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The Bullhorn

Micah Posner makes the case for a rail trail with passenger capability--a concept dubbed The Green Line.

By Micah Posner

ACCORDING TO staff and elected leaders at the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (the SCCRTC), we will decide, as a community, whether to purchase the 32-mile-long coastal rail corridor by the end of this year--a piece of property advocates are calling the "Green Line." The time is ripe for each of us to imagine what we would do with this piece of real estate and decide if it is worth buying it.

The Check: The SCCRTC has cobbled together $22.5 million to buy the corridor and has gotten Union Pacific down to a price of $14.2 million. This money can only be used for transportation. Half of it has to be used specifically for rail transportation or will be given back to the state in June of 2010.

The Risks: The SCCRTC staff have been ultra-diligent in insuring that the corridor cannot be a financial drain to the county. Freight operators would pay us to use the line which would, in the long term, cover the maintenance. In case something large enough to stop the freight trains goes wrong before those fees accrue, the county is starting with a $7 million maintenance/emergency fund. Of course if there is no freight, there is effectively no maintenance required.

The Vision: According to a letter from a local engineering firm, Mesiti-Miller, the rail line is basically wide enough for a trail next to an active rail line, with the possible exception of a "few short segments diverted to public streets." But that's not all we could house on it. Half of it (14.5 miles) is more than 100 feet wide, spawning dreams of a linear parkway throughout the county.

In case you haven't yet walked the line, this would be a good time. First of all, it has moderate grades (traditional trains can't go over 3 percent) and few intersections. Then there are the amazing views as it passes through New Brighton, Wilder and other state parks. From a more practical point of view, the green line passes within a mile of 120,000 county residents, 20 schools and dozens of large employers. Given all this, the idea of a trail on the line has people excited. In the words of Rep. Sam Farr, "Whether you call it the rail trail, the sanctuary trail or the scenic trail, its all the same thing--a great idea and a lot of fun."

Would you put some kind of tram or train or trolley to carry passengers on the line? If you did, you would create a connection to an emerging passenger rail system passing through Watsonville to Salinas and Monterey, and (via Gilroy) a statewide high-speed rail system, as well as connections to Amtrak. Are you aboard? If so, how would you make the train neighborly: rubber tires? Electric? Biodiesel? Micro scale? Only in daylight hours? All of these technologies are available. If we own the tracks, we will decide how/if to use them and how they could interact with freight traffic and a trail.

If you live in Santa Cruz County, you may soon own a 32-mile-long "Green Line" transportation corridor. How could you use it to better the lives of people in Santa Cruz County and the natural environment that we hold in common? The art of progress starts with the challenge of imagination.Before anyone signs a check, take a moment to place your own linear vision through Santa Cruz Couny. Imagine a green line.

Micah Posner is the director of People Power and an active participant in Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail Trail.

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