Saturday, January 5, 2008

The NCRA's New Play

Posted By on Sat, Jan 5, 2008 at 11:04 AM

The North Coast Railroad Authority and the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation district have unveiled a creative new scheme to kill the gathering momentum for a pedestrian/bicycle trail between Eureka and Arcata.

The two agencies together will apply for a $19 million grant from the state of California to reopen the northern Humboldt section of the line -- from Samoa to South Fork -- as a standalone freight line. The proposed project would cost $38 million in total; the two districts forecast that the rest of the funds would come from a $4 million federal transportation grant and a $15 million loan from the Federal Railroad Administration. Some of the money would be spent on improving facilities on the Port of Humboldt Bay.

The application makes no specific mention of what sort of goods might be transported on this new, intra-Humboldt freight line. If the agencies have any plan at all, it is likely that they are thinking about shipping Eel River Valley gravel and forest products to the Port of Humboldt Bay, where they will be loaded on barges and exported.

NWP Co. projects that traffic on this line will be general freight originating within the Northern Corridor that will be transferred from rail to barge at a transload facility within the Port of Humboldt Bay. Such traffic could generate about 6,000 rail carloads annually and remove approximately 48,000 loaded and empty truck movements annually from the highways in and around Humboldt Bay.

Since the state funds that the NCRA/Harbor District is targeting are earmarked for relief of traffic congestion, the application has to make the case that Highway 101 between Arcata and the Avenue of the Giants is currently jammed up:
Capacity constraints on existing systems, particularly U.S. Highway 101 that results in travel delays and congestion. The rail service would remove a portion of the current commercial truck traffic on the roadways thus reducing traffic congestion.

Both the Bay District  and the NCRA Board of Directors will have to approve the application before it is sent off to the California Transportation Commission. Both are agencies are meeting in Eureka in the coming week.

It's interesting timing. This application was released just days before that local trail advocates were scheduled to make a presentation to the NCRA board of directors, which meets in Eureka on Wednesday. That presentation is still on the agenda, but now it looks like it's being overshadowed the new grant application.

Last time the NCRA was in town, several Humboldt County rail supporters took notice of the gathering trail movement that has been eyeing the 10-years-fallow rail line around Humboldt Bay as the most expedient way to get the trail. The rail supporters warned the NCRA that the trail people were gaining power, and said that the authority had to "use it or lose it."

Now it looks like the authority has found a way to "use" it -- at least for political purposes, and possibly as a source of more federal and state dollars. According to the grant application, even if fully funded the project wouldn't be complete until 2015.

Download the NCRA/Bay District's proposed grant application (.pdf).

Download the agenda for the NCRA meeting (.pdf) in Eureka on Wednesday, Jan. 9, at 11 a.m. The meeting will be held in the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors' chambers at 825 5th Street, Eureka.

The Bay District will meet on Thursday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m., also in the Board of Supervisors' Chambers.

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