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Highway 101 being eyed for first segment of Encinitas rail trail

The first leg of Encinitas’ coastal rail trail, which would run from Chesterfield Drive in Cardiff to E Street in downtown Encinitas, could go on Coast Highway 101.

Earlier plans had called instead for placing this segment east of the train tracks alongside San Elijo Avenue.

Planned for years, the rail trail would be a separated path, with the aim of getting more people biking and walking.

Last week, Chris Carterette, an active transportation planner with SANDAG who is heading the design, gave the Encinitas City Council its first public update on the project in more than a year. He told the council that putting the path next to San Elijo Avenue would probably be “significantly over budget.”

That’s because San Elijo Avenue, from north of Verdi Avenue to Cornish Drive, is too narrow for the rail trail because of the bluffs, he explained. To accommodate the trail, a 2,000-foot-long retaining wall would have to be built near Montgomery Avenue.

“As a project manager, I have the responsibility of bringing a project concept forward that we can afford to build with our budget,” Carterette said.

SANDAG’s regional biking Early Action Program includes $5.1 million for the Chesterfield-Drive-to-E-Street leg.

After the meeting, the SANDAG project team in charge of the rail trail said the retaining wall, along with required fencing and curb and gutter improvements, would cost $4 million. The price tag for the entire plan would then be as much as $9 million, according to an estimate.

So SANDAG is eyeing Highway 101 for the trail from Chesterfield Drive to E Street.

There, the rail trail would be separated from the road by a short physical barrier. In addition to the trail, a northbound and southbound bike lane, delineated by paint, could also potentially be installed.

To fit the rail trail and bike lanes, one option is to remove a northbound Highway 101 car lane on certain parts of the Chesterfield Drive to E Street segment. Another alternative calls for also taking out a southbound car lane to allow wider lanes. In areas where Highway 101 is already one car lane in each direction, the car lanes and center median could be narrowed to make room for the trail, according to the SANDAG project team.

Carterette said any lane reductions would have to be supported by a traffic study.

Besides being less expensive, putting the rail trail on Highway 101 could reduce the need for fencing. North County Transit District, the railway owner, previously stated that any portion of the rail trail that runs next to the tracks would require a small fence.

During a community workshop in November 2013 on the rail trail, residents raised concerns about fencing, arguing it would impede coastal access.

Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear acknowledged the drawbacks of putting the rail trail on San Elijo Avenue. But, she added, Cardiff residents would be less inclined to use the rail trail if it were on Highway 101, since it wouldn’t run next to their neighborhoods.

Blakespear said SANDAG should consider placing the rail trail on San Elijo Avenue, with the exception of the slim portion of the road, in order to avoid a retaining wall. On that narrow portion, “sharrows” — lane markings reminding drivers to share the road with bikes — could be installed, she said.

“I would be open to that,” Blakespear said.

Similarly, Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said the rail trail could be installed on San Elijo Avenue from Chesterfield Drive to Montgomery Avenue, the location of a planned rail undercrossing. At Montgomery Avenue, the rail trail could jump over to Coast Highway 101.

Shaffer said this way, the trail would still be located in front of heavily frequented spots like the Cardiff Town Center.

“If you improve 101, that’s good, but the people who live on the east side of the tracks, just for community use, want to get from their houses to Seaside Market, the school and other things going on in Cardiff,” Shaffer said.

Carterette said putting the rail trail on San Elijo Avenue would be difficult, but it’s still on the table. A community workshop will be held, probably in early April, to gain input on the path.

A specific construction timeline for the first leg hasn’t been set.

As for other parts of the citywide rail trail, the SANDAG project team is considering varying location alternatives, including putting it on Highway 101 or in the rail right-of-way.

SANDAG officials have stated they envision the rail trail one day covering downtown San Diego through Oceanside.

Rich Kelso, one of three public speakers on the presentation, expressed concern that putting the rail trail on San Elijo Avenue would eliminate parking. If that design is approved, he said the California Coastal Commission could reject the project.

“The Coastal Commission does not like any projects near the coast that cause any loss of parking,” Kelso said.


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