically viable, and the county does not have the population or funding to support a passenger train. Importantly, railbanking protects local taxpayers from lawsuits that might arise over the use of the corridor for anything other than freight service.
A passenger train is the best way to address climate change and improve the health of our county.
Everyone wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A train 25 years from now or never does not achieve that objective. What form of travel could possibly create fewer emissions than a bike and pedestrian trail? Building a wide and continuous trail will support the use of the corridor for commuting long or short distances, in addition to providing a safe and healthy recreation alternative. That’s the reason over 200 local medical professionals have confirmed outdoor active transportation, via protected bicycle and pedestrian trails, is one of the most significant ways we can improve our county's health and safety. Santa Cruz County incurs the 2nd most bicycle accidents and deaths of California’s 58 counties. A continuous Greenway without the city street detours would enable commuters and students to get to work and school more safely.
Roaring Camp would go out of business if Measure D passes.
Roaring Camp uses the Felton Branch line for their beach and tourist trains. Measure D only applies to the Santa Cruz Branch line and only the portion south of the San Lorenzo Bridge. In fact, Measure D includes language expressly preserving Roaring Camp’s Santa Cruz Big Trees Railroad. Nothing in Measure D will prevent Roaring Camp from continuing to operate its Beach Train or amusement park, which is essentially 100% of its revenue.
Why have many career politicians and some organizations in the community opposed Measure D?
Many career politicians and some organizations with the same directors are willing to put long-entrenched ideology over real solutions. We all want the same things: actions to address climate change, reduced traffic and greenhouse gas emissions, better community health and safety and more effective transportation solutions. A no vote effectively says, even if these are our objectives, don’t change anything to achieve them. A YES vote on Measure D points the way toward actually achieving these goals in the near future in an affordable and feasible way.
An informed point of view contributed by a member of the community addressing a topic of concern, in their own words, edited for length and clarity by California Local editors.
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