Commentary: Debate on rail is welcome

Commentary: Debate on rail is welcome

By Santa Cruz County Greenway

Published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 08/05/17

In response to Casey Beyer’s July 30 op-ed, Santa Cruz County Greenway agrees that open and fair debate is needed to determine the “highest and best” use of our principal transportation corridors. Since we believe democracy works best when a robust community discussion takes place, we are working to present relevant, accurate data to as many county residents as possible. 

We are working to help our county achieve what it says it wants: “bike and walk on the rail line” was the number one preference from the public in the May 2017 published results from the Regional Transportation Commission’s (RTC) Unified Corridors survey.

With this in mind, we are concerned that:

  • The RTC is already spending money on a narrow recreational trail design that includes detours onto busy streets, although the “best use” determination, required by Measure D, has yet to be determined.
  • Hundreds of heritage trees will be cut down to build a trail next to the unused tracks, and hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of earth will be moved to build expensive retaining walls and new bridges, destroying forever the beauty of the corridor.
  • Many members of the public do not know that the current RTC’s own Rail Transit Feasibility Study states that almost all the tracks and ties would need to be replaced for modern passenger rail and electric trains were not recommended due to cost and the short length of the line.
  • The RTC continues to study rail on the corridor despite the fact that since 1983, seven feasibility studies have shown that county rail expenditures are unwise because initial capital costs and yearly subsidies are enormous relative to the low ridership of a fixed rail system. And we have none of the money for rail today.

Santa Cruz County Greenway is advocating to:

  • Railbank the corridor to preserve the right-of-way for future transit options.
  • Use the $85 million in Measure D funds allocated for a trail on the rail corridor to pay back $11.2 million in Proposition 116 funds to the state of California, remove the tracks, and build Greenway — a safe, healthy, environment-friendly, affordable way for commuting and recreation.
  • Preserve our trees, plants and hillsides so that this level, continuous Greenway can become the center of a scenic linear park that connects our neighborhoods, parks, beaches, schools, and more.
  • Use the $40 million in Measure D funds allocated to continue studying rail and improve rail infrastructure to create protected cycling and pedestrian routes to safely link Greenway to major employers and other popular destinations throughout the county.

It is not a coincidence that Mr. Beyer’s op-ed appeared last week. Until April, Mr. Beyer was Executive Director of the Santa Cruz County Business Council. The Business Council’s Board of Directors voted unanimously in June to endorse Greenway’s plan. The Board’s vote came after a fair and open six-month process in which both Greenway and Friends of the Rail & Trail presented opposing views, and robust discussion was held at multiple subsequent board meetings. 

The Greenway vision has also been supported by doctors and medical professionals, Dominican Hospital (the county’s largest private employer), disability rights advocates, and close to 3,000 residents who have signed Greenway’s petition in less than one year. We will continue to advocate for common sense solutions that include both active transportation and effective public transit options. Let’s spend our Measure D funds wisely to create a model sustainable community. 

Gary Griggs, Dr. Robert Quinn, William Ow, Patrice Boyle, Gail McNulty, Abbygale Gonzales, Irene Tsouprake, Ted Burke, Bud Colligan, Miles Reiter, David Regan and Robert Stephens.