Menlo Park being -turned down- deferred for grade sep design funding; San Mateo, Burlingame, South City and Palo Alto all advance

The City of Menlo Park is being turned down deferred for a $750,000 request for grade separation design funding for the Ravenswood intersection, according to the recommendation of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority Staff for board approval on Thursday.

Menlo Park City Council has adopted a policy to accept only 2 tracks through the city, and Menlo Park is located in the rail segment where Caltrain and High Speed Rail might eventually want a third passing track.     Studies indicated that passing tracks would be needed to run more than two high speed trains per hour.  A feasibility study for the Blended System evaluated five options for possible passing tracks  – four 4-track options, and one 3-track option. Menlo Park isn’t in any of the 4 track areas, but is in the 3 track area.  Because Menlo Park’s policy  excludes the possibility of passing tracks, Menlo Park does not qualify for the grant.

Perhaps it is just as well, because another Menlo Park city council policy to not consider any increase in elevation resulted in the Council’s preferred design to be one that would cut off bicycle and pedestrian access to the station on the two small streets that flank the station.  About half of Menlo Park station users get to the station on foot or by bicycle (and only 30% drive and park.

The city’s policies to not consider passing tracks, and to not consider any elevation increase, were adopted at a time that Menlo Park was aggressively fighting plans for the 4-track, all-elevated High Speed Rail design.

The staff report does give the city a chance to change its mind. “Staff is recommending that a decision on the programming and allocation of funding for the Menlo Park proposal be deferred until the city revises its proposal to meet program eligibility criteria.”  Update: the city’s Public Works Director says that the Council plans to consider the matter in December.

SMCTA staff recommended three other grade separation projects for TA board approval – San Mateo 25th Avenue, Burlingame Broadway, and South San Francisco/San Bruno, South Linden and Scott.   The San Mateo project is the largest - $3.7 million to complete preliminary engineering and environmental review for the grade separation of 25th Avenue.  In addition, the City of San Mateo is putting in $1 million in funding from the city to cover  extending 28th and 31st avenues through the grade separation. The SMCTA board will review the recommendations for approval on Thursday at its meeting starting on 5pm.  There is additional funding set aside for construction, following the completion of these design projects.

Meanwhile, Palo Alto moved forward with its own plans to study grade separation options. City Council approved a proposal to do a high level conceptual design and cost estimate for one trenched section (Matadero Creek to San Antonio Road) and three  intersections to submerge the roadway (Churchill, Meadow, Charleston).  Council Member Pat Burt and other Council Members supporting the decision said that the study was an incremental step in a community process to assess what options will be best for the city.

Unlike the cities in San Mateo County, Palo Alto isn’t getting any funding help – yet – from its County. But VTA staff say that they will consider Caltrain grade separation needs in the next version of their strategic plan.