Encinitas will spend nearly $900,000 to design a railroad under-crossing point for pedestrians at El Portal Street, but it may drop plans for a controversial, at-grade crossing at Montgomery Avenue and instead pursue an underground crossing at Verdi Avenue.
On Jan. 25, the City Council unanimously approved a city staff request to spend $881,967 for the San Francisco-based T.Y. Lin International architectural firm to design the much-anticipated, pedestrian undercrossing at El Portal.
Design work and government permit approval is expected to take 16 months, with construction starting immediately after that. The city already has a $4.69 million state transportation grant in hand to cover the project’s cost.
“This project is long in coming and has amazing benefits for our community,” Councilwoman Tasha Boerner-Horvath said, mentioning that as a parent of children at Paul Ecke-Central Elementary she’s campaigned for the crossingpoint for years. The elementary school is just east of the future crossing spot, which would be a tunnel under the tracks similar to one that’s been built at Santa Fe Drive. Many elementary school students and their parents, as well as shoppers coming to the school’s hugely popular farmers’ markets, are expected to use the new crossing point.
The project also is eagerly sought by merchants along Leucadia’s portion of Coast Highway 101, said Carris Rhodes, executive director of the Leucadia 101 MainStreet Association. “We want it to happen as quickly as possible,” she told the council.
Members of her organization plan to participate in the design process to make certain that several large eucalyptus trees are preserved during construction. They also want the underground crossing spot to be decorated with local artwork and may work with the elementary school to make that happen, she added.
Meanwhile, the city is waiting to find out if the project’s environmental review will be handled by the state or by the federal government, and that’s the only likely project holdup at this point, city deputy public works director Ed Deane said.
Plans for the rest of the railroad corridor region are more in flux. Train horn quiet zones, additional undercrossing points and trail projects are all being debated.
In response to a recent controversy about a proposed east-side alignment for a rail trail project in Cardiff, the City Council set up a “working group” last year where community members could discuss railroad corridor issues. Group members have toured the corridor, visited train horn quiet areas in San Clemente and participated in a wayside horn noise demonstration in Encinitas.
During the Jan. 25 meeting, council members discussed the group’s recommendations, which included:
• pursing the El Portal project;
• continuing to explore ways to limit the use of train horns along the railroad corridor; • conducting additional research before reaching a decision on a new crossing point in the Cardiff area.
Months ago, some council members had suggested installing an at-grade crossing point at Montgomery Avenue as a way to ease concerns related to proposed railroad corridor fencing and the east-side trail project. After facing extensive opposition from people who live near the tracks, the eastside trail alignment was dropped in favor of a proposal that puts the trail along Coast Highway 101, west of the tracks.
Council members said Jan. 25 that this change means the unpopular, at-grade crossing point proposal for Montgomery Avenue also might now be dropped.
“I just don’t think we’ve seen the best alternative for a crossing in Cardiff,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said as she recommended that the city look into installing a below-grade crossing point at Verdi Avenue instead.
Julie Thunder, a Cardiff resident and a member of the No Rail Trail group opposed the east-side trail proposal, told the council earlier in the night that she thought it made far more sense to put a crossing at Verdi than at Montgomery.
It’s the halfway point between the existing Chesterfield Drive crossing and the Santa Fe Drive one, she noted. And, she said, she’s talked to two engineers who believe building an underground crossing point at Verdi would be much easier than doing an underground project at Montgomery.
Council members also agreed Jan. 25 to review Carlsbad’s soon-tobe- released cost estimates for trenching the railroad tracks in Carlsbad’s downtown. That information, which is due out in mid-February, could be helpful as Encinitas debates what to do with its tracks, particularly in the northern end of town, Councilman Tony Kranz said.
Barbara Henry is a freelance writer in Encinitas for the San Diego Union-Tribune.