COAST CITIES — In an effort to move forward with a project that has been discussed for more than a decade, North County Transit District officials will present preliminary plans for a temporary train stop south of the Del Mar Fairgrounds during the Sept. 16 board of directors meeting.
Carl Hilliard, Del Mar City Council’s NCTD liaison, said he’d like to see the seasonal platform installed in time for the start of the San Diego County Fair in June 2011. But Matt Tucker, NCTD executive director, is a bit more conservative.
“That’s a great goal,” Tucker said. “But the public process and funding will dictate when it gets delivered.
“I’d like to get everything done yesterday,” he said. “But there’s funding and environmental concerns and community input that need to be considered first.”
The long-term goal is to construct a permanent seasonal platform in the northwest corner of the fairgrounds. It is included in an environmental impact report for the proposed fairgrounds expansion.
A permanent platform would provide direct train access to the facility during its two popular annual events — the fair and horse races. Expected benefits include less traffic on the freeway and side streets, no need for buses between the Solana Beach station and the fairgrounds and fewer intoxicated people leaving those events on the road.
But studies indicate a permanent stop in that location requires double tracking and raising the bridge out of the flood plain, making it a 10- to 15-year, $80 million project by most estimates.
“That’s a much bigger, much more environmentally sensitive project,” Tucker said. “And because we’d be working in the lagoon, it’s subject to controversy.”
In an effort to reduce traffic in the meantime, officials have been eyeing a temporary platform, but the most recent attempts to construct one about two years ago failed to come to fruition.
“We’ve been working with the fairgrounds and the city of Del Mar to discover what the concerns were and why it didn’t work,” Tucker said. “We’re building on what was done earlier but taking a fresh look at different approaches to get a project the community can embrace.”
Based on the earlier study, the cost estimate for a temporary platform is between $2 million and $2.5 million. Hilliard said funding is secured. Tucker said no money has been identified.
“But until you define what the project is, funding is a secondary consideration,” Tucker said. “Our concern now is the project details.”
The current plan is to install a temporary stop south of the fairgrounds just beyond the Southfair office complex at 2010 Jimmy Durante Boulevard.
“There is double tracking there and enough space to do it,” Hilliard said.
“That southern location has a turnout where you can store trains without impacting the operation of the railroad,” Tucker said.
Tucker does not recommend a station on a single-track railroad because the trains would have a long dwelling and loading time and that would disrupt the rest of the system.
“It would be the equivalent of putting a stop light on I-5,” he said.
In late July, Carlsbad residents Richard and Helen Nielsen-Eckfield, opponents of a temporary platform, sent a packet to the governor’s office asking for, among other things, the “abandonment of the temporary stop.”
The packet included petitions stating opposition with more than 300 signatures collected in Carlsbad, Encinitas and Orange County. Nearly 30 residents who live on 21st through 24th streets in Del Mar near the proposed temporary platform also signed a petition.
The Nielsen-Eckfields claim the $80 million price tag for the permanent stop is inaccurate because the existing trestle is set to be refurbished so there is no need to build a new one over the river.
“If they moved the first section (a 600-foot platform) about 150 feet further north (above the 100-year flood plain level) they would have enough room to the south to have the ‘new second rail’ join the existing rail and trains in both directions (could) continue to use the existing refurbished bridge,” Richard Nielsen-Eckfield wrote in an e-mail.
The Nielsen-Eckfields also claim, among other things, that the temporary platform, which they believe would become permanent, is being used as mitigation for traffic impacts that will result from additional race weeks slated for Del Mar once Hollywood Park closes.
Tucker said he met with the Nielsen-Eckfields to discuss their ideas and concerns.
“If it could be easily done, we’d be pushing that project,” Tucker said. “What benefit would it be to us to ignore them if theirs is the best alternative?”
For more information or to provide input, the public is encouraged to attend the board meeting, which beings at 2 p.m. at 810 Mission Ave. in Oceanside.