DEL MAR — Plans to construct a temporary train platform south of the Del Mar Fairgrounds have been placed on hold, and possibly abandoned, according to officials from North County Transit District.
Matt Tucker, NCTD executive director, said he directed his staff on Nov. 18 “to focus 100 (percent) of our attention on advancing the downtown platform based on our ability to move that project forward faster.”
NCTD has simultaneously been exploring additional train stops to provide more direct access to two popular areas — the fairgrounds and downtown near the Convention Center, Gaslamp District and Petco Park.
“With limited resources, we now have a project we can get moving on,” Alex Wiggins, NCTD communications director, said about the downtown platform.
“We have support and funding so we are going
to throw our efforts at that project,” he said. “Our efforts are going to focus on a more permanent solution for Del Mar.”
The San Diego Association of Governments recently allocated $7 million to NCTD for preliminary planning and environmental studies for a permanent station and platform north of the river, just west of the fairgrounds and closer to the site than the temporary stop would have been.
Estimated to cost about $80 million, that long-discussed project includes double tracking and replacing the bridge to raise the trestles out of the flood plain.
“We are hopeful that SANDAG will receive additional funding to advance the bridge replacement and station construction after completing the environmental and planning process,” Tucker stated in a recent e-mail.
NCTD was proposing to build a temporary train stop east of the beach colony community at 21st through 24th streets to provide more direct access to the fairgrounds during its two main events — the county fair and horse races.
NCTD hoped to increase ridership and revenue and decrease traffic and pollution by getting cars off the road.
About 300 Del Mar residents signed a petition opposing the stop, saying it would, among other things, increase noise and pollution because more trains would be idling there.
They also feared it would become the “beach train,” resulting in more people crossing the tracks illegally and trespassing through their neighborhood.
“Obviously we’re really pleased it’s been put on hold,” said Jeff Weitzen on behalf of Neighbors for a Transit Solution, a group of residents opposed to the temporary stop. “We hope it will be dropped entirely.”
Weitzen said he didn’t believe NCTD had conducted sufficient research to determine if the temporary stop would attract more riders. From a business standpoint, he said the plan was flawed, partially because the stop would have meant a longer walk to get to the fairgrounds.
He said he believes Tucker “came to the same conclusion after he saw the opposition and the difficulty.”
“It makes more sense having something on the fairgrounds,” he said. “I think as they dug in they realized it’s something they can’t make work.”
Weitzen said there were two groups of residents — those who opposed the project and those who didn’t know about it. Once the second group became aware, they opposed it, he said.
Carl Hilliard, the City Council liaison to NCTD, had been working to educate residents about the temporary stop, which at one point was considered a high priority.
Part of the plan was to mitigate future negative impacts as well as some current ones, such as trespassing across the tracks and through the beach community.
“I think Carl has turned on the project,” Weitzen said. “In the end his view was that the town doesn’t want this and it won’t play out. It appears he stood up and listened to the community.”
Hilliard and Mark Filanc, the city’s other NCTD liaison, were unable to be reached for comment.
“We are excited about the prospect of better serving the downtown market and hopefully the Fairgrounds in the future,” Tucker stated in his e-mail.