The ceremonial sledgehammer demolition that took place at the Salinas Train Station Thursday is part of a much larger breakthrough connecting Monterey County to the larger mass transit network in the San Francisco Bay Area and surrounding regions.
Think of the $81.5 million-dollar Kick Start Project as part of a Russian nesting doll that encompasses a long-term rail development, said Christina Watson, principal transportation planner for the Transportation Authority of Monterey County, or TAMC, the local lead agency on the project.
There is no definite timeline for rail operations yet.
TAMC’s Kick Start is one of three phases to create the Monterey County Rail Extension to Gilroy – where the Bay Area’s Caltrain currently ends. Salinas Californian
“This is a critical first piece of getting folks on the train,” Debbie Hale, executive director of TAMC, said. “It’s a really landmark project and we can’t wait to get started on this beginning piece of it, which is the demolition.”
The project is one of three phases to ultimately create the Monterey County Rail Extension from Salinas to Gilroy – where the Bay Area’s Caltrain currently ends in south Santa Clara County:
- Phase 1: Kick Start Project, which includes Salinas train station circulation improvements, train layover facility, Gilroy track improvements
- Phase 2: Pajaro/Watsonville Multimodal Transit Hub, which provides a connection point for Santa Cruz County
- Phase 3: Castroville Multimodal Station, which provides a connection point for Monterey Peninsula
Monterey County suffers from increasing congestion for commuters along Highway 101 en route to the job-heavy Silicon Valley and greater Bay Area, an issue noticed by Deputy Secretary Chad Edison’s California State Transportation Agency, who attended the demolition event.
His agency looks at how people move throughout the whole state.
“It puts a lot of pressure on the existing road system,” Edison said of the local commute north. “That’s both related to the journey to work and it’s also related to tourism and travel in this region. It impacts the economy because people who have a bad experience getting to and from a place end up choosing to go other places on a next trip or they choose to work in another city.”
The alternative of rail can alleviate those issues, and funding from the state on the Kick Start Project – $10.18 million from the SB 1 gas tax and $23.4 million from the State Transportation Improvement Program, the largest funding source – seeks to push those infrastructure projects.
California’s Traffic Congestion Relief Program also provided $20 million.
“As we have been working over the last few years on really looking at how to solve those problems on a corridor level, on a multimodal level, rail continues to be something and is increasingly becoming something that needs to have more and more attention,” Edison said.
The local transit improvements will also have a plethora of multimodal transit options that connect the Salinas train station to the surrounding area, including local bus lines in downtown Salinas, which currently do not transfer but require walking a block and a half from the station to the bus depot.
Only Amtrak’s daily Coast Starlight train, which arrives southbound at 11:48 a.m. and leaves to San Jose in the evening, connects rail to the Bay Area – albeit at times not viable for work hours.
Analogous to the Russian nesting doll, the fully funded Kick Start Project begins with first improving the Salinas Train Station by extending Lincoln Avenue to the station while also improving circulation, parking and landscaping, set to finish in 2020.
The Salinas Fire Department, in between abatement and demolition, is also doing personnel training in some of the vacant buildings soon to be razed.
TAMC’s second part is getting a train layover facility in Salinas, which provides maintenance for trains as a stopping point, followed by the final connection of existing rail at the Gilroy train stop, where Caltrain stops today, to adjacent existing rail line.
This requires coordination and discussion with the state, Caltrain – a joint-owned agency consisting of San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties – that operates the rail line until Gilroy, and Union-Pacific Railroad, the owner of the rail.
For now, TAMC is drawing from a few sources for Kick Start funds in addition to the state, using $7.2 million from Proposition 116 – passed by voters originally in 1990 – $18.1 million from Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and $2.7 million from a local pot.
The future two phases of TAMC’s rail extension are unfunded but would include a Pajaro train station that connects to the Santa Cruz branch rail line, and a final phase of a Castroville station to connect – in the near term, bus service, and the long-term, light rail – to the Monterey Peninsula.
The rail extension could have an estimated annual ridership of 112,000, a TAMC flyer projected.
But as the Bay Area housing market expands and requires more people to commute from farther distances, Watson said existing communities are already being displaced.
“There’s a lot of traffic because people already do (the commute) today because they like to work in the Silicon Valley area, but it’s hard to afford a house to live there,” Watson said. “So we’re just trying to provide an alternative to do that commute by car.”
Hale said prices would offset car payments, though.
“None of your transit payments are going to run you through three or four hundred dollars a month,” she said. “If it keeps you from having to buy that second car, it’s economical for folks.”
Councilmember and chair of TAMC’s rail policy committee, Kimbley Craig, said there will always be concern about displacement or gentrification of residents with the rail extension, which does not have a date of operating service yet.
“What I see is as Salinas is expanding into ag technology, the ability to get to and from San Jose, the tech hub of the world, and for San Jose to get to the Salinas Valley will be really critical and instrumental in expanding our workforce and expanding our job base here in the Salinas Valley,” she said.
Staff Writer Eduardo Cuevas can be reached at (831) 269-9363 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @eduardomcuevas.