Palo Alto and Mountain View grade separation updates

On Monday evening, Palo Alto City Council is going to review a Council Rail Committee recommendation to do additional design analysis of grade separation options for the City’s at-grade crossings of the Caltrain tracks.

The staff recommendations studying two options:

1) submerging the roadway at Churchill, Meadow, and Charleston, while leaving Alma at-grade
2) trenching the corridor from San Antonio under Adobe creek, Charleston,  Meadow, and Barron Creek before coming back to the surface just prior to Matadero creek with preliminary analysis of creek impacts

None of the options include any track elevation, because Palo Alto’s policy is to keep tracks at grade or depress tracks.

The goal of the study would be to show the differences in cost and construction between submerging the  roadway and a trench.  The proposed study would update earlier work conducted before High Speed Rail plan incorporated the blended system, in which Caltrain and HSR will share tracks, and won’t use four tracks in Palo Alto.  The study would be conducted in two phases. The first would use about $60,000 already appropriated and left over from earlier work, and the second would require an additional $68,000, which Council could decide on later.

If you live or work in Palo Alto, or are interested in grade separations on the Caltrain corridor, it would be good to attend or write Palo Alto City Council.

Meanwhile, Mountain View voters showed weak support for infrastructure bond measures including a Caltrain grade separation at Rengstorff in a September poll commissioned by City Council.  The grade sep project ranked the highest of seven projects, including a new emergency operations center, rebuilding the city’s oldest firestation, and an upgrade to the Rengstorff Park Aquatics center.  City Council will discuss the survey on Tuesday evening.  If anyone attends the meeting or watches online, reports are welcome.

The Rengstorff grade separation in Mountain View does have $71 million in funding planned from Santa Clara County, according to the VTA 2040 Strategic Plan, which is expected to be reviewed by the VTA board by the end of the year (it’s not on Thursday’s board agenda).

Santa Clara County doesn’t yet have plans or funds for other Caltrain at-grade crossings in Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale.   VTA staff tells Green Caltrain that additional grade separations will be considered for the next update of the VTA Strategic Plan two years from now.

Caltrain’s grade crossing study this past Spring showed that electrification, planned for 2019, would have relatively minor impacts, or improvements, at the at-grade crossings in Santa Clara County.  But adding High Speed Rail service, planned for the late 2020s – if all goes to plan – will put a lot more stress on the at-grade crossings according to the study.

It is good to see increasing awareness and consideration of Santa Clara County grade separations.  Another bit of good news – in updating the Transportation Element of the Comprehensive Plan, Palo Alto’s Planning and Transportation Commission revised the most recent draft, eliminating a provision requiring that grade separations must be funded exclusively with funding from outside sources. The ability to bring  local money to the table might help prioritize and shape options.