Although Greenway believes using most of the 32-mile rail corridor that stretches from Watsonville to Davenport as a wide separated pathway makes sense, it’s only one aspect of our vision for the county. We also care about other meaningful transportation improvements including safe, connected routes for people biking and walking; serious improvements to the Metro bus system; and achievable solutions to address the gridlock nightmare.
For years FORT has been pushing the plan that its name indicates—“Friends of the Rail and Trail.” In fact, a slide presented by FORT to the Scotts Valley City Council in January 2018 is titled, “Rail + Trail = Best Way.” The name change to “Trail with Transit” is a marketing gimmick to dress up the old plan to retain the tracks, even though there is no viable train plan.
Lakeville, MN had the opportunity to turn a rail corridor into a greenway many years ago. If only they had gone that route, they would be enjoying the corridor rather than policing it. Pam Steinhagen, who runs a daycare that backs up to the train tracks, has been a vocal community advocate speaking out about safety concerns caused by "out of use" cars that Progressive Rail has been storing for 9+ years just outside residents' backyards.
Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) staff, better known for careful long-term studies than agile decision making, are moving quickly and quietly with the current rail operator proposal and negotiation process. Given the unique and extraordinary value of our coastal corridor, this is not prudent.
Last week the Santa Cruz City Council voted to approve the issuance of a $109K contract to build out Phase 1 of Segment 7 of the rail-with-trail plan. Although this approval was expected, there was a last minute flurry of excitement as trail plans include a cut through the New Leaf Community Market parking lot and the city does not have a written agreement to do so. New Leaf Market and the property owner have agreed to negotiate with the city to come up with a solution to avoid an on-street re-route.
On Dec. 13, Iowa Pacific, the rail operator for Santa Cruz County’s rail line, confirmed that they plan to end their contract—more evidence that a train on this old freight corridor does not make sense. We suggest the RTC take advantage of this opportunity to stop planning “excursion-themed services” and start working on achievable, climate-friendly, alternatives to gridlock.