Rail Trail Expansion Progresses Forward

The urgency of switching to a way of life that generates less greenhouse gas emissions is more apparent with every punch in the face that climate disruption delivers—wildfires, floods, and landslides. Fortunately, there is some good news, as tangible solutions are on the horizon with the construction of the Santa Cruz County Coastal Rail Trail advancing. The of City Santa Cruz, County of Santa Cruz, and Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) staff recently pulled off a major coup by securing over $100 million in state and federal funds to build major sections of the Santa Cruz County Coastal Rail Trail. Santa Cruz County’s local Measure D (2016) sales tax provided a match to leverage state and federal funding.

“This is a big win for Santa Cruz County,” said RTC Executive Director Guy Preston. “The Coastal Rail Trail projects are going to transform the way people travel through our county and will benefit generations of bicyclists and pedestrians. This is a great example of how voter-approved local funding can leverage larger state and federal grants.”

This means 6.75 miles of the Rail Trail, from the San Lorenzo River Trestle to Sea Cliff Beach—except the Soquel Creek crossing in Capitola Village—is fully funded, and 7.5 miles of the North Coast Rail Trail, from the Westside of Santa Cruz to Davenport, is also fully funded. Smaller sections of trail in Aptos are also close to securing funding for construction.

Overview of sections coming online

The recently secured funding will provide a safe, convenient, and direct route for biking, walking and many forms of micro mobility from Davenport to Aptos in four to five years, connecting residents and visitors to coastal neighborhoods, parks, beaches, shopping centers, cafes, restaurants, and other popular destinations. Many people don’t bike because they don’t feel safe riding next to speeding cars. The Rail Trail will offer them long stretches of car-free travel. The not-too-distant expansion of the Rail Trail will complement the relaunch and growth of e-bikes haring (to be run by BCycle) and serve income-qualified residents who take advantage of local, regional, and state e-bike purchase rebates and others who discover the joy and efficiency of biking.

Imagine hopping on the Rail Trail at Sea Cliff Beach and pedaling to downtown Santa Cruz in some 25 minutes on your zippy e-bike, trading in a traffic-clogged commute for a fresh-air ride with views of the Bay while getting a workout and eliminating parking fees, fuel costs, and greenhouse gas emissions.

What’s coming next—fully funded sections of trail

The next section of the Westside Trail—the current Westside Rail Trail is 1.2 miles—will start at Bay and California Streets and connect to the Beach Boardwalk area, following the rail line that runs between Bay Street and Neary Lagoon and skirts the Sanctuary Exploration Center. This section is under construction, to be completed later this year, and connects to the Beach Street two-way cycle track (protected bike lane). Under management by the City of Santa Cruz, the Beach Street section of the trail will be improved as part of the major construction east of the widened San Lorenzo River Trestle bike/ped way that will connect the Seabright neighborhood to 17th Avenue (Live Oak). This section includes a cantilevered crossing off the Santa Cruz Harbor rail bridge. Environmental, design, and right-of-way work for this project are currently underway, with construction scheduled to start in 2025.

At 17th Avenue, the Santa Cruz County Public Works Department will take over managing the section of trail to Aptos. This 4.5 mile section will connect Live Oak to the Seacliff neighborhood and, if all goes well, will start construction in 2026. This section doesn’t include the Capitola Trestle (estimated at $26–$40M), so trail users will connect to the Coastal Rail Trail in this area by using the existing bicycle and pedestrian facilities in Capitola Village.

The North Coast section, running from Wilder Ranch to Davenport, will provide 7.5 miles of farmland and rustic coastal trail, connecting the city of Santa Cruz to the future San Vicente Redwoods and Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument and dirt trails. This 7.5-mile segment is funded, and current estimates have construction starting in 2024.

Trail sections yet to be fully funded

The planned for section of trail connecting Seacliff to Aptos Village spans the 1.25 miles between State Park Drive and Rio Del Mar Boulevard. This short but critical section crosses over Highway 1 twice, with reconstruction of the current rail bridges to make room for bus-on-shoulder operations. It will allow cyclists and pedestrians to avoid narrow and busy Soquel Drive, making active transportation to and from Aptos Village and Nisene Marks more convenient. RTC is actively seeking grant funding to construct this section of trail.

In Watsonville, a small section of the Rail Trail will be built in the vicinity of Walker Street. The entire section will eventually lead to Lee Road, providing a 1.2-mile stretch of trail that connects to the existing Watsonville Slough trail network. This section has some regulatory hurdles to clear before construction can begin.

Ecology Action has actively advocated for the Rail Trail for over 20 years—we have hosted Rail Trail public awareness activities, made appeals to local and state officials, and raised private donations. We are thankful to all the community members and organizations and public agency staff and officials who have made and are making the Rail Trail a reality. We are especially proud of the work we and a broad coalition entities did to pass Measure D in 2016 to provide a stable source of local funding that has been leveraged to bring in historic levels of state and federal funding.

For more information about the Rail Trail and to find fact sheets on each section of trail, visit the Rail Trail website of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, the lead Rail Trail agency.