ENCINITAS — The rail crossing at Chesterfield Drive in Cardiff will be completely closed to motor vehicles from Jan. 2 through Jan. 23 to allow for the construction of bicycle and pedestrian pathways, the installation of rail-crossing gates and signals, and other related work.
During the closure, pedestrians and bicyclists will still have access across the intersection, and rail service will continue as usual.
The Chesterfield intersection improvements form one component of the SANDAG San Elijo Lagoon Double Track Project, which will add about 1.5 miles of double-tracked railroad from northern Solana Beach to Cardiff by late spring.
Jim Linthicum, director of mobility management and project implementation at SANDAG, said the organization’s goal is to simultaneously construct and complete the Cardiff sections of both the railroad double-tracking and Coastal Rail Trail.
By doing so, SANDAG hopes to minimize the disruption to the Cardiff community, where multiple infrastructure projects have resulted in construction fencing and noise, traffic detours and other inconveniences.
Looking to the future, Linthicum said, “The more efficiently we can move cars, trains, pedestrians and bikes through the area, the better off we’ll be.” For instance, increased double-tracking allows more trains to run along the corridor, which then increases the number of travel times and options for rail riders.
The railroad route from San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot to Oceanside is currently about two-thirds double-tracked, according to Linthicum, with the regional goal to be fully double-tracked by 2050. The project has not yet been wholly funded.
On the local level, work on the Chesterfield Drive Rail Crossing Improvements Project includes a new multi-use Class 1 bikeway and pedestrian path; new ADA-accessible sidewalks and ramps; new traffic and rail-crossing signal infrastructure that is expected to improve traffic flow through synchronization; a modernized crossing-warning system; grading of travel lanes for a smoother transition over the tracks; and improved crossing gates, signals and safety signage.
Lindsey Combs, communications and member-relations advisor for the Cardiff 101 Main Street Association, remains hopeful that the closure won’t adversely impact local businesses. “With the passageway created for pedestrians and bicyclists during the closure, we’re encouraged that people will still shop locally,” she said. To incentivize such behavior, Cardiff 101 plans to run promotions on the news page of its website.
But, Combs added, “It’s going to be a little difficult, and we’re anticipating traffic backups.” She noted that some residents have expressed frustration. In the long run, however, Combs thinks the improved intersection will enhance safety and access between beaches, Coast Highway 101 and downtown, which in turn will be good for business.
The Chesterfield Drive rail crossing is the only west-east connection in Cardiff between Highway 101 and San Elijo Avenue. According to SANDAG, it accommodates more than 17,000 motorists per day.
Those motorists will be re-routed north to D Street and Encinitas Boulevard, where they can turn onto San Elijo. Southbound 101 motorists will be re-routed to Lomas Santa Fe Drive, where they can pick up Interstate 5 to the Manchester Avenue exit. Detour signage will be in place to assist drivers around the closure.
In consultation with the city of Encinitas and the project contractor, SANDAG chose full instead of partial vehicle closure in order to complete the work in the shortest time frame possible. The “piecemeal” approach would have taken four to six months, Linthicum explained.
January was selected for the construction period because it was considered a month with less traffic and was predicted to have a lower impact on Cardiff businesses than a closure in December, for instance, might carry. Combs agreed it’s good that the closure avoided the holidays and that all the work will be over before the summer season starts.
The Chesterfield Drive Rail Crossing Improvements Project, with a total cost allocation of $6.2 million, has been funded through a combination of federal and local TransNet funds.