SOLANA BEACH — U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg joined regional transit leaders and local representatives on Tuesday for a trip on the COASTER rail over the deteriorating Del Mar bluffs, where the region is hoping to secure more federal dollars to relocate the tracks.
Boarding the train at San Diego’s Old Town Transit Center and taking the 30-minute ride to the Solana Beach station, Buttigieg talked with Rep. Mike Levin, Sen. Toni Atkins and a slew of local and regional leaders as they passed over the precarious portion of the 351-mile LOSSAN (Los Angeles-San Luis Obispo-San Diego) Rail Corridor running along the Del Mar bluffs.
Buttigieg said seeing the setup of the railway along the failing bluffs, with residents visible walking on the beach below, puts the critical nature of the realignment project into perspective.
“What we have to do is make sure that the timetables of government and construction start bending to meet the timetables being set by physics, instead of the other way around,” Buttigieg said. “Having now had a chance to see for myself, just how few feet stand between these rails and the bluffs and the beach, you can see how little room for maneuvers, so to speak, there really is.”
After years of concerns regarding sea level rise and bluff failure, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) received $300 million in state funds earlier this year, in large part to the advocacy of Atkins, to jumpstart the relocation of the 1.7 miles of railway running along the precarious bluffs in Del Mar. These funds will cover preliminary engineering and environmental studies.
However, much more funding is needed to make the actual relocation and construction a reality by the goal date of 2035. Rep. Levin said he plans to continue advocating for more dollars from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which has allocated $110 billion for major infrastructure projects across the country.
“We still need the money for construction. We’re going to need billions of dollars overtime; it won’t happen overnight, but it’s gotta happen. I think the secretary just saw, in particular here in Del Mar, why this funding is so critical,” Levin said.
The most recent relocation plans involve rerouting the tracks in Del Mar into an underground tunnel through the city, an effort expected to cost around $4 billion.
While it’s a long road toward getting funding, Buttigieg said there is more money available now for these kinds of projects than ever before, thanks to the infrastructure bill.
Erosion and bluff failures have caused various closures of the railway in San Diego over the years. Most recently, service on the Amtrak Surfliner and Metrolink trains has been suspended between Orange and San Diego counties since late September and is expected to last through December due to safety concerns related to the hillside.
During the ride, Buttigieg also had the chance to speak with leaders from SANDAG as well as the North County Transit District, which operates the right-of-way where the rail passes through Del Mar.