By Rick Longinotti
In light of the outcome of Measure D and the imminent decision on our lawsuit against Caltrans regarding Highway 1 expansion, the Campaign for Sustainable Transportation requests that the Regional Transportation Commission undertake a community dialogue process on the county’s transportation future. We propose a facilitated stakeholder process where different perspectives on future transportation can be aired and lead to a consensus of what major projects to pursue. For example, our organization would like to see serious pursuit of:
1. Express buses operating in bus-only lanes on Highway 1 (real bus-on-shoulder, not the currently proposed “bus-in-auxiliary lanes”).
2. Increased frequency of transit on Soquel Drive/Freedom Boulevard, with elements of bus rapid transit (queue jumping; off-board ticketing; bus-only lanes where possible).
3. Congestion pricing on Soquel Drive in Soquel/Aptos (residents exempted), in order to eliminate cut-through traffic and free buses from congestion.
4. Cost-effective transit service on at least a portion of the rail corridor that can be implemented in the near term.
5. A model effective trip reduction ordinance to require businesses to facilitate alternative commutes that is transmitted to the county and the four cities for adoption.
We make this request in light of several major obstacles to the RTC continuing on its current path, including:
1. The RTC currently plans to expand Highway 1 for auxiliary lanes (exit-only lanes) in a futile effort to reduce congestion. We have sued the RTC because of the adverse impacts on social equity and environmental stability that highway expansion will cause. A judgment on our lawsuit could invalidate the EIR for highway expansion, hence halting the project. Should the RTC opt to pursue a new EIR, it would be required to follow updated state guidelines that require mitigation for increases in Vehicle Miles Traveled. It is doubtful that the increases in VMT could be mitigated. CEQA guidelines also require consideration of feasible alternatives, such as those listed above —-none of which were considered in the EIR for highway expansion.
2. The RTC’s Highway 1 expansion plans include building auxiliary lanes on the section where there are two rail bridges and two highway bridges over creeks (the “Aptos Strangler” section). In the RTC plan, the rail bridges would be demolished and not replaced until some undetermined future date. This plan is not feasible without approval of the Surface Transportation Board for abandonment of the freight easement on the corridor. Roaring Camp Railroad considers abandonment of the freight easement as an existential threat. Many voters opposing Measure D were likely motivated in part by a desire to support Roaring Camp Railroad.
3. The RTC’s vision for rail service on the corridor (along with a trail) received a boost with the defeat of Measure D. But, even though the supporters of the Greenway Initiative lost the election, they remain a significant voice in our community that needs to be part of the process.
Transit users and supporters, transit operators, trail supporters, and motorists are voices that need to be incorporated into a community dialogue process. A stakeholder committee would be charged with recommending a comprehensive county transit plan that includes the rail corridor.
We propose a dialogue process similar to the City of Santa Cruz’ Water Supply Advisory Committee where advocates and opponents of desalination sat down with other community members and arrived at a consensus. Professional facilitation and technical staff were elements of the WSAC success. Lawsuits and citizen initiatives can be avoided through such a democratic process.
We applaud all the good work that the RTC has done in advancing many transportation projects and programs in the county. We see now as an opportune time to reduce the stifling polarization and bring the community together on a vision for future transportation. We stand ready to assist and participate.
Rick Longinotti is Chair of the Campaign for Sustainable Transportation.