The City of Encinitas has been denied, twice, transportation funds for undergrounding two pedestrian railroad crossings.
Having been turned down previously at the state level, SANDAG recently denied the $4.8 million grant request. The crossings are planned for El Portal Street and Cardiff by the Sea’s Montgomery Avenue. Both would be similar to the below-track crossing built in 2012 at the end of Santa Fe Drive.
According to a published report, councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said the plan was to tie in the planned Rail Trail and Leucadia 101 Streetscape project, which are scheduled to begin construction in 2017.
Some in the community have called the undercrossing a waste of tax money. Fiscal watchdogs continue to point out that residents have been safely crossing the coastal railroad tracks for almost 150 years. However with over 50 trains a day, it is illegal to walk on railroad property or cross the tracks. Surfers and joggers have been cited previously for crossing the tracks.
Taxpayer advocates say that rather than spending millions on an undercrossing, a $100,000 pedestrian crossing similar to the two in use at the Encinitas transit center would suffice. The city has countered that because funding will be from local, state, and federal agencies, it must comply with regulations that specify no possible pedestrian contact with tracks.
Community opposition subsided a little when the Santa Fe Drive undercrossing was built, which most say is now a beautiful gateway to Swami’s beach — an open walkway under the tracks. A closed in, under-track tunnel, as used in other cities such as Oceanside and San Clemente, reportedly attracts nighttime crime and sleeping transients.
The El Portal crossing would serve the neighborhood and families west of Coast Hwy. 101, some of whom cross the tracks to get to Paul Ecke Central Elementary School, just east of the tracks. The nearest safe crossing is several blocks to the south at Encinitas Boulevard and a mile north at Leucadia Boulevard.
The Montgomery Avenue crossing would serve residents in northern Cardiff’s “Composer District” (streets named after composers), with access across the tracks to Pipes surf spot and the San Elijo campground.
The city — not wanting to wait another two years when SANDAG grant applications would be accepted — will be exploring other funding options and grants.