REALITY CATCHING UP WITH RTC/FORT
The last few weeks have shed a revealing light on the rail and trail plan advocated by the RTC, FORT, and their supporters like the Land Trust, Ecology Action, and Bike Santa Cruz County.
The harsh reality of implementation has made it impossible to ignore the current plan’s fatal flaws:
The Segment 7 Phase 1 bids from real contractors came in between 54% - 76% above the engineering estimate provided by the City of Santa Cruz, which was already 84% above the original estimate of cost provided in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail (MBSST) plan. The city does not have the funds to build Segment 7, Phase 1—only 1.3 miles of trail, and one of the easiest segments of the entire 32 miles to build—and will now wait until November to rebid the contract. It’s not clear why 3 reputable contractors will lower their bids in November.
There is strong pushback from the community on the plans for Segment 7, Phase 2 (from California Avenue to the Wharf) regarding the environmental damage and need for up to 20 foot high retaining walls to build a 12-foot wide trail while leaving the railroad tracks in place. Be prepared for more whopper cost estimates from real contractors when the project is put out to bid, since the Public Work's memo presented to the City Council on December 13, 2016 indicates that Segment 7 Phase 2 is 70% of the total combined cost of all of Segment 7 (which, if accurate, would be equivalent to a construction bid of $15.9M based on the average of the three Phase 1 bids!).
The RTC and FORT attempted to stop the residents of Capitola from voting on Measure L, the Greenway Capitola Initiative. But Judge John Gallagher, Superior Court Judge in Santa Cruz, denied the city’s attempt to keep it off the ballot. Voters in Capitola will and should have their voices heard.
One irony of Judge Gallagher’s decision was a letter from the California Coastal Commission (CCC), which FORT solicited in an attempt to stop the Capitola Greenway Initiative from going to the voters. It was cited by Judge Gallagher in supporting his decision. FORT Chairman, Mark Mesiti-Miller, had written to the Coastal Commission asking them to review the Initiative for potential conflicts with Capitola's Local Coastal Program (LCP). The CCC replied, “We do not believe the proposed initiative conflicts with the City's LCP (Local Coastal Program).”
Kurt Triplett, City Manager of Kirkland, WA, spoke at the RTC meeting on August 2, at which time he shared with the Commissioners and the public Kirkland’s success in building an interim trail and keeping all transit options available for the future while the trail is being actively used now. Kirkland bought its trail in 2012, the same year the RTC purchased the Santa Cruz rail line. By 2015, it had built and opened a 5.6-mile segment at a cost of about $1M per mile and cyclists and pedestrians have been using the trail now for 3 years. Kurt’s presentation was significant because it contradicted the often stated position of the RTC and FORT that the Santa Cruz trail can’t be railbanked. He showed how residents of Kirkland are benefitting from an interim strategy of using public resources now, gaining knowledge about use cases, and keeping all options for future transit open. Wouldn’t it be great to actually use the Santa Cruz rail corridor now at a cost we can afford?
The five developments above, all from the last month, demonstrate how ill-conceived and ultimately undoable the current rail with trail plan is. It’s time for the Commissioners of the RTC to reevaluate the current direction before wasting more public resources pursuing a fantasy that reality says is highly dubious.
It’s time for a radical rethink of the plan and a dramatic change in direction.