DEL MAR — City officials, in a comment letter to the San Diego Association of Governments, are asking that an environmental assessment for a project to replace the nearly 100-year-old railroad bridge west of the Del Mar Fairgrounds be revised and reissued because it does not adequately mitigate impacts or address the need for a special events train platform.
The letter was sent to SANDAG, the region’s primary public planning and transportation agency that is working with the Federal Railway Administration on the project, in late November to meet a Dec. 1 comment deadline.
But it was discussed and ratified at the Dec. 1 meeting by four council members, with Al Corti recused because he lives within 500 feet of the project area.
In addition to replacing the San Dieguito Railway River Bridge, which was built in 1916, and adding the special events platform, the project will double track a 1.1-mile stretch of the railroad.
Plans also include a pedestrian undercrossing on the south end that will result in an 8-foot increase in the bridge height.
The EA also does not address any alternatives to the platform, nor does it provide a cost/benefit analysis, according to the letter.
Additionally, it does not adequately address the impacts and mitigations in several areas. There are concerns about water quality from trash from the platform that could end up in the lagoon.
Other problem areas include noise and vibration, especially during construction and at night, the effect on biological resources, particularly from the lighting, aesthetics and land use as it pertains to the exclusion of the San Dieguito River Valley Joint Powers Authority trail.
“While the EA identifies the trail, it does not identify a solution and therefore precludes the trail from accessing the reach the beach, which is one of the mandates from the San Dieguito River Park (JPA),” Planning Director Kathy Garcia said.
“We have asked that SANDAG revise and reissue the environmental assessment to address these concerns,” she added.
Linda Culp, SANDAG project manager, said the agency has made efforts to minimize noise and light impacts to residents, including moving the tracks as far east as possible.
SANDAG also worked with North County Transit District to ensure that shorter trains will stop as far north as possible once they reach the platform.
“But due to the way the track is laid out, the speed limits that we’re given, we cannot move that platform any farther north than it is now,” she said.
Addressing the water quality issue, Culp said NCTD’s storm-water pollution prevention plan, which requires best management practices during construction, will be implemented.
She said “trash-prevention design” will be used to build railings and curbs that make it difficult for rubbish to end up in the lagoon. Signage and waste receptacles can be added at multiple locations.
Culp said she did not agree SANDAG is precluding the trail. “We have offered up a couple of other suggestions,” she said. “We’re not able to use our railroad dollars though to design a trail.”
Resident Bill Michalsky, a member of a city ad hoc committee focused on the project, said few would argue the merits of replacing the bridge but the proposal “goes downhill from there.”
While he also questioned the need for double tracking, he said the platform is the biggest concern for the committee.
“This platform has elements that really will spell significant change in the north end of our community in the Beach Colony area,” he said. “As far as we know there’s no supportable data that suggests it is a needed element.”
Michalsky said the committee has asked for but not received ridership numbers to justify the structure. He said members would also like story poles installed so residents can get a better picture of what the completed project will look like.
Councilwoman Sherryl Parks agreed. “Mitigating the other issues isn’t really going to satisfy Del Mar,” she said. “If the SANDAG folks can come up with some real reasons why the platform is justified then I think that that’s a good beginning toward mitigations.”
“The justification for this project is well established based on the usage that currently exists and the opportunity to shift more automobile users to rail riders by improving connections and reducing overall travel time,” NCTD Executive Director Matt Tucker Matt Tucker said.
“The fairgrounds is one of the main event centers in San Diego County and is a regional asset,” he added. “The concept of providing direct rail service to the fairgrounds is not new. In fact, one can find remnants of the infrastructure that was in place years ago that provided safe and direct access to the fairgrounds.
“Today, the closest stop is nearly two miles away in Solana Beach,” Tucker said. “Train passengers deboard at the Solana Beach station and transfer to a shuttle bus to complete their trip to the fairgrounds. The elimination of multiple transfers and the overall reduction in travel time will result in increased rail ridership and supports our regional goals of reducing road congestion and vehicle emissions.”
Councilman Don Mosier, the city’s liaison to NCTD, said the number of people going to the fairgrounds who take the train to Solana Beach and then shuttle over has increased.
“So I do see a need for a special events platform,” he said. “Certainly getting cars off our streets and Solana Beach streets is an important goal.”
He said he agrees there is “some uncertainty about how many people would use the platform,” but it is important to look at future growth and the long-term situation.
“This whole effort … was a good faith effort to work early on this project to identify issues so that they can be … addressed so that the project will be successful,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “So we have that in common with SANDAG and North County Transit.
“I’m hoping that SANDAG and Del Mar can work together closely, with Solana Beach as well, to address some of these concerns,” he added. “There’s good faith work that’s been put into this and to have these issues ignored is very worrisome.”
“SANDAG and NCTD have committed to working collaboratively with the community to ensure that the project is designed and ultimately built in a manner that addresses the public’s input where feasible,” Tucker said.