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Railroad underpass project gets green light

ENCINITAS — The Planning Commission agreed with a staff report detailing plans to construct three railroad underpasses that will create a more pedestrian-friendly city during its meeting Dec. 18.
Although the panel did not render a decision on the project, it approved the final mitigated negative declaration — a document detailing environmental impact that serves as a first step in the process of development. The final design and permits will be awarded within the next several months according to documents.
Legal crossings are few and far between along the railroad, which presents a barrier separating residents and visitors from the beach, restaurants, shops and schools. “There is no reason for me to be able to see my children’s school from my house but to still have to get in the car and drive there,” Dean Lawrence, who lives just west of North Coast Highway 101, said. “We would love to walk to school but there’s no safe crossing that’s remotely convenient.”
Currently, only six such railroad crossings spaced a mile or more apart exist. But that doesn’t stop some residents from making the leap across the tracks.
“I’m not going to get into my car and drive a mile to cross the street so that I can try to find parking at the beach,” John Belton, who surfs Pipe’s in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, said. “I just take the risk that I’ll get a ticket,” he said.
Pedestrians face trespassing fines of up to $1,000 for crossing the railroad tracks illegally.
The new crossings are planned for Montgomery Avenue in Cardiff-by-the-Sea; Santa Fe Drive; and El Portal in Leucadia. Each underpass comes with a high price tag of approximately $5 million.
The city has set aside only enough money for one crossing at Santa Fe Drive but hopes to secure federal and state funding for the remaining crossings. The city has budgeted $1 million while the state has earmarked an additional $4 million for the project.
Councilman Jerome Stocks, who represents the city on the North County Transit District, said he is optimistic that financial support will be forthcoming.
However, then-Mayor Stocks unsuccessfully attempted to secure funding from the California Transportation Commission in July. Stocks said the completion of
environmental documents put the project in a better position to receive construction money from a state bond.
“However the city gets it done will be an improvement over the nothing we currently have,” Jeff Simpson said. The Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident said he isn’t concerned over the design of the crossings as much as its functionality. “Whether it’s over or under or at-grade, the crossings need to get done.”
Construction on the Santa Fe Drive crossing could begin as early as mid 2010.