WATSONVILLE – Segment 18 of the Coastal Rail Trail has been open to the public for about a month. This will not prevent enthusiasts from organizing an opening ceremony in his honor on Saturday, with stands and prizes.
From 10 a.m. to noon at 800 Ohlone Parkway in Watsonville, attendees will have the opportunity to walk the new loop after the speeches. Participants will also find booths with local groups that have sponsored activities and will receive a card that can be stamped as the booths are visited. Just before the event ends, a Santa Cruz Branch Railway locomotive will pass by so people can take photos with it in the background, Watsonville senior engineer Murray Fontes teased.
“It’s for young and old alike,” he says.
The red tape to complete the permit requirements ultimately delayed the official opening, according to Fontes. Fontes said despite signs put in place to discourage use of the trail, people continue to use it.
In addition to getting permits, construction on the project that connects the rail trail to the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail System was on schedule until crews encountered poor soil.
“The pandemic didn’t help… but there were soil contamination issues to resolve and it took more work than we thought,” Fontes said. “There were utilities that we had to bypass or relocate, which pushed us into winter. We had some rain which is good, but not for the construction. It just caused delays (again).
Fontes and his colleagues anticipated some issues around the site, such as the fact that a finding about soil quality could increase the cost of the project.
“We usually allow the worst but hope for the best,” he said.
Segment 18, a one-mile continuous paved bike and pedestrian path, features a fence on the side adjacent to Watsonville’s active freight line – a consideration that was a priority for the entire process, even leading to everyone on site takes the railroad. safety training.
“You will see, for much of the trail, a retaining wall because the trail is higher than the adjacent ground. There is a second railing there so people don’t come off the trail and fall on the retaining wall, ”the engineer said of the rail side of the trail.
On the other side, the crews provided ground cover. Unfortunately, that didn’t catch on, Fontes said.
The city of Watsonville was able to secure a $ 600,000 grant from the active transportation program because much of the jurisdiction is considered disadvantaged, Fontes confirmed. The criteria around this type of scholarship, which is increasingly common, concerns income, the number of students eligible for free or reduced-rate meals, the quality of the local water and pollution levels, etc.
“Watsonville is the only part of the county that qualifies in more of these categories,” said the engineer. “This makes us eligible for funding. This is just one of the sources we used to pay for this project.
City staff plan to continue seeking equity-based grants to strengthen their network of trails that crisscross the city. Today there are 10 miles of trails, including the Watsonville Slough trail system, which provide residents with additional transportation options, Fontes explained. Segment 18 connects to the slough trail system and has the potential to connect in the future to the rest of the coastal rail trail to Davenport and the Watsonville Slough Farm property of the Santa Cruz County Land Trust, which should be inaugurated next year.
“Not only is this going to tie into 10 miles of existing trails in the city, but it is part of the trail network that the city is currently developing that will stretch west toward the ocean and beyond it. highway, ”Fontes said. “Then it will follow Lee Road… and return to Pajaro Valley High School, providing alternate access for students who cycle or walk.”
Additionally, the network could expand in the years to come, as the city of Watsonville recently secured an $ 11.7 million grant to build a pedestrian bridge over Highway 1 at Harkins Slough Road. This, Fontes said, will help high school students get to and back from Pajaro Valley High more safely.
“I am excited about this addition to our network of trails that we are developing. I see the railroad as part of it, ”Fontes said.