Santa Cruz County Rail Fund Search Continues
SANTA CRUZ >> A $ 17 million search for environmental and technical reports for a proposed passenger rail project is expected to intensify in late 2022, when more money may be available, executives said this month. the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission.
Regardless of the pace of the train project, the narrow highway 1 rail bridges swarming with traffic could still be redeveloped, said Guy Preston, executive director of the transportation committee. Preston’s remarks, in an interview, could allay fears that the delay in the train project could slow down traffic relief plans on Highway 1. Regional Transportation Commission chairman Aurelio Gonzalez had expressed some concern. of these concerns at a committee meeting this spring.
Last year, transportation commissioners voted in favor of rail passenger transport alongside a bicycle and walking path on the Santa Cruz County Rail Corridor. The corridor runs from Watsonville to Santa Cruz mainly along the coast.
This spring, the commission voted not to approve a business plan for the rail project amid pressure from some commissioners for a trail plan only. Preston, the director of the transportation committee, said in May that the business plan decision didn’t matter because he and his staff had yet to find $ 17 million for environmental and technical reports for the train project.
Last week Preston said no progress had been made in finding that money. He said he plans to seek transportation funds that he expects to become available towards the end of 2022. The reports are expected to cost millions as the Santa Cruz County rail corridor expands. over 32 miles and much of it is near the coast, Preston said.
“There are technical reports that study biology, that study the impacts of traffic, that study the visual impacts, the noise. So all these different studies need to be completed, ”he said. “When you are dealing with a long area, with a large potential area of effect, there are many different resources affected that need to be investigated. “
Trail Defenders Only and Recently Former Train Engineers reiterated fears that some parts of the corridor are not wide enough for train tracks and a paved path for walkers and cyclists.
“We’ll definitely be looking at that, the side-by-side use of the hallway,” said Preston, when asked about it. “The impacts of this design will be taken into account. “
Highway 1 improvements
The Transport Committee also has other priorities, some of which cut across rail. Most notable is the extension of Highway 1 to make way for approximately six miles of new auxiliary tracks, as well as several railway bridges.
Transportation Commission Chairman Aurelio Gonzalez, who is also a member of Watsonville City Council, told a transportation commission meeting that delays in the passenger rail plan could jeopardize or delay bridge improvements on Highway 1 to help relieve traffic.
Preston, the executive director of the transportation committee, said that was not the case.
“We can deal with the freeway and bridges without knowing what kind of rail transport is on the line,” Preston said.
Preston said one possible solution could be the installation of temporary “provisional trails” over existing rail beds.
In June, the RTC hired consultants Mark Thomas & Co. to prepare an environmental impact report for the final phase of the Highway 1 extension from State Park Drive to Freedom Boulevard. The report is expected to determine if a temporary trail could work over railway bridges, also known as trestles.
The $ 2 million environmental impact report is expected to be done in 2022, Preston said. It should include an analysis of how a walking path could be built over existing rail bridges and moved to the side in the future if passenger rail service is provided there.
Parts of the highway include Section 12 of the Rail Trail, a 1.25 mile stretch from State Park Drive to Rio del Mar Boulevard that has four key bridges: two on Highway 1, one where Soquel Drive meets Aptos Creek and another where Soquel Drive meets Ruisseau de Valence.
A map shows the funded, completed and planned trail segments on the Santa Cruz County Rail Corridor in April. (Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission)
Transportation commission staff are designing the freeway and trail project at the same time, because “it makes sense,” Preston said.
Santa Cruz City Rail Trail Segment 9, as well as County’s Segment 10 and 11, could also include provisional trails, Preston said. Transportation commission staff have discussed the possibility with city and county officials, but no final decision has been made, he said. These segments have not yet been built.
- Segment 9 would run from East Cliff Drive and Murray Street to 17th Avenue in Live Oak.
- Segment 10 would connect 17th Avenue and 47th Avenue to Capitola.
- Segment 11 would run from 47th Avenue to State Park Drive in Aptos.
Over the next 12 months or so, when the interim environmental studies on the trails are completed, Preston said he hopes the commissioners will come up with a clear set of approved projects so staff can seek funding.
“My goal is to try to identify fundable priorities that we can achieve, and we have shown that we can be successful,” Preston said. “It’s going to be hard to please everyone. It would be nice to come to some sort of compromise agreement on the rail line.
Several other projects related to the railway are expected to be discussed in the coming months, including plans to combat coastal erosion. Transport committee staff will ask commissioners to adopt the erosion plan at the August meeting, according to Preston.
A consultant’s report on whether the Capitola Trestle could be used as a footpath is due to the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission in September. (Stephen Baxter – Santa Cruz Local)
The consultants are also analyzing the Capitola trestle to determine if it could be used as a footpath. This report is expected to be presented to the Transport Committee for information in September, Preston said.
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