The rail line curves to the right and disappears behind a stand of eucalyptus trees. The tracks are covered in leaves.

Segment 11 of the Coastal Rail Trail runs near New Brighton State Beach in 2021. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local file)

SANTA CRUZ >> At a special meeting Thursday, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission could step toward takeover of a $68 million state grant awarded to Santa Cruz County to help construct the rail trail through Live Oak, Capitola and Seacliff.

Transportation commissioners on Thursday are expected to vote on whether their staff should explore steps to transfer the grant. Commissioners are not set to vote on the transfer itself.

In March, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors deferred acceptance of a $68 million state grant to help construct Segments 10 and 11 of the rail trail. The deferral could lead state authorities to retract the grant, county staff said.

Transferring the grant to the regional transportation commission would allow the commission to pursue grant money and trail construction without the county’s input. 

The county would need to agree to transfer the grant to the regional transportation commission. It’s not clear whether that agreement would require a vote of the county supervisors, said Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin.

Rail trail map segments 8 to 12

A Santa Cruz County supervisors vote on March 26 stalled plans for Segments 10 and 11 of the Coastal Rail Trail. (Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission)

County supervisors’ vote

The California Transportation Commission in 2022 granted Santa Cruz County $68 million to construct Segments 10 and 11 of the rail trail. The grant requires the county to submit a preliminary project budget by June 2024. 

But in the March 26 county supervisors meeting, the supervisors did not approve the preliminary budget, and said staff should request an extension from the state. County staff said the move could endanger the grant.

Supervisors are set to reconsider acceptance of the grant at a meeting April 30.

Santa Cruz County Supervisors Manu Koenig and Bruce McPherson said at the March meeting that they disagreed with the county’s spending plan for the trail.

Although most of the trail for Segments 10 and 11 would be paid for with the $68 million state grant, the project has a $28 million funding gap. County staff said they have applied for more state and federal funds, but suggested that money from the regional transportation commission’s 2017 Measure D sales tax could also fill the gap.

Koenig said during the March meeting that allocating Measure D funds to the mid-county portions of the trail would reduce money needed for trail construction and maintenance in south county. Measure D funds could cover trail construction in mid-county and south county, but the money could not also fund trail maintenance, according to a report from transportation commission staff. 

The supervisors in March told county staff to:

  • Direct Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission staff to identify potential cost-cutting measures for the project.
  • Request a regional transportation commission report about how city and county requests for more money for rail-trail funding would impact 2017 Measure D funds. 
  • Reach an agreement with Roaring Camp Railroads to move the existing freight rails on Segments 10 and 11. 

At Thursday’s regional transportation commission meeting, the commissioners are set to vote on whether to pursue an agreement with Roaring Camp and find ways to cut costs.

‘Ultimate’ version of the rail trail

Regional transportation commissioners also are set to consider acceptance of the environmental report for Sections 10 and 11. 

The environmental documents included three options:

  • An “ultimate” walking and biking trail parallel to the railroad tracks. Several other segments of the rail trail have been or are being built in this way.
  • An “interim” paved path where the railroad tracks now stand. It would be replaced by a permanent path parallel to the tracks. 
  • A paved path without plans for passenger rail service. The report was commissioned before the failure of Measure D in 2022. In that election, more than 73% of voters signaled a preference for passenger rail service next to a paved trail, voting that the county’s General Plan should not be changed to favor a paved trail only.

The commissioners on Thursday are expected to consider support for the “ultimate” rail-trail version with a paved path next to the rail line.

To participate in Thursday’s special meeting: Join on Zoom or call  669-900-6833 , meeting ID  946 8440 1344. To comment ahead of the meeting, email [email protected] by 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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Reporter / California Local News Fellow | + posts

Jesse Kathan is a staff reporter for Santa Cruz Local through the California Local News Fellowship. They hold a master's degree in science communications from UC Santa Cruz.