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SANDAG, Coastal Commission signal concerns with Cardiff rail trail alignment

ENCINITAS — Two key stakeholder agencies have expressed concern with the recent decision by the Encinitas City Council to withdraw support of the current alignment of the Cardiff Rail Trail and endorse a trail alignment along Coast Highway 101.

The San Diego Association of Governments, which is the lead agency of the 44-mile Coastal Rail Trail project, and the California Coastal Commission, which regulates development along the state’s coast line — including the new rail alignment — both signaled their concerns to city staff, which relayed it to the City Council at its April 27 meeting.

The City Council, at the meeting, unanimously approved a letter that will be sent to SANDAG — at the regional agency’s behest — that formally requests that SANDAG pursue the Coast Highway 101 alignment and address some of the concerns raised by both agencies.

SANDAG’s primary concern is the project cost, according to the staff report. Officials worry that since $500,000 of the project’s budget has already been spent studying the eastern alignment, it already reduces the amount of money available for the project. They are also concerned that project delays could cost the agency a $1 million grant it received from the state.

SANDAG has signaled that they would require the city to cover any budget overruns.

In addition, city Public Works Director Glenn Pruim told the council that the March vote has also sparked worry about the city’s decision making on the project.

“One of their concerns, is the city going to change its mind another time,” Pruim said.  “If we are going to pursue it they want to make sure we are all on the same page.”

The Coastal Commission approved a permit for what is known as the North Coast Corridor Public Works Plan, which included the trail alignment on the right side. The commission staff, according to the city staff report, has expressed “significant concerns” about moving the trail to Coast Highway 101, because it might be too far away from the rail corridor to fall under the permit approval.

The city’s letter to SANDAG expresses the city’s view that the Coast Highway 101 option will be cheaper than the San Elijo alignment, and the savings could cover the money SANDAG has already expended.

It also affirms the city’s commitment to working with both agencies and a commitment to expedite its rail corridor study, which will help identify future city projects that might affect SANDAG projects in the future.

The letter, however, concludes with the city reaffirming its reason for the switch — the overriding public outcry about the project.

“Given the extent of the projects proposed in the rail corridor in Cardiff and the public input we have received, we believe the Coast Highway 101 alignment is in the best interests of the City,” the letter states.