With an unprecedented amount of federal and state funding available for implementing passenger rail service, why do we still keep hearing ‘there’s no money for rail?’ The truth is, our Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) is snared in a self-defeating circular-logic trap that is preventing the agency from applying for rail funding. It began a year ago on April 1, 2021, when six commissioners voted not to accept the Rail Business Plan, voicing concern that there wasn’t enough money to implement rail transit. This was despite Caltrans pledging support to work with the RTC to fund our rail plan, including a committment to work with RTC staff to ensure there were grant funds available for the EIR that would not require local matching funds. The availability of these grant funds, pending our application for them, was documented in the draft business plan no less than 3 times.
Unfortunately, after the RTC failed to approve the business plan, Caltrans was no longer able to work with them to provide the funds for the EIR. It has become clear to us that there was a direct correlation between the RTC not passing the business plan and the RTC’s inability to secure Caltrans grant funding for the rail project EIR.
Since that day, RTC staff has repeatedly said that they would like to apply for rail grants but the applications would not be competitive because there is no accepted Rail Business Plan and no EIR.
While the Santa Cruz County RTC is stuck going around in self-defeating circles, more and more funding opportunities for rail are passing us by, and RTC staff is turning their attention to projects that would require railbanking. We are deeply concerned about this defeatist cycle and what it means for both the future of public transit on our rail line and for the construction of the Rail Trail.
We Must Break the Cycle and Move Forward
Instead of taking the Measure D path and eliminating rail planning, we believe that Santa Cruz County can and should take advantage of the many newly-available State and Federal grant monies dedicated specifically to rail funding. Countywide we are already paying into the state Rail Transit Fund with our Senate Bill 1 taxes. If we don’t apply for funding we will be donating our share of that 144 billion dollars to other California counties.
It is time for the Commissioners to revisit the Rail Business Plan, ask the RTC staff to update the plan with current and relevant costs, and then accept the plan.