It’s too early to say exactly what the road ahead looks like for major transportation projects. But the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) has decided who it wants in the driver’s seat.
The RTC announced this week that Seabright resident Guy Preston will be taking over as executive director in place of George Dondero, who’s retiring.
Preston has worked for more than 28 years on managing the construction of transportation projects.
For the past four, Preston worked for California High-Speed Rail Authority, where he oversaw Northern California high-speed rail work. He tells GT that he’s excited to begin his new job and start biking to the RTC’s office in downtown Santa Cruz.
Preston’s first day at the RTC will be Monday, Dec. 3, three days before the earliest date that the commission could vote on how to proceed with solutions outlined in the Unified Corridor Study (UCS). That study, released last month, lays out four transportation options—each of them a combination of ways to improve various transportation corridors, namely Highway 1, Soquel Drive, Freedom Drive and the rail corridor. The most contentious question in the community continues to be whether or not it’s worthwhile to run a commuter train alongside a bike path down the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. Many activists say yes. Others are calling for a bike trail with no train.
Preston has been reviewing the UCS. His background, he argues, will help him implement whatever visions the commission chooses.
What have you noticed in the tenor of the discussion around the rail and trail?
GUY PRESTON: I’ve heard both sides of it. I love the passion that Santa Cruz brings to the table. I wouldn’t want to live in a brain dead community, where people didn’t show that level of enthusiasm, and I look forward to working with all members of our community to make sure that they’re heard, and their opinions do matter.
What’s it like jumping into the RTC at this juncture? On the one hand, with a vote looming on this big study, it’s the perfect pivot moment for the commission to bring in a new leader. In another way, it sounds like a grueling first week of work.
I actually look at it as a wonderful time to come in because the commission is really transitioning from being more a planning organization to one that’s expected to deliver projects. I have a lot of project delivery experience, so I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to come in after the sales tax measure has passed, after the studies have been done, to focus myself on delivering the actual improvements.
Why did you take this job?
I do live locally in Santa Cruz. I’ve worked in transportation my entire life. I worked previously for a transportation authority, similar to RTC. This was an opportunity for me to apply my skillset to my local community and improve transportation in the region.
What’s some lower-hanging fruit that county leaders might be able to use to reduce travel times or congestion?
They’re already working on a lot of those solutions right now. What they hope to do on Highway 1, with respect to the auxiliary lanes, is a good idea to improve traffic flow on the highway itself. I’m really thrilled with what they’re doing with Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail. It’s amazing to see how many people get on their bikes to get around, to get home. To continue moving in that direction and deliver the projects that are already underway is a great start.
How much have you followed topics at the RTC?
I’ve read some of your articles, I think. I’ve read some of Jondi’s articles. We’ve subscribed to the Sentinel. I see the lawn signs. I’m aware of it, but I haven’t been attending public meetings. I’ve been trying to stay out of the fray, so to speak. I’ve had a part-time job that’s been keeping me quite busy, but I’m aware of the issues and ready to come in and see how my skill set can best be used to deliver projects. I’m aware of them, but I don’t have an agenda. I come in pretty neutral and wanting to listen to listen to everybody.
You’re going to be a downtown employee. There’s a lot of talk about how parking can be improved and whether or not Santa Cruz needs a supplemental supply. Do you have any thoughts about that?
I’d like to see as many people get out of their cars as possible. There is a parking problem downtown for sure. I found myself not being able to find parking when there’s a Warrior game going or a concert at the Civic center. But there are additional options that people should consider, including transit. There’s a lot of bus service that goes into the transit center. I’m really impressed by how much utilization the bike share program has developed. I see those red bikes everywhere, and it’s great. It’s really up to the City Council to make decisions on parking for Santa Cruz proper, but I intend to fully support them and help them out wherever it is needed.
Do you see a roadmap for increasing ridership on Santa Cruz Metro buses, and does the RTC have a role in that?
Provide the service people need. Have the routes going to where the trips are going to be generated. Often people will say the best advertisement for mass transit is congestion, so the more frustrated people get, by getting stuck in traffic and not being able to find parking, is really the best advertisement for public transit. I plan on studying up on it and learning more about what works and what doesn’t.
I love the attention your articles pay to the momentous transportation decisions that will be made soon. Your interview with Mr. Preston comes at a critical time with two years of work having gone into the just-released Unified Corridors Investment Study and publication of findings.
Some of the rail trail funds are at risk if we don’t stick to the timeline established when we started this. I’m confident that the new Director will take the reins and with help from a very competent staff and committed commission be able to move us from the study phases into implementation and construction.
With substantial Caltrans funding to implement a state rail network including our branch line, and that agency’s stated objective, “moving from highways to railways”, I hope the next rail transit ride you and I take together won’t require a drive to San Rafael, as fun as that was.
Best wishes to you and to Mr. Preston!
I’m very hopeful that Mr. Preston will not stake our future on antiquated rail technology. As he said “Have the routes going to where the trips are going to be generated”. A 19th century abandoned rail line does not go to education, government or emplyment centers in Santa Cruz County. Put the transportation solution right in the line of sight of the congestion and that is with Bus Rapid Transit/Bus on Shoulder. Commuters will be able to easily see the busses passing them and they are easy to adjust based on where people want to go. Rail simply cannot do that and will be a huge mistake for Santa Cruz.