Work begins on rail underpass near Paul Ecke Central School in Encinitas

Railroad underpass in Encinitas.
The underpass under construction at Coast Highway and El Portal Street in Encinitas will be similar built in 2013 near Swami’s beach, above.
(Gary Warth)

When finished in 2022, pedestrians, cyclists will safely pass under railroad


Construction crews have begun work on a railroad underpass for pedestrians and cyclists in Encinitas near El Portal Street and North Coast Highway 101, with an expected opening date in early 2022.

The $12.1 million project will be the second railroad underpass in Encinitas and is being led by the San Diego Association of Governments. The city of Encinitas and the state’s Active Transportation Program are funding the project.

Encinitas Mayor and SANDAG Chair Catherine Blakespear said the underpass will create a safe and legal pathway between a neighborhood divided by railroad tracks. Crossing the tracks is illegal, and the only alternative is to cross at Leucadia Boulevard about a mile to the north or Encinitas Boulevard just over a half mile to the south.

“This is a really exciting project for the city because it will connect people east and west of the railroad tracks who don’t have amenities on the other side,” she said. “Residents are going to be able to visit friends and be able to walk to the beach and recreate in the ocean. This provides that connectivity that we don’t have in this corridor. I’m grateful we’re able to devote gen fund money to it.”

People east of the tracks also will have easier access to businesses along N. Coast Highway Way while people to the west will have easier access to Paul Ecke Central School and the popular Leucadia Farmers Market held Sundays.

SANDAG Director of Engineering and Construction John Haggerty said people may already notice some construction work on Vulcan Avenue east of the tracks.

“It’s a fairly complex thing,” he said about the project, which will involve months of excavating and installing a bridge.

Construction will require Vulcan Avenue to be narrowed or even closed some times, he said. Railroad service will continue except for one weekend, when a pre-constructed bridge about 180-feet long will be dropped into place.

The new underpass will be similar to one built in 2013 near Swami’s Seaside Park and Santa Fe Drive.

Blakespear said two other railroad crossing projects are feasible. One at Verdi Avenue between Chesterfield and Santa Fe drives in Cardiff has been designed, but is not funded. Another is north of Leucadia Boulevard and south of La Costa Avenue.

The El Portal underpass is the latest in a few projects the city has created recently to promote cycling and walking, she said.

The Encinitas segment of the Coastal Rail Trail opened in 2019 and runs 1.3 miles from Chesterfield Drive to the Santa Fe Drive, and a bike lane on S. Coast Highway 101 also opened in 2019 and runs about 4 miles from Chesterfield Drive to Solana Beach.

— Gary Warth is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune