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June 25, 2022

County appears to be sitting on the transportation sideline

Dear Editor:

When I visited the USDOT’s Office of Intermodalism last month following the conclusion of the 35th Transportation Law Institute in Washington, D.C., I got the same response as I have on each of my previous visits after earlier TLIs: “Where is your leadership?”

It was the same thing at the Federal Railroad Administration’s headquarters again. Good question. Where is our leadership?

President Bush’s decision Nov. 27 giving final approval for fully allowing the Mexican trucks access to all of the nation’s highways only served to heighten the Central Coast’s lack of transport alternatives.

Without intermodal facilities in the region, and with the Mexican carriers undercutting ours, we will start harvesting the bitter fruit of our government’s lack of foresight and leadership.

San Benito County is letting a golden opportunity pass it bye. Congress is already soliciting state and local government officials for transportation recommendations to be included next year in reauthorization legislation for the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which Traffic World predicts will have “one quarter of a trillion dollars on the table.”

USDOT’s reauthorization bill is due to be released next month. If SBC is ever going to act on this, it better do so quickly.

Neither Silicon Valley nor the Salinas Valley has this badly needed transportation infrastructure improvement on their long-range plans, but how long do you think that is going to last? Their leaders know the value of jobs and commerce for their counties.

San Benito County’s inaction, like a headless horseman, will cause the county to lose the jobs, economic development, tax revenues, and additional commerce.

I ask myself the same thing: “Where are our leaders?” Is there anyone in elected office who gives a darn about SBC economic development and what the absence of an intermodal option means to our agribusiness and other shippers and receivers?

In sharp contrast, under the guidance of Strategic Rail Finance Corporation, whose president accepted my invitation to meet with our Rail Advisory Committee, Eastern Washington state ag is seeing restoration of intermodal facilities. What do they have that we don’t have? Is it leadership?

If SBC does not induce more revenue tonnage on the Hollister Branch Line, I don’t hold out much hope of keeping it open, especially if the cannery closes.

An intermodal facility could be the key to keeping rail service in the county’s future, rewarding for their recent multi-million dollar maintenance expenditure on the line.

The FRA told me that the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Finance transportation infrastructure loan program funds are still available for applicants.

However, such a private-public partnership takes leadership, and so I ask myself, where is ours?

The new year is going to bring us much news about transportation, but it appears to me that SBC will be sitting on the sidelines watching the action, while neighboring counties steal this opportunity right out from under our noses.

Joe Thompson

Legislation Committee, Transportation Lawyers Association

and San Benito County Citizens Rail Advisory Committee member

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