by Rob White
Yesterday, it was announced that a federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant will be awarded for the first tangible step in many years on the Yolo Freight Rail Relocation project. Whether you agree or disagree with the project, gathering data to make decisions is always prudent… and that is what this grant will allow the Cities of Davis. West Sacramento and Woodland, Yolo County and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) to do.
Various collections of these public agencies have been discussing different concepts and parts of this project for several decades. But for the first time, all five agencies (and several other peripheral agencies) have come together in a consistent approach to solving several significant issues.
The issues include (but are not limited to): 1) flood control (primarily in Woodland and east Davis); 2) removal of at-grade crossings in Davis, West Sacramento and Woodland; and 3) relocation of the 2nd Street switching yard in Davis.
Potential opportunities that would result from this project could also include: A) viable rail connections to underserved areas of commerce in Woodland, West Sacramento, and north of Davis; B) rejoined blocks of land in downtown Davis and Woodland that could be redeveloped; C) potential for a bikeway connection from North Davis to Woodland; and D) increased flood protection from a new raised berm track alignment to the east of Davis and Woodland.
As part of this grant, each city and Yolo County will be working with their communities to determine opportunities and challenges from a potential relocation. The grant specifies outreach activities will be conducted regarding the project, especially as it relates to economic development opportunities for each city and the County. And several studies will be undertaken that assess the economic development potentials based data while providing a roadmap for next steps.
It can sometimes be frustrating that there is a lack of information about these types of projects, but since the project impacts various stakeholders (both positively and negatively) staff for each agency have to be sensitive to the needs of the community while still respecting the rights of those involved in the project discussions. All of our involved agencies have been as proactive as possible in releasing information that allows our communities to be involved in the dialogue without exposing the project to unintended vulnerabilities.
To demonstrate that this project does not serve any one community more than the others, Davis is taking lead on the economic development studies because we have the most to gain from a realignment of the north-south tracks out of our downtown. Other agencies have taken lead on the parts that most specifically impact them, though the benefits will accrue to all communities.
Some have asked why the agencies are not assessing the opportunity to relocate the east-west line from Davis. Though current discussions regarding freight on this line have brought some to question whether our community is best served from a rail line through town, it is ironic that rail service was a primary driver in the founding of Davis(ville).
And the short answer is that the east-west line now serves both commuter and freight rail needs, and there is currently no financial driver that would help pay for that (expensive) relocation. Whereas discussions on the north-south line have seen early indications of willingness for relocation and the financial drivers that would reasonably pay for the project (without requiring the cities or the County to carry the burden) have become aligned.
These financial drivers are borne by significant flood control improvements, new connections for commerce for our county’s industrial areas and better rail service to our region’s ag industries and food processing.
Though there are likely many other reasons for this project to continue to be assessed, the most significant driver for the project is that we have unified collaboration of the five major public agencies and we have willing railroad operators and landowners in the discussion. So maybe a better question is “why wouldn’t we want to assess this opportunity?”
But maybe an equally important outcome from this project effort is that new partnership and collaboration across the agencies has been created. This has given Yolo communities an opportunity to work together on a grand vision that can solve some regional issues while providing opportunities. And that kind of collaborative approach is creating commonalities that help us approach other regional issues with a more holistic view.
Thanks for reading. Your thoughts are always welcome. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you choose to email me directly or you can follow me on Twitter @mrobertwhite.