By Claire Harlin
Local transportation agencies held their first public meeting on Jan. 22 regarding a $100 million project that will add about a mile of new rail track through Del Mar and Solana Beach, replace the wooden trestle bridge over the San Dieguito River east of Dog Beach, and add a special events platform there that will allow direct train service to the Del Mar Fairgrounds for special events.
The meeting, held at Del Mar Hills Academy, was part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirement to do an initial public scoping before preliminary design and environmental review, a process for which the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) have secured nearly $10 million from local TransNet taxes and Federal Railroad Administration funds designated for rail improvements.
SANDAG Chairman Jack Dale said the project will benefit the community by increasing access to the fairgrounds while taking traffic off the streets, but it will be a long process, with technical and environmental studies taking place through 2014, and final design and construction planned to wrap up before 2030. The entire project is estimated to cost at least $100 million and will replace a nearly 100-year-old bridge that has become costly to maintain, Dale said.
“It will take at least a year for the environmental process and a year for the design, and while we’re doing all that stuff we’re going to find the $100 million,” Dale said. “We like things to be shovel ready here at SANDAG.”
SANDAG and the North County Transit District (NCTD) earlier this month mailed detailed flyers to Solana Beach and Del Mar residents living within 1,000 feet of the project, said project manager Linda Culp, and at least 75 residents and representatives from local stakeholder entities such as the City of Del Mar attended the workshop-format meeting, which was aimed to gain community input on what should be examined in the environmental review. Additional meetings will be held throughout 2013, according to SANDAG.
“We want to know if there’s something you are concerned about that we haven’t thought about,” Dale said. “Do you think we’ve missed something?”
Points to be considered include how high to build the bridge, which must be raised at least 500 feet to meet federal flooding standards, said Dale, as well as how the platforms will be designed. Engineers from David Evans and Associates have come up with several alternatives for the platform, including one that loads passengers on the east side of the track, one that loads passengers on the west and one that allows passengers to load from a platform between the two tracks. The options have varying environmental impacts on nearby sensitive areas, such as either more construction over Stevens Creek to the west or near the San Dieguito Lagoon to the east. The center loading option would result in a much wider structure covering the waterway near the opening to Dog Beach.
“Every alternative has its pros and cons,” said engineer Nikki Jeffery. “The east option would affect the creek and the west option would maintain the creek, while the center maintains both.”
Jeffery said the platform won’t have any overhead structures like a normal train station and will only consist of ramps and stairs to provide access to and from the fairgrounds.
Shawna Anderson, principal environmental planner with the San Dieguito River Park, said the project as proposed should improve tidal flow and improve the habitat because bridge spans will be wider and higher. She said she also hopes the project will provide public trail access under the bridge.
“Currently people cross over the tracks to get to the beach but that is illegal,” she said, adding that the river park supports providing public access to the fairgrounds.
The San Dieguito Double Track and Special Events Platform Project is one of 17 SANDAG-led rail efforts in the region, with more than half of those projects taking place in the North Coast Corrridor between Oceanside and La Jolla. The ultimate goal is to double track 97 percent of the rail that spans from Orange County to downtown San Diego, and SANDAG is halfway there. The 3 percent that won’t be double tracked includes the rail line along the Del Mar Bluffs, which Culp said would be too costly and is planned for relocation sometime after 2040. Together, infrastructure changes along the Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo (LOSSAN) will cost more than $800 million.
More information on the project is available at www.KeepSanDiegoMoving.com/SDDT