Why It Matters
The Economic and Environmental Impacts
For simplicity of presentation, the economic and environmental impacts are in different sections (below). But, in truth, they are not separate issues.
If the current rail plan goes through and the following two proposed stations are built as planned, it will devastate both the economy and the environment of Solano County. The county may never really recover. There is a third proposed station planned for Dixon which is not a problem. In fact, research suggests that the Dixon station should be built first. It is currently slated to be built last.
Solano County's current rail plan includes 1) a proposed station near Travis Air Force Base and 2) a proposed station in an protected marsh.
1. The proposed station near Travis Air Base has the potential to cause the base to close. Travis AFB is the county's single largest employer, with more than 7000 jobs (more jobs than the next three largest employers combined) and is worth more than a billion dollars per year to the county. According to an article in Air Force Magazine: 'Encroachment has become a part of the base closure debate,' and 'The best way to help military bases [remain open] is for communities to help them solve their problems'. A commuter rail station built so near Travis AFB would promote encroachment. It would also be viewed as a security risk and would likely make traffic jams during peak hours even worse than they are now. Traffic is already bad due to the fact that it is a limited access facility.
2. The proposed station near Benicia is slated to be built in a marsh. Historically, that section of the rail line was built to cater to people interested in seeing or hunting birds native to the marsh and was built on unstable ground on the edge of the marsh. The rails used to sink and become covered with water, requiring expensive maintenance to raise them up out of the water and make them usable again. Solano County now wishes to build a rail station in the marsh. The upfront cost to build this station is already expected to be more than the cost of the other two proposed stations combined, without factoring in future maintenance costs of a station likely to continuously and slowly sink (much like Vienna or New Orleans). Additionally, the marsh is a protected wetlands. Therefore, little or no further development can be expected in that area. In short, the proposed station near Benicia is not only extremely costly but also likely to have little pay-off in terms of promoting ridership.
1. Travis AFB is one of two listed sites in Solano County -- ie potential Superfund sites. If the base closes, it would take a lot to remediate the environmental problems and make Travis AFB suitable for other uses. As an example: There was once a spill of jet fuel which killed plants along waterways from Travis AFB all the way to The Bay.
2. The marsh is a protected wetlands and is critical habitat for a number of species, particularly migratory birds. Additionally, marshes clean contaminated water before it goes on to other bodies of water, such as the San Francisco Bay. Building a station in the marsh would cause a loss of critical habitat and a loss of local ability for nature to process pollutants. Due to its status as critical habitat for migratory birds, loss of protected marshland here has impacts which reach far beyond Solano County and should concern environmentalists whether they live in the San Francisco Bay Area or not.
To see a map showing the proposed stations, go to: ABAG's Smart Growth Project (1.46MB PDF). The proposed station near Travis Air Base is the black circle roughly in the middle of the map. There is also a black circle near Benicia, which is the proposed station slated to be built in a marsh.