Exceeding Measure D: Santa Cruz Light Rail’s Future Will Finally Go Beyond Speculation

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As the Gauge D Grudge became louder and more personal in the early days of June, it was the most common refrain heard by many who followed both sides of the rail corridor debate close: These wounds will take a long time to heal.

Only they didn’t.

That’s what a surprisingly one-sided vote — 73% of those who voted speak loud and clear and unequivocal – can do. Fifty-six thousand voters voted against Measure D on June 7, while 20,000 voted for it.

And now, two months and two Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission meetings in the post-D non-apocalypse, even though the two sides haven’t joined and chanted “Kumbaya,” they’re are much closer to tranquility than anyone could’ve predicted.

“To go from a deadlocked commission to a unanimous vote so quickly is quite miraculous,” RTC Commissioner Mike Rotkin told Lookout after last week’s easy approval of the go-ahead for staff at the the commission is moving forward with a $17 million feasibility study on which it will begin receiving proposals. from October.

What this will do, at least in theory, is finally answer the questions that have haunted the speculative argument for years: Is it possible, and how much will it cost?

“It’s kind of a win-win,” said two-time Santa Cruz mayor Don Lane. “If it doesn’t come back positive, those who have been against this thing for years will have their chance to say, ‘See, I told you this wouldn’t work. “”

Curator Manu Koenig admitted at last week’s RTC meeting that he remains on the side of the skeptics. “If I’m proven wrong, I would honestly be thrilled,” he said. And for Rotkin, among the staunchest proponents of giving rail a fair boost, there might have been no greater revelation in the process.

“I mean Manu was the head of Greenway,” he said of the organization founded by a local philanthropist. and cycling enthusiast Bud Colligan to move forward on a trail-only future. “I never would have imagined voting in favor of continuing the train.”

Or, more precisely, the feasibility of a train, which, according to Koenig, was always the central issue before the D-measure rhetoric became more passionate and personal.

“I fully support this effort to get more information for voters about the type of service we will be able to provide, the amount of money it will take and the time it will take to deliver a project,” did he declare. “If, in fact, passenger rail is not feasible, then hopefully it will at least be clear that it is the facts that make it unfeasible and not an individual or group obstructing it. “

So, now that we’re past the grudges of Measure D, and now that we know light rail will be due diligence, what exactly does that mean?

Lookout posed these high-level questions to Rotkin, Lane, and a few other people in the know, including Sarah Christensen, senior transportation engineer at RTC.

Is the $17 million needed for the study there?

“I think we’re going to get that money pretty quickly,” Rotkin said, noting that Guy Preston, RTC Managing Director has already met people at the state level, where most available funds should come from.

“There are a national railway plan and there’s money in there, and the national transport commission and other bands are really friendly at this point,” Rotkin said. “I think people will be surprised how quickly the funding part of this is moving forward.”

Lane, whose primary mission in post-election life was affordable housing and homelessness, has closely watched the growing availability of state and federal dollars for these causes. Likewise, he hopes transportation — especially the carbon-neutral, non-highway forms — will capture the attention of leaders in Sacramento and Washington.

“It’s not a bad time to try,” he said. “There are no slam dunks. But from a good public policy space, we are in a good position.

I fully support this effort to get more information for constituents about the type of service we will be able to provide, the amount of money it will take and the time it will take to deliver a project. If, in fact, passenger rail service is not feasible, then hopefully it will at least be clear that it is the facts that make it unfeasible and not an individual or group obstructing it.

— Manu Koenig, on the feasibility study for a tramway along the Santa Cruz junction

Rotkin said he thinks the outcome of Measure D could play a big role in making money: “You can say, ‘Our community is united behind this project.’ It’s not like we’re 40-60 or something. It’s like everyone wants to do that. It makes such a big difference when you’re looking for that money.

According to Christensen, the actual contract amount needed will be based on cost proposals received by the top consultant and subsequent negotiations. RTC staff estimate that 20% of the cost of the work will be funded locally through existing sales tax funds from Measure D (2016).

How long will the process take to accept a proposal?

The consultant selection process will continue throughout October, Christensen said.

“Staff expect to recommend a consultancy contract for committee approval at the November 3 meeting,” she said. “Work would start after contract approval.”

What will constitute a good proposal?

Christensen said the selection of consultants will be “based on qualifications.”

“There are specific selection criteria included in the request for proposal, including past experience in carrying out similar work, the expertise of key personnel and the technical approach to the project,” she said. . “The selection committee ranks the proposals based on the criteria of the written proposal and interviews, and the highest-scoring consultant is considered the most qualified for the project.”

Is there a timeline for the project itself?

“There’s no set-in-stone timeline right now,” Christensen said. “We would like the consultant teams to propose a work schedule that will ultimately be negotiated. We anticipate that the initial task of developing the operating concept will take a year or more. The next step after approval of the Concept Report is to prepare an Environmental Impact Report, which typically takes two to three years.

What happens if the proposal concludes that the project is not feasible?

Ultimately, potentially four years from now, the cost expectations to perform what is needed for light rail along the Santa Cruz Branch Line Corridor may simply be out of practical reach.

“If the estimated cost turns out to be too high, then it’s technically not feasible,” Rotkin said. “I’m not in favor of voting for things that can’t happen or that are stupid.”

“The other side will be able to say, ‘Well, you wanted to try,'” Lane said.

For now, the old college essay is given. As for what it will give, everyone will simply have to remain patiently listening, one ear pointed towards the railway tracks.

Jose P. Rogers