ENCINITAS — In a unanimous vote on August 12, the Encinitas City Council approved construction of the El Portal project, a roughly $13.3 million pedestrian and bicycle railroad underpass crossing in Leucadia.
The fiscal impact of the project, including preconstruction planning, permitting and construction costs were detailed in Wednesday’s meeting, noting both an increase in $1,450,000 from 2019 as well as an Active Transportation Grant award $3,802,000 to the project.
According to the city, SANDAG will award the construction contract to Granite Construction, who provided the lowest of five possible bids. The project is scheduled to break ground in fall 2020, with a projected end date of fall 2022.
Councilman Tony Kranz expressed his excitement despite his initial shock at the price tag. According to Kranz, the “transformational nature” of the railroad underpass crossing provides residents further access to beaches, parks, restaurants, and other recreational opportunities.
Deputy Mayor Kellie Shay Hinze also shared her enthusiasm for the “historic” construction project in her own district.
“My hope is that not only will this project make it possible for people to move about freely, for people like my mom who uses a wheelchair to be able to access the elementary school… but also for people to go to the beach and the farmers market,” Hinze said. “It’s just a very logical, commonsense infrastructure project.”
Mayor Catherine Blakespear also expressed alarm over the cost. However, after taking a “deep dive” into the finances, “the reality is that construction is really expensive and is particularly expensive when you’re doing it on an active rail corridor,” Blakespear said.
“We need to do this project. It’s a key part of our mobility improvements and our commitments to our community,” Blakespear said.
On Wednesday evening, the council also voted to unanimously ratify a letter supporting housing developers in replacing some vehicular parking spaces with either bike or car-sharing spaces.
The council heard two public objections to the vote including Susan Turney, District 2 candidate for the Encinitas City Council.
Turney feared the bill could cause harm to adjacent neighborhoods, causing overflow parking from high-density housing projects in addition to removing local control over regulations.
Hinze voted in favor of the letter.
“To me it makes sense if [Encinitas] is building more high-density housing that we match the land-use underlying that in how we plan to move around town,” Hinze said, citing the increased usage of bikes in possible renters.
Councilwoman Jody Hubbard also agreed, saying, “I totally support this. If you’ve ever been to any cities or countries where there are a lot of bikes, you start realizing that bike parking is every bit as important as car parking and if people haven’t noticed, we have more and more bikes around Encinitas.”
Kranz agreed, however, he expressed a wish to continue conversations on related parking issues. “We need to figure out a way to protect the surrounding neighborhoods to keep people from spilling over into their neighborhoods [looking] for parking.”
Councilman Joe Mosca agreed with the two public opinions, in that such policies should be created at the local level, not the state level, however still voting in support of the letter.
Additionally, the City Council presented two awards for Excellence in Environmental Stewardship to the Encinitas Ranch Community Association for creating one of the county’s largest recycled water projects; and The Inn at Moonlight Beach for receiving the WELL Platinum Certification for prioritizing the environment and sustainability.