The Coastal Rail-Trail

Jerome Stocks Jerome Stocks Leave a Comment

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This recently came across my inbox:

Gaspar and Muir NO vote on the
Cardiff Coastal Rail Trail Project
By Mayor Gaspar and Council member Muir

The Coastal Rail Trail project is not new; it was originally envisioned in the late 1980s. Several prior councils recognized the negative impacts this project would have on our coastal community and, as a result, did not support it.

While some focus on the limited benefits of this project, such as encouraging people out of their cars and onto bikes, they fail to recognize the negative impacts associated with the project for the Cardiff community.

A primary reason citizens oppose this project is the change it would bring to this iconic area.  The Cardiff rail corridor is the last undeveloped piece of coastal habitat in the area. It is an open space with a natural path and sandstone formations that is used regularly by joggers, pedestrians, dog walkers, children and cyclists. The rail corridor also provides parking to countless Encinitas beachgoers and those who stop to watch the sun set over Swami’s. The proposed project will pave over the natural path and line it with a 4 foot fence. It will also dramatically reduce beach parking.  These changes dramatically alter the character and charm of this beach town community in an area where people frequently visit or have invested millions of dollars to buy property, presuming it would remain relatively untouched by development. As such, we believe that the Cardiff rail corridor should be preserved for current and future generations of Encinitas residents rather than developed.

The simple fact is that this NCTD desired fence is not a real safety structure since someone can simply climb over or walk around it. The fence is not a special safety device but, in reality, a symbolic safety gesture, which is not required by any local, state, or federal law.

The NCTD has reaffirmed that if people choose to cross over the new 4-foot fence, a taller, more effective fence will need to be installed. Several council members have indicated that a fence is on its way even without the rail trail. It is important to understand that the NCTD has zero dollars allocated to a fencing effort along this stretch of the rail corridor. The NCTD has not even studied the cost of such an endeavor.

Further compounding the matter, the limited beach access created by rail trail fence installation caused the council majority (Kranz/Blakespear/Shaffer) to approve hastily an at-grade rail crossing at Montgomery Avenue. While we fully support a crossing project in this area, it is important to note that the Cardiff community will now receive a lesser crossing project than originally scoped for the area because the City does not have the resources to move forward with the original/ideal project concurrent with rail trail installation. The Montgomery crossing has long been planned as an under-crossing project similar to the new Santa Fe under-crossing. An under-crossing project should be preferred by Cardiff residents, as it is safer for all concerned, including the nearby schoolchildren, and does not intensify noise in the rail corridor.

The change to an at-grade rail crossing at this location will be accompanied by a significant increase in noise pollution if it is allowed at all by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). That is because the CPUC has developed a policy to reduce the number of at-grade crossings as part of its mission to reduce hazards, associated with these crossings and in support of the national goal of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to reduce the number of less safe crossings. If an exception is made, an at-grade pedestrian crossing will not be likely approved by the CPUC without fencing.

It could take up to 3-years or more to obtain development and regulatory approvals and to complete the construction documents for a project of this kind. A large portion of this timeframe is the approval of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). If approved and built at-grade, horn sound will increase by 1 minute through Cardiff, and the train will sound 100 times per day.

Our City budget is now facing new impacts from the Council Majority’s approval of a $600,000-study to plan for an at-grade crossing at Montgomery. While the new crossing might cost a few million dollars, silencing the noise pollution could cost up to $1 million more. These negative environmental and budgetary impacts would not have been present if the Rail Trail had been placed along the Coast Highway. Dealing with these problems will cost money that has not been accounted for in the City’s budget as this project was not reviewed as significant during the competitive budget process for the FY2015/16–2020/21 Capital Improvement Program. Currently, the City has accounted for over $250 million dollars in unfunded projects.

Moreover, it is disappointing that the Council majority (Kranz/Blakespear/Shaffer) has decided to prioritize spending millions of dollars, ahead of all other citizens’ needs, for a project that locals clearly do not want and have actively expressed their opposition to. Over a thousand locals have told the Council they oppose the Rail Trail Project largely because our beach town community character is one of the City’s greatest assets. This project not only significantly changes that character but prioritizes a dubious asset above all other budgetary considerations. That is not what the people expect from their elected representatives, and that is why both Gaspar and Muir voted “no” on the Rail Trail project as proposed.

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