The rail bridge across the San Luis Rey River in Oceanside is coming down— as soon as there’s a way to pay for it.
At a public meeting on Wednesday, officials from SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) and NCTD (North County Transit District) outlined plans to replace the aging single-track bridge with a modernized double-track bridge.
An additional one-mile of second main track will also link two double-track segments between Oceanside Harbor and Pier View Way for 10.3 miles.
“This project is not that big, but we’re filling in a gap,” Project Manager Tim DeWitt said. “That will help with less idling trains.”
The double-tracking project in Oceanside is part of a large-scale effort by SANDAG to ease congestion along the busy Interstate 5 corridor between Orange County and downtown San Diego.
DeWitt said passengers currently wait up to an hour for trains because of “gaps” in the corridor where double-tracks haven’t been installed. At “bottleneck” areas of the track, trains are forced to stop to let others pass.
The existing bridge supports nearly 70 commuter, passenger and freight trains on a daily basis. That number is expected to grow to more than 100 trains by 2030, according to SANDAG.
DeWitt said right now there is no way to know for sure how much time the corridor project will save passengers, but expects it will reduce wait times to 20 minutes.
City Engineer Scott Smith said Oceanside is also collaborating with SANDAG to improve access and visibility to the pedestrian undercrossing and bike path.
“It’s not really a part of the project, but we’re willing to work with the city to find funding for the improvements,” DeWitt said.
Many residents who attended the meeting voiced concerns about noise mitigation. Oceanside resident Tim Bemis lives near the tracks and said he was there to learn more about the proposed “quiet zone” in Oceanside.
By law, trains conductors are required to use their horns at every railroad crossing. A quiet zone utilizes upgraded safety signaling at crossings to warn vehicles and pedestrians about approaching trains, without blowing a horn.
Smith said the city needs to finish a diagnostic study and make the necessary improvements before it can qualify as a quiet zone. Ultimately the decision is up to the Federal Railroad Administration.
“We’re hoping to have a better idea of how much it will cost by the end of the year,” Smith said.
So far SANDAG has secured funding for the preliminary engineering and design portion of the project thanks to grants and TransNet sales tax, but construction for the $60 million project is still unfunded.
“Funding may not be available for awhile,” DeWitt said. “Our idea is to get the 20 or so double-tracking projects shovel-ready before then.”
In the coming weeks, SANDAG will conduct engineering work along the rail line near Oceanside Harbor. Train operations will not be affected, but there will be temporary road closures on Harbor Drive.
DeWitt said engineering and environmental analysis will continue through 2015. Once construction funding is secured, the project would be built over a two-year period.
About half of the rail corridor has already been double-tracked and the majority of the projects are anticipated to be finished by 2030.