Last week, the California Public Utilities Commission approved the plan for an underground pedestrian tunnel at the western end of Santa Fe Drive at San Elijo Avenue/Vulcan Avenue. The $4.5 million project would allow foot and bike traffic to go under the railroad tracks to access Coast Highway 101 and Swami's beach. It was the final hurdle for the proposed tunnel, which could begin construction this fall.
Supporters, like the city, the San Diego Association of Governments, and transit officials, say it will increase public safety. Taxpayers' advocates say it’s a huge waste of money.
When first proposed, residents pointed out the two existing pedestrian crossings at the Encinitas Transit Center. People who park in the center's lot can cross the tracks by using a sidewalk; loud bells and flashing red lights signal when a train is approaching — a mini version of a railroad crossing, sans the guard gates. The sidewalk has been in use for years, the signals warning pedestrians of the Amtrak trains that do not stop at the Encinitas station. Those pedestrian crossing signals cost around $100,000 each.
The city countered that since funding was from various state and federal agencies, it must comply with regulations that specify no possible pedestrian contact with tracks. Locals have pointed out that residents have been safely crossing the tracks for over 100 years. Those opposed say government is willing to waste millions of dollars to protect itself from liability.
The infrequent deaths on North County railways are mostly a result of persons who commit suicide or those who are intoxicated. Those opposed also point to other coastal cities that have built underground tunnels (such as Oceanside and San Clemente) and claim that the tunnels create more graffiti and crime. In the late-night hours, they stated at public hearings, tunnels become a shelter for the homeless who often urinate or sleep there.
Currently, any crossing along the five miles of track through Encinitas (other than at the four road crossings) is trespassing. Surfers and joggers have been cited for crossing the tracks. The city has plans to build three more tunnels once funding is acquired. Taxpayers’ advocates have talked of filing an injunction to prevent the expenditure.