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Encinitas council OKs contract for rail crossing

If all goes as planned, a new pedestrian rail crossing will be in place by 2018 or 2019 at Montgomery Avenue in Cardiff.

The Encinitas City Council last week voted 3-2 to award a $521,650 contract to HDR Engineering, which is tasked with developing construction plans and getting state approval for the at-grade crossing, where people can cross at the track level.

In supporting the motion, Councilmembers Tony Kranz, Lisa Shaffer and Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear said it’s critical to get the ball rolling on the crossing, since so many people reach the coast at that spot.

“Everyone knows we need more ways to get across the rail corridor in Leucadia and Cardiff,” Shaffer said.

They also stated that getting started now would increase the chances of syncing construction with planned projects in the rail corridor, such as the Cardiff rail trail — a path for bikers and walkers.

The three councilmembers said they’d also pursue a “quiet zone” at the intersection. That would entail installing special gates and other safety improvements at the Montgomery Avenue crossing to reduce the need for train horn blasts in the area.

There are six legal spots to cross the tracks in the city — Chesterfield Drive, Santa Fe Drive, the Encinitas Coaster Station, Encinitas Boulevard, Leucadia Boulevard and La Costa Avenue. In addition to the Montgomery crossing, another is in the works — the city recently received a $4.67 million grant that will fund most of the cost of an undercrossing at El Portal Street.

But it’s common to see people illegally walking across the tracks at Montgomery Avenue and other unauthorized spots. The Sheriff’s Department this year has stepped up ticketing for the practice, drawing criticism from some residents who say it’s unrealistic to expect people to walk or drive to the nearest legal crossing.

Councilman Mark Muir and Mayor Kristin Gaspar opposed the motion. Muir said the city hasn’t collected enough public input, particularly from neighbors near Montgomery Avenue who may be affected by an at-grade crossing.

“I really want to hear what the community has to say before we invest that much money into this project,” Muir said.

Gaspar said the crossing may be a great idea, but it should be considered as part of an upcoming rail summit that will develop a vision for the Encinitas rail corridor.

“I think you have to really look at this holistically,” she said.

An at-grade crossing requires approval from the California Public Utilities Commission, which has stated it prefers rail undercrossings because they’re safer.

HDR Engineering and the city will make the case that the Montgomery at-grade crossing would mitigate the loss of coastal access from fencing that’s required as part of the Cardiff rail trail. The proposed fence is similar to the one at the Santa Fe Drive undercrossing.

It’s expected that at-grade crossing design, public input on the project and getting the OK from the California Public Utilities would take about three years.

All told, the at-grade crossing is estimated to cost around $2 million.

Ed Deane, deputy director of the city’s Engineering Department, said in an email that either the city or HDR Engineering could cancel the contract with 10-day notice. The city would then have to pay for all work to date.

If the at-grade crossing doesn’t receive the green light from the California Public Utilities Commission, the approximate cost to the city would be $268,000.


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