RTC Statement Regarding Future Rail Transit Planning

Working to improve transportation in any community can be quite challenging and Santa Cruz County is no exception. We are a very engaged and passionate community because we care deeply and want the best for our community. In addition, there is much information to sift through when considering large complex projects and anyone of us may misinterpret or misunderstand some of that information. The recent passionate community discussion along with actions and statements at the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission meetings regarding the Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis seem to have led to the following misunderstandings that warrant clarification.

Misunderstanding #1: The RTC has given up $17 million in funding offered by the State for environmental analysis of electric passenger rail on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line.

In fact, the State has not awarded any funds to the RTC for environmental review of electric passenger or any other transit option on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. The State expressed support for the RTC seeking such funding from State sources that are competitive.

Misunderstanding #2: There is sufficient State and Federal funding available and only a small local contribution would be needed to fund rail transit.

In fact, although there are several funding sources that could potentially contribute to local rail transit, there is not sufficient funding for all of the rail transit needs identified in California and the nation. There are recent proposals to increase funding for transportation, including rail transit, but that new funding will still fall well short of meeting all the needs. The RTC has authorization to distribute some discretionary funds sources for transportation projects that can be used on rail transit projects, but those funds are currently committed to other projects, such as Highway 1 and local road maintenance. There are competitive state and federal funding sources for which the RTC could apply to receive. Although some operation and maintenance funding can come from future fares and concessions, a dedicated local fund source would be needed for the remaining cost, which is estimated to be about half of the total cost over a 30-year period.

Misunderstanding #3: The RTC’s decision to not accept the business plan means the end of rail transit for Santa Cruz County.

Santa Cruz County and the RTC have a long history of decisions regarding potential passenger rail service in Santa Cruz County. Many of those decisions have been unanimous or nearly unanimous in support of efforts that could potentially lead to passenger rail transit. It would be an expensive project, so it is understandable for the RTC to be cautious and at times say that it is not ready to proceed with such a major project at any point in time. However, the RTC has been quite consistent in not wanting to close off potential options that could serve future generations, even if those options may not be appropriate at this time. Therefore, the RTC has not taken any action that would ensure that there would never be passenger rail service in Santa Cruz County.

Misunderstanding #4: Despite the RTC’s decision to not accept the business plan for electric passenger rail and rejecting direction to RTC staff to seek funding for environmental review of electric passenger rail, RTC staff will continue planning for electric passenger rail and seek the funding that may be needed.

In fact, RTC staff will always follow the decisions of the RTC. Based on the current position of the RTC, RTC staff is not currently undertaking or contemplating any rail transit planning activity. However, based on long-standing RTC policy and practice, RTC staff will continue to work to try to implement all projects in the RTC Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and inform the RTC of funding opportunities for such projects, including for rail transit. Any potential future rail planning activity will be subject to funding availability and future action by the RTC.