Menlo Park Council to discuss grade separations, with a contradictory position on design

On November 13, Menlo Park City Council plans to discuss whether to apply for San Mateo County funding for grade separations.  San Mateo County is providing about $200 million that can be used for local matching funds with other state and federal sources.
Going into the meeting, Menlo Park has a contradictory position about the design of potential grade separations.
A few weeks ago, Burlingame City Council had a similar discussion about whether to apply for grade separation funding. Council members had differing opinions about the preferred design and wanted more public feedback before coming to a conclusion.
Menlo Park’s contradictory position reflects uncertainty and differing opinions about grade separation design. Last Tuesday, the Council approved a resolution to change the focus of the Rail Committee to focus on Caltrain modernization, not just High Speed Rail.  The resolution included two contradictory statements about grade separations.  A “Vision” document says that with respect to grade separations, the city should “consider all reasonable alternatives”.  But a “position” document says that high speed rail should be either an “at grade system, or in an open or closed trench or tunnel.”  Council members acknowledged the contradiction, and agreed to take the issue back up on November 13.
Back in 2003, the city studied the potential for grade separations at its at-grade crossings (Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood and Encinal Avenues). The 2003 report looked at a variety of design options.
* A “Trench” Alternative, which would lower the tracks and raise the roadways
• An “Overpass” Alternative, which would raise the roadway and keep the tracks at existing grade
• An “Underpass” Alternative, which would lower the roadway and keep the tracks at existing grade
• A “Split” Alternative, which would partially lower the roadway and partially raise the tracksThe staff report at that time recommended the split alternative (part up, part down) because it did the best job of balancing right of way impacts, benefits and costs.  The Council at the time recommended further study of the  “Split”Alternative and “Underpass” Alternative.  Further study of the underpass found that it had severe impacts to private property access, cross streets, and pedestrian access.  Council reviewed the grade separation information again in 2007, with no action at that time.
While Menlo Park’s 2003 study did not look at costs, a more recent study of similar grade separations in Burlingame found that the price tag for a keeping the street at grade and elevating the rail tracks woud be $179 million, partially elevating the rail and partially depressing the street would be $214 million, and depressing the tracks in a trench would be ~$500 million.
The “trench or at-grade” position was a popular ultimatum several years ago, with the threat of the High-Speed Rail Authority’s excessive 4-track elevated system. Now that Caltrain electrification is moving forward, High Speed Rail has adopted the blended system, and Caltrain is the lead agency committed to grade separation options only at the behest of communities, the Menlo Park needs to decide whether  to should commit in advance to considering only the most expensive grade separation option, or should be open to considering multiple options, with current community feedback.
A summary of the 2003 findings is below.  More detailed reports are here and here.