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SANDAG has proposed a plan to tunnel underneath Del Mar Hill to relocate the rail line away from the unstable Del Mar bluffs. Photo by Steve Puterski
SANDAG has proposed a plan to tunnel underneath Del Mar Hill to relocate the rail line away from the unstable Del Mar bluffs. Photo by Steve Puterski
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SANDAG set to receive $300M to move railroad tracks off Del Mar bluffs

DEL MAR — San Diego’s regional planning agency is set to receive a financial boost from a state transportation funding package to help relocate the railroad tracks away from the increasingly unstable Del Mar bluffs.

Hasan Ikhrata, chief executive officer of the San Diego Association of Governments, announced on July 1 the agency is expecting to receive $300 million in state funds thanks to State Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego).

The money would help jumpstart environmental, feasibility and design reviews for a rail realignment project along the LOSSAN (Los Angeles-San Luis Obispo-San Diego) corridor in Del Mar. 

“One of our priorities is to move the rail off the Del Mar bluff,” Ikhrata said. “This is very significant that we are getting some of that money. This will clear the project environmentally, design it and have it ready for the significant amount of money we’ll hopefully get from the federal government.”

The proposed tunneling project will span the entire city of Del Mar from Jimmy Durante Boulevard to the intersection of Portofino Drive and Carmel Valley Road at a cost estimated between $2 billion to $2.5 billion, according to Ikhrata. 

Del Mar Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland said this project is of the highest priority and the money would be a significant turning point in the local debate over rail safety, particularly in Del Mar.

The stability of the Del Mar bluffs has long been a source of concern for residents and area officials due to numerous failures over the years.

However, recent bluff collapses have renewed a sense of urgency amongst local, regional, state  and federal officials to re-stabilize the bluffs and find a permanent solution for the second-busiest rail corridor in the country.

The tunneling option would double track the rail lines approximately 80 feet underground, creating two tunnels with the potential to extend the entry and exit points further inland to help mitigate noise.

Heavy machinery sits idle along the train tracks on July 1 in Del Mar. The San Diego Association of Governments is set to apply and receive $300 million from the state to address realigning the Del Mar train tracks off the bluff and tunnel through the city. Photo by Steve Puterski
Heavy machinery sits idle along the train tracks on July 1 in Del Mar. The San Diego Association of Governments is set to apply and receive $300 million from the state to address realigning the Del Mar train tracks off the bluff and tunnel through the city. Photo by Steve Puterski

Ikhrata said one of the goals is to speed up the train by making the rail line as straight as possible,  bypassing the Miramar Curve in Sorrento Valley to reduce travel time by up to 20 minutes.

While Gaasterland supports the tunneling plan, she prefers a second option which proposes to relocate the tracks along Interstate 5 with a tunnel underneath Del Mar Heights Road.

As required by the California Environmental Quality Act, the third option is a no-alternative analysis.

Gaasterland stressed the project must be fast-tracked as the current situation threatens public safety and economic viability, noting the added benefits of stabilizing the bluffs and restoring the Los Peñasquitos Lagoon.

“There are five alignments that have been under study,” Gaasterland said. “Let’s get the subset of realistic realignments and get them packaged up for an environmental study. I’d like to see it ASAP. This can’t happen fast enough.”

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