Burlingame City Council pursues grade separation designs

Last night, Burlingame City Council agreed to apply for design funding for grade separation at the highly-congested Broadway station, despite lack of confidence that Burlingame would ultimately win construction funding in the competition for $200 million in San Mateo County grade separation funds. Burlingame faces competition from San Mateo, which is eager for grade separation at 25th Avenue and has local funding set aside for that project. Menlo Park and South San Francisco have also indicated interest in applying.

Council said that process will need to include public meetings to get the community’s take on possible designs. Council Member Nagel encouraged fellow council members to support community input into the design. Agreement on a design approach will help, even if Burlingame’s project is not chosen in the current San Mateo County grant cycle. Nagel said that congressional representatives, Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier have offered to help get funding. But as long as cities do not agree on what they want for transportation funding, they cannot their help to get funding.

If grade separation in Burlingame does not get funded in this grant cycle, the Council is eager to have the Broadway station platforms redesigned to eliminate its “holdout” status. Burlingame is eager to see service restored at the Broadway station (which currently has weekend service only) when Caltrain is electrified. Fixing the “holdout” issue will help restore the service, since “holdout” stations add delays to the Caltrain schedule.

Stations that lack the ability block passengers and pedestrians from crossing the tracks while trains are approaching are subject to a “holdout” rule requiring a train travelling in one direction to wait until a train in the other direction has left. At the last Caltrain board meeting, Caltrain announced plans to seek funding to eliminate the “holdout” status at South San Francisco, Burlingame and Atherton.

The City Council will also create a subcommittee to reach out to peers in San Mateo and Millbrae to investigate the possibility of a larger project across the 3 cities. Attempted discussions among the cities did not move forward several years ago, when dedicated, elevated High Speed Rail tracks were proposed, but there might be new opportunities to work together in the era of the blended system.

For the cities that don’t make the final cut in San Mateo’s grade separation contest, perhaps there could be more ambitious plans to work together to seek regional, state and federal funding for the remaining projects. Increased Caltrain demand sparked by the completion of Central Subway (2019) and the Downtown Extension (2020s) could put severe pressure on remaining at-grade crossings even before the first High Speed Rail trains arrive (2029+).