Encinitas launches undercrossing project to create easier access to beach, restaurants

The Encinitas sign shines above South Coast Highway 101 near the historic La Paloma Theater.
(Charlie Neuman)

Two-year construction project will link Paul Ecke/Central School region with Coast Highway


A long-proposed, pedestrian railroad undercrossing at El Portal Street is going to be more costly than initially forecast, but the $13 million project will be life-changing for area residents, Encinitas City Council members vowed Wednesday, Aug. 12, as they voted to start construction.

“For people interested in getting out of their cars, this is going to be a critical piece of infrastructure,” said Councilman Tony Kranz, who lives in Leucadia and recently purchased an electric bike.

Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze, an avid cyclist and a former executive director of Leucadia 101 Main Street association, agreed, saying, “I think it’s a historic vote.”

Hinze added that she’d recently surveyed Leucadia area business people to find out if they still supported the project, despite the fact that it’s now estimated to cost the city several million dollars more than initially forecast. She got “100 percent consensus” to go for it, she said.

Construction on the project will begin this fall and work will continue over a two-year period, a city staff report notes. About $3.8 million of the project’s $13 million cost will be covered by grant money.

The new undercrossing, which will be somewhat similar to the Swami’s beach area undercrossing in Cardiff, will connect people who live east of the railroad tracks with the shops and restaurants along Coast Highway 101. Council members said it’s also likely to be very popular with elementary school-aged children who live west of the tracks because they’ll be able to easily walk or bike through the undercrossing to Paul Ecke/Central School on the east side of the tracks.

When the construction bids for the project were opened last month, it was “kind of a downer” to discover how much more costly the project was going to be, Kranz said. Even the lowest bidder, Granite Construction, put in a bid that was $1.44 million higher than a recent city engineering department estimate, a city staff report states.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said any construction project is expensive, but this project is particularly costly because the work is being done in an active railroad corridor where there are many limitations on how and when work can occur.

“This project, I think, would only get more expensive if we tried to put it off,” she said.

The Aug. 12 meeting was the first regular City Council meeting in weeks because the council has been out on its annual summer recess. Due to county health department restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, the meeting was conducted via Zoom as has been the case with council meetings for months. At previous meetings, city employees have read aloud public comment e-mails, but members of the public were permitted to call in and give oral testimony on agenda items Wednesday, Aug. 12. Only a handful of people participated.

One council tradition that’s been going on for years — the wearing of Hawaiian shirts on the first day back from summer recess — was completely forgotten in the new era of Zoom meetings, Councilman Joe Mosca noted at the end of the meeting. Only one city staffer and no council members appeared on video in Hawaiian shirts. They could try celebrating it next week, the mayor told Mosca, adding that it’s hard to get in the aloha spirit when people’s travel options are limited due to the pandemic.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune