Double-tracking project half-way to completion

A railroad double-tracking project across San Elijo Lagoon and into Cardiff is half-way complete, and the noisy bridge post-driving work is all done, the project manager told the Encinitas City Council.

"I just want to thank everyone for their patience," Bruce Smith, a senior engineer with the San Diego Association of Governments, said as he gave the council a project status report. "I know construction can be a tiring time."

While Smith gave an upbeat assessment Wednesday of the multi-year project, several Cardiff residents told the council they believe the dust from all the construction activity is causing them to have respiratory health problems. They said SANDAG ought to conduct air quality testing on a regular basis.

Oxford Avenue resident Lorri Greene said that in the months since the railroad work began in February she has had two breathing treatments and now uses an inhaler. More than 30 of her neighbors have told her they believe the construction dust is causing them to have health problems too, she said.

"The air quality has been pretty bad," Greene said. "In my own home, the dust levels have been twice what they normally are."

City Council members asked Smith and project contract employee Mario Martinez what was being done to control dust in the work area now and what environmental studies were conducted before the project began.

Martinez told them that contractors are using water to keep down the dust "to the maximum amount that we can without causing an engineering problem." They can't saturate the soil because that causes other problems, he said.

Smith told the council that SANDAG conducted various environmental assessments before gaining permit approval from state and federal agencies, and isn't required to do air quality monitoring as part of its construction project.

SANDAG's $75 million construction project will add 1.5 miles of double-tracking from the southern border of San Elijo Lagoon into Cardiff, improve a railroad crossing point at Chesterfield Drive and add a pedestrian undercrossing on the south side of the lagoon.

On Wednesday night, Smith told the council that contractors have "made very good progress" on a massive, railroad retaining wall structure just east of Highway 101 and it should be done by January. They'll finish up by sandblasting the wall's surface to give it a uniform color, he said.

Work also is proceeding on the new railroad bridge across the lagoon and neighbors can breath a sigh of relief that no more support posts need to be driven into the ground, he said.

And, the nearby Interstate 5 freeway widening project now is supplying the necessary fill dirt for the railroad double-tracking project, he said.

In the coming year, contractors will be reworking the railroad crossing area at Chesterfield Drive. That's one of the main gateway routes into downtown Cardiff, and the railroad construction activity there will likely be very disruptive, he warned.

He added that the Chesterfield construction schedule is still being worked out and he expects to return to the council in either January or February to provide an update.

Barbara Henry is a reporter with the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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