Encinitas slated to get $4.67M for rail undercrossing


Encinitas is poised to receive a $4.67 million grant for a rail undercrossing at El Portal Street, viewed as vital for getting Paul Ecke Central Elementary School students and Leucadia Farmers Market patrons safely across the train tracks.

In its grant proposal to the California Department of Transportation, the city scored 98 out of 100, finishing near the top of 617 applications from across the state. The California Transportation Commission board is slated to officially approve the undercrossing grant in late October, it was announced last week.

Before applying, the city agreed to put up $704,000 toward the undercrossing, and taken together with the grant, the project is fully funded.

Paul Ecke Central parents and staff, as well as city officials, cheered the news.

“At last, we will be able to provide a safe way for residents to cross the rail corridor between Encinitas Blvd. and Leucadia Blvd.,” Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer wrote in her weekly newsletter, adding she’s grateful to city staff for putting together a winning grant proposal and to Councilman Tony Kranz for “keeping the pressure on all of us to focus on the rail corridor.”

Rebecca Conley, vice president of the Paul Ecke Central PTA, said during last week’s Encinitas Council meeting that the undercrossing will make it easier for students and parents to bike and walk to school.

“This means so much to our school and community,” Conley said when thanking the council and staff.

The city was passed over for this particular grant a year ago, but the completion of the Let’s Move, Encinitas plan made the difference this year, said Ed Deane, the city’s deputy director of engineering during a phone interview. The comprehensive plan, based on public meetings, surveys and social media input, details high-priority projects throughout the city.

“It added quite a few points to our score,” said Deane, who also credited the city’s matching funds with improving its grant score.

Design is scheduled to begin on the undercrossing later this year, and it should be completed within three years, according to Deane.

To connect pedestrians and bikers to the undercrossing, plans call for a roundabout with a sidewalk at Coast Highway 101 and El Portal Street, Deane said. Additionally, a parking lot is proposed in the rail corridor near the undercrossing.

City officials have said rail undercrossings are key for bolstering public access and improving safety. In 2013, an undercrossing at Swami’s Beach debuted to the public. Encinitas also has an undercrossing at Grandview Street in Leucadia on the drawing board, but a funding source hasn’t been identified.

The council in the spring directed city staff to work with transportation agencies to build an at-grade crossing — as opposed to over or under the tracks — at Montgomery Avenue. However, an at-grade crossing requires approval from the California Public Utilities Commission, which prefers undercrossings, stating they’re safer.

“The California Transportation Commission has a policy of not allowing, except under certain circumstances, at-grade crossings,” Deane said.

The city will make the case that the Montgomery at-grade crossing would mitigate the loss of coastal access from fencing that’s part of the Cardiff rail trail — a planned path aimed at getting more people biking and walking.