Statement on the SCCRTC’s Unified Corridor Investment Study – Step 2 Analysis Results
Rail with Trail – Scenario B – is the clear winner
Friends of the Rail & Trail has reviewed the over two hundred pages, including five appendices, from the Unified Corridor Investment Study – Step 2 Analysis Results recently published by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC). This comprehensive study confirms using the rail corridor for both rail and trail is far and away the best option when considering public safety, protecting the environment, promoting cycling, improving social equity, increasing use of public transit and benefiting the local economy. Below (and here) are a few of the most important findings from the study.
Best for Public Safety: Under the Rail with Trail Scenario B, the Unified Corridor Investment Study (UCS) predicts there would be a total of 114 fewer collisions every year than under the Trail Only Scenario A, 105 fewer than under the Bus Rapid Transit Scenario C. In other words, with Rail with Trail there would be one less collision every 3 days and that means safer travel for everyone. As stated in the UCS, “Safety is a critical measure for community well-being, quality of life, and particularly in the case of active transportation facilities, accessibility.” We agree, making travel safer for everyone, especially for our loved ones, is at the top of the list. In addition to making travel safer, the study tells us that reducing collisions will save us a whopping $26 million every year over the trail only scenario. Saving lives and money is a win-win, but the Rail with Trail Scenario B provides even more benefits.
Environmentally Superior: The Rail with Trail Scenario B will result in a reduction of 230,000 Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) every single day when compared to the Trail Only Scenario A. This is huge and much better than we had expected. Thinking annually, this means there would be a total of 84,000,000 fewer vehicle miles traveled within our County year after year under the Rail with Trail plan. Reducing VMT is widely recognized by experts as the most important metric to consider when evaluating transportation projects, and explains why the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research now requires VMT to be used as the primary evaluation metric under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). Reducing VMT by 84 million every year would be like planting a forest of trees every year.
Most Cyclists: Under the Rail with Trail Scenario B, the study predicts the share of people riding bicycles would be higher than under both the Trail Only Scenario A and the Bus Rapid Transit Scenario C. While this prediction may surprise some, it fits with the common experience that more people will use bikes when cycling is an integrated part of a multi- modal transportation system such as that provided by the Rail with Trail scenario.
Most Equitable: Under the Rail with Trail Scenario B, the mode share for public transit will be 46% higher than the Trail Only Scenario A and 25% higher than Bus Rapid Transit Scenario C. This metric is the best indicator of how much more public transit will be used under the Rail with Trail plan. Greater mode share of public transit is an excellent measure of the superior reliability and efficiency offered by multimodal public transit systems. Similarly, predicted total public transit vehicle miles traveled under the Rail with Trail Scenario B will be almost 16% greater than under the Trail Only Scenario A reflecting how much more accessible and equitable a rail with trail transportation system would be.
Most Economic Benefits: The Rail with Trail Scenario B really shines when it comes to benefitting the local economy. Under every economic metric considered, Scenario B came out on top. Because tourism is an important part of our local economy, the UCS examined the increase in visitor generated tax revenue associated with each scenario. What the UCS found was the increase in visitor related tax revenue under the Rail with Trail Scenario B will be as much as 60% greater than the other scenarios. Clearly, Rail with Trail Scenario B will be good for local business and good for local government.
Other Issues: The benefits outlined above provide a compelling case for why the Rail with Trail Scenario B is far and away the best way forward for our community. The UCS explored many other issues including funding. We offer the following comments on this important aspect of the study:
Local Share of Cost: While the local share cost predicted for Rail with Trail Scenario B is not the lowest (bus heavy Scenario C is the lowest) the local share cost of Rail with Trail Scenario B is estimated at $141 million less than the cost of Trail Only Scenario A. Furthermore, the UCS did not account for the probable funding available through the 2018 State Rail Plan (SRP) adopted only a few weeks ago. The SRP specifically allocates $1.5 billion targeted at the Central Coast of CA to “Implement Regional Rail Connecting Monterey and Santa Cruz to the Statewide Rail Network” amongst other projects (SRP p.194). To put that $1.5 billion figure in perspective, that is about five times what is needed to pay for adding modern commuter rail service between Santa Cruz and Watsonville estimated at about $325 million in the UCS. It is our opinion that if SRP funds are taken into consideration, implementing the Rail with Trail Scenario B is likely to be hundreds of millions less than the Trail Only Scenario A and may well be substantially less than Bus Rapid Transit Scenario C.
Puzzling Operating Costs: Surprisingly, the UCS predicts the ongoing operating cost of the Rail with Trail Scenario B are highest, higher even than the Bus Heavy Scenario C. This prediction is surprising as it contradicts the operating cost figures found in the National Transit Database published last October 2017 by the Federal Transit Administration. An analysis of these figures indicates the per passenger mile operating costs for rail service are only about 60% of the operating costs for bus service. We have contacted the SCCRTC for additional information and an explanation of these figures.
Litigation Risk: One obvious big money issue that has been overlooked in the UCS is the question of property rights litigation associated with both the Trail Only Scenario A and the Bus Heavy Scenario C. Both of these scenarios require abandonment of all or part of the existing rail right of way. As has been previously documented by the SCCRTC, about two thirds of the existing rail right of way exists as easements granted for the construction, maintenance and operation of a railroad. When the rail line is abandoned these easements will likely cease, leading to substantial litigation to re-establish these easements for trail only and/or bus use. The cost in both time and money to settle the inevitable property rights litigation arising from abandoning the rail line are likely to be substantial. For example, as reported in the Seattle Times in 2014, settling this type of litigation in the East Regional Corridor (a rail corridor very similar to ours), cost $140 million. Given the magnitude of probable litigation costs arising in our local real estate market, we suggest a $100 million “place holder” be included in the costs for both Scenarios A and C. One clear advantage of the Rail with Trail Scenario B is the rail line remains eliminating the expensive and time consuming property rights litigation associated with Scenarios A and C. This issue alone may well be one of the best reasons to support the Rail with Trail Scenario B.
Summary: The substantial benefits offered by the Rail with Trail Scenario B over all other Scenarios, especially over the Trail Only Scenario A, is convincing evidence that building the trail and keeping the rail is the best path forward especially when you consider safety, environmental sustainability, social equity and local economic benefits. Rail with Trail is simply the best at addressing climate change, providing equity for everyone, supporting economic vitality and developing a truly sustainable transportation system that will serve Santa Cruz County now and well into the future.
Friends of the Rail & Trail will continue evaluating the findings of the UCS and will issue updated statements after the upcoming SCCRTC public workshops and public hearings have been completed and/or as otherwise needed to keep the community informed. For example, one obvious modification to the proposed Scenario B would be to add freight rail service. Adding freight rail service to Scenario B should be a no cost add and will get trucks off our roads further improving safety and further reduce GHG emissions.