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Montgomery Avenue crossing received divided go-ahead

ENCINITAS — Encinitas officials are moving forward with a plan to construct an at-grade crossing at Montgomery Avenue and the tracks in Cardiff, but with divided support.

The City Council voted 3-2 last month to award a $573,000 contract to develop plans, construction documents and environmental clearance for the crossing, which will also require the endorsement of the state Coastal Commission.

Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Councilmembers Tony Kranz and Lisa Shaffer voted in favor of the project, which they said provides a critical beach access points to residents in Cardiff.

“This is an important and critical access point for surfers, dog walkers, families with strollers and everyone else who enjoys the beach,” Blakespear said in a newsletter. “It’s too bad that the entire city council wasn’t behind moving forward on this project.”

Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir opposed the vote largely on procedural grounds. Both were concerned that the city had been voting on improvements to the rail corridor in a piecemeal fashion, rather than moving forward with the strategic rail corridor visioning that the council had agreed on.

“I thought that was direction we were headed, but now that we are pulling things out of out that vision, it troubles me,” Gaspar said.  “Because I really think we need to look at this holistically so that the whole community comes on board.”

Gaspar said that the project — which will cost about $2 million — will consume a large amount of the city’s $6.8 million budget surplus from last year.

“In my opinion, the proper place to discuss an allocation of this size is in the context of strategic planning, otherwise, what are wasting our time for?” she said. “The community needs to understand there are certain trade offs and I don’t know if they if they are willing to accept those.

“Before sign myself up for a half-million dollar budget allocation… I would like to follow our process and allow that strategic panning to happen before we spend all of our money and do some proper public outreach,” she said.

Additionally, Gaspar and Muir expressed concerns that the crossing would result in further noise from train horns, which would have to blow in a half mile in either direction of the crossing to signal oncoming trains.

The council majority is optimistic the project will align with the state’s Coastal Rail Trail project, and will allow state and local officials to find a holistic solution to the horn noise.

“The consultant we hired will do public outreach as part of figuring out how to address the noise issue with either quiet zones or wayside horns,” Blakespear said in her newsletter. “With the consultant on board, we can reasonably expect to put the crossing in at the same time as the rail trail, which wouldn’t be likely otherwise.”

“Working through the bureaucracy is challenging and complex, and it requires expertise for success. Also, the consultant’s contract can be terminated, so it’s a relatively low-risk investment for a very important beneficial result,” Blakespear added.