OCEANSIDE — Over $53 million in federal funds netted by Rep. Mike Levin will go to the North County Transit District for the replacement of the 107-year-old San Dieguito Bridge in Del Mar, ushering in much-needed repairs to the North County segment of the LOSSAN rail corridor.
Congressman Levin (D-Dana Point) announced the funding alongside State Sen. Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas) and local North County leaders during a press conference at the Oceanside Transit Center on Thursday.
The day prior, another landslide in San Clemente closed rail service between San Diego and Orange counties, exhibiting the vulnerability of key sections of the 350-mile corridor.
“When you think about the hundreds, the thousands, of commuters who were disrupted from this one slide, you realize how important it is that we invest in the resiliency of this corridor and that we commit ourselves to making train travel equivalent to car travel,” Blakespear said.
The stretch of rail through Del Mar is considered another major weak link along the corridor. The new cement San Dieguito bridge will replace the antiquated wooden trestle bridge that carries trains over the lagoon, elevating it above the floodplain and double-tracking it to allow for more frequent travel.
“This replacement bridge is going to expand from a single track to add one mile of double tracks; it’s going to raise the height of the tracks by eight feet to account for increased sea level changes; and it’s going to prevent service disruptions and increase trips,” Levin said.
The federal funding will also cover the creation of a special events platform at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, which officials hope will alleviate traffic congestion from people attending the fair, horse races and other events.
Despite the hefty price tag for the bridge replacement, maintaining the current infrastructure already requires a significant investment from NCTD, according to agency board chair Jewel Edson.
“NCTD spends more to maintain this bridge than on any other bridge that’s located within our region’s portion of the coastal rail corridor,” Edson said.
The completion of the new bridge is essential to being able to start other high-priority rail projects, namely the relocation of the rail tracks off of the failing Del Mar bluffs. The new corridor, likely to run through tunnels under the city, will ultimately connect to the new double-tracked bridge.
The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the agency overseeing the rail relocation, aims to have the tracks off the bluffs by 2035. The needed funding for the project will likely be in the billions and remains to be identified.
“That project is critical to moving the tracks off of the Del Mar bluffs. In order to go into a tunnel, this project has to be done first. We have to have double tracking; it has to be out of the lagoon and has to be raised up eight feet,” Blakespear said.
Levin also announced that the rail corridor has been added to the federal Corridor Identification and Development (ID) program, which facilitates the identification of projects for strategically important rail corridors across the country.
As part of being enrolled in the program, the Federal Railroad Administration has issued a $500,000 grant to create an initial development plan for the corridor. Levin said that while this may seem like a small amount of money, it ultimately increases the chance of obtaining additional funding for needed improvements like the Del Mar rail relocation.
“That will put us on a much better path forward to be able to secure the potentially billions of dollars in additional funding that will be needed,” Levin said.
While these are positive steps forward, officials say more leadership at the state level is needed to fully realize critical rail improvements. Blakespear, who is also the chair of a new Senate subcommittee focused on resiliency for the LOSSAN corridor, said she is working to align state interests with those of the local and regional agencies that have been driving the project.
“When we’re asking for greater state leadership, what we’re really saying is, we want to align goals and have a shared set of commitments to meeting those goals. Right now, we don’t have a system that’s doing it,” Blakespear said. “What does the state want to see?”