The words “rail” and “trail” go together in Santa Cruz County. For decades officials have been trying to push forward a project that would convert an abandon freight rail line into a 32-mile light rail/pedestrian and bicycle trail that would serve hundreds of thousands every year. Today that endeavor is happening right before everyone’s eyes.
With the first segment of the project, a 1.3-mile strip in west Santa Cruz, now underway and talks about the second segment starting up in the spring, officials feel now is the right time to get the public excited about the possibilities. Open houses showcasing the Coastal Rail Trail project are being held this week.
After the Regional Transportation Commission acquired the needed right-of-way from Union Pacific back in 2012, a number of funding measures have been passed at the ballot box. The latest in 2016, called Measure D, called for a half-cent sales tax increase. Two years later officials had the plan all drawn up despite some opposition. A community group called Greenway wants to make the trail only available to bikers and walkers. The plan would save the county millions of dollars.
The 32-mile rail/trail comes with a handful of challenges. In some areas the right-of-way can only hold the tracks, and making room for a trail would require the removal of trees and earth, and also would require the construction of a retaining wall. Bridges, trestles and buildings pose other hurdles along the route.
Even though construction is now humming along, it might take another 20 years before the public can enjoy both the rail and the trail. Then there is the opposition, like Greenway, which is now turning to a political strategy. The group is trying to generate voting interest to those running for public office which support the trail-only approach. For the latest news, go to www.rtands.com.