The Coast News Group
By 2035, officials aim to relocate 1.7 miles of track from the Del Mar bluffs to tunnels underneath the city. File photo/Steve Puterski
By 2035, officials aim to relocate 1.7 miles of track from the Del Mar bluffs to tunnels underneath the city. File photo/Steve Puterski
CitiesDel MarDel Mar FeaturedNewsPolitics & Government

State allocates $37 million to Del Mar rail stabilization project

DEL MAR — The California Transportation Commission has allocated over $37 million to stabilize the railway along the crumbling Del Mar bluffs until regional planners can relocate the tracks. 

The state board allocated the funds to the San Diego Association of Governments for Phase 5 of its ongoing stabilization project on the upper bluffs in Del Mar — a considerable undertaking involving erosion control measures along a major segment of the LOSSAN rail corridor.

Phase 5 work will include the installation of around 2,000 feet of seawalls, soldier piles, lagging and retaining walls, drainage improvements and piped outlets to the beach, according to SANDAG. The agency plans to advertise bids this month, with work tentatively scheduled to begin in late 2023 and last for around three years. 

Caltrans announced the issuance of these funds last week as part of a $1.1 billion package for statewide infrastructure projects. 

“California and our federal partners are taking action now to create a safer, more resilient, and more equitable transportation future for all Californians. These visionary infrastructure investments are giving Caltrans the tools it needs to rebuild California,” Caltrans Director Tony Tavares said. 

Stabilization efforts on the Del Mar bluffs have been in progress for decades amidst increased bluff failures and sea level rise. Stabilizing the bluffs is crucial to protecting this critical segment of the LOSSAN corridor until the rail moves further inland.  

By 2035, officials aim to relocate 1.7 miles of track from the Del Mar bluffs to tunnels underneath the city, a massive undertaking with an approximately $4 billion price tag. 

SANDAG received $300 million in state funds last year for preliminary engineering and environmental studies related to the relocation project while officials continue to pursue federal funding to make construction a reality. 

State Sen. Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas) shared her appreciation for the boost in funding to support the resiliency of the bluffs, especially following recent bluff failures in nearby areas of Encinitas and Torrey Pines.

“I am delighted this state funding will allow SANDAG to move forward with this much-needed work to make the tracks more secure,” Blakespear said. “Recently, we’ve seen just how vulnerable this vital rail line is to effects of sea level rise and bluff instability. There is real urgency needed in Del Mar to counter the dangerous erosion of the cliffs beneath the railroad tracks.”

While costs for the stabilization project have risen to over $78 million, SANDAG officials said it’s fully funded. In addition to the $37 million, SANDAG received funds from the Federal Transit Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, California Natural Resources Agency and North County Transit District.

A major part of the project will be the implementation of new seawalls at the foot of the bluff that will fill in gaps between 15th and 11th streets and from 7th to 8th streets in Del Mar, where other seawalls were erected during past project phases. 

The Del Mar City Council has given the local green light for Phase 5 work to begin, approving encroachment permits last fall.  However, officials, including Mayor Tracy Martinez, have expressed concerns about the project’s impact on beach access and the bluffs. 

“While the City looks forward to the railroad tracks being removed from the Del Mar bluff’s altogether, the DMB5 project will provide critically needed bluff stabilization for the safety of the train and its passengers,” Martinez said. “This, however, is a very high cost in return for our residents and visitors. The seawalls are to be placed west of the toe of the bluff and the Del Mar beaches will lose nearly two miles of their beach width. The eight feet seawalls will cover seven feet of the beautiful natural bluff and coastal terrain.” 

While the seawalls will likely be in place for several years, SANDAG officials have confirmed they will remove them after relocating the rail line off the bluffs. 

Phase 6, the next and final stage of the bluffs rehabilitation process, will involve further work to protect the base of the bluffs from a continued retreat, along with other long-term rehabilitation and stabilization work.