Some new information about the Montgomery crossing project, courtesy of a letter from Lisa Shaffer to a Cardiff neighbor. Excerpts below:
A fence is going to happen sooner or later, regardless of the rail trail. The consultant studying the Montgomery area counted illegal crossings on a few different days recently, and they were on the order of 45-50 people per hour on a weekend, and on President’s Day weekend rose as high as 90 people per hour. As the number of trains increases, there is a public safety imperative to provide a safe and legal crossing and reduce the illegal crossings. The proposed crossing at Montgomery has been planned and debated for many years and is not a new idea.
Current plans call for the corridor to be double-tracked at Chesterfield from the end of 2016 to the end of 2018. The rail trail project would start in the last quarter of 2017, according to current plans. So we have time to work on the aesthetics and the crossing before any rail trail construction actually begins.
Rather than just put a plan on a shelf for additional crossings and say it’s too expensive or too hard, as was done in the past, we hired a consultant to design a crossing and take it to the CPUC. We can’t know what will or won’t be approved until we submit an actual proposal, but the consultant is optimistic that we can make the case and get it done. The Council and staff are getting educated in this process and looking at alternatives to mitigate the train horn noise, which seems to be the biggest concern about the at-grade crossing. It appears that a below-grade crossing could cost as much as $7-8 million and be a much more impactful project due to ADA ramp requirements and stormwater mitigation (I.e., if you build a big basin to get the people below the tracks where the tracks are level with the ground now, you create a potential area for water to accumulate when it rains and you don’t want that, so there is a lot of engineering required.) It has the advantage, of course, of not requiring horns.
The at-grade crossing is a lot less expensive (approx. $2-2.5 million total) and we have a strong case that would allow the use of wayside horns instead of having the train blow its horn. There is still work to be done to understand the implications of wayside horns – I just saw for the first time what the actual crossing design looks like yesterday, and it appears that we could put in sound mitigation to keep the noise from getting to the homes and school on the east side of San Elijo. The consultant can model the noise and look at different placement of the horns and at landscape and other measures and tell us for sure what would happen. Until we have that information, I’m not prepared to rule out the at-grade crossing. And it we can make it work, we will have saved $5 million and probably saved some lives as well.
So what is happening is that the staff and consultant will lay out the options for us in the coming month, with drawings and costs and timelines and uncertainties. We will have to make a decision, as a community, after more public meetings and hearing from residents with realistic and accurate information, about their preferences.
Let me reiterate, the crossing needs to happen, in my view, completely independent of the rail trail project. I also support the rail trail project – for most of Encinitas, who lives east of San Elijo, this will be a huge improvement in safety for peds and cyclists wanting to go to Cardiff for shops, restaurants, school, parks, etc. They are not well served by riding on 101 with traffic and the “spandex” cyclists who go very fast.
The fence, which will be post-and-cable and not a big chain link fence as some have portrayed it, will be the last piece of this process, since it makes no sense to put up a fence and then build projects around it. So there is time to work on the crossing, and we have enough money in our current budget to fund and build the crossing. Public support will help us get CPUC approval and get the funding committed. Otherwise, double-tracking will happen, train frequency and noise will increase, pedestrians will be at risk, and eventually NCTD will build a fence anyway. An at-grade crossing at Montgomery, with well designed way-side horns, can have new and increased parking and make the whole corridor better. So I would like to see us pursue that to the point of knowing for sure that it will be approved, or not, before considering changing course. And the only course changes I can see are ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away, or paying for a more expensive grade-separated crossing.