8/16/20: New Pedestrian Undercrossing Approved!

August 16, 2020

Before I jump into exciting infrastructure news, I’d like to truly thank you for supporting my re-election campaign this term. 

We had a very successful “ZOOM with Catherine & Friends” event last Tuesday, which was part fundraiser and part community conversation, featuring five high-powered elected officials who represent Encinitas and our county. About 59 people donated at the event, raising more than $5,000 for my campaign, with additional money raised for the campaigns of the other elected officials. Thank you! 
The momentum for my re-election comes from each of you devoting energy and your personal capacity to our success – donating your hard-earned money, commenting on social media sites, communicating with your friends, displaying yard signs and volunteering to do things like deliver signs and put together Zoom events with your community. Candidates don’t win campaigns without supporters and energy, and I’m so grateful for yours.
This article from the Coast News summarizes the “Catherine & Friends” event and compares it to my opponent’s campaign events. 

If you’d like to watch last Tuesday’s Catherine & Friends you can do so here. If you missed it, and would like to make a donation or have a free yard sign delivered, you can do that here.
The new El Portal undercrossing is approved!

Now, to the infrastructure. Be forewarned – it’s exciting!

The City Council last week unanimously allocated the money to build the El Portal railroad undercrossing. This transformational infrastructure will function very much like the Santa Fe Drive/Swami’s undercrossing, connecting the east and west side of the railroad tracks in an area that currently has no safe and legal way to cross the tracks. The proximity to Paul Ecke Elementary School and the popular Sunday farmers market hosted there will make this crossing particularly beneficial. 

The total construction cost is $12.1 million, plus about $1.2 million already spent on engineering and design, for a total project cost of $13.3 million. We received a grant of $3.8 million to cover part of the project cost. 

You may wonder why we’re building an under-crossing here instead of a less expensive at-grade crossing. The answer is that the state and federal regulatory agencies will not permit an at-grade crossing if it’s feasible for the municipality to build an under-crossing. Legal liability is what drives this policy decision.

As I’ve mentioned to you before, construction costs are high and they continue rising every year. They substantially outpace inflation. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit about five months ago, there has been no noticeable decline in construction costs, because demand for construction projects in both the private and public sector remains high.

The El Portal project’s costs are also affected by the fact that the construction is taking place beneath an operating railroad, which adds complexity and the need for technical railroad expertise.  

The image above shows a plan view and cross section of the project, which includes ramps and pathways to a Vulcan Avenue crossing at Paul Ecke Central Elementary School to the east, the bridge under the rail corridor, and ramp and stair connections to North Coast Highway 101 to the west. 

Here are some more details that are especially intriguing:

Construction on the railroad track itself can only happen during what’s called an “Absolute Work Window” (AWW) when all trains are stopped, including the 50 or so trains that rumble through Encinitas every day. These AWWs are set a year in advance and they last 27.5 hours, from 12:30 a.m. on one day to 4 a.m. the following day.

During the AWW, the rails can be removed, site work can happen and then the rails need to be replaced. And of course, it all has to be meticulously planned and executed so that this complex work is completed on time.

This photo shows the construction site for the now-completed Santa Fe Drive/Swami’s undercrossing, and its substantial impact on the railroad tracks.

The El Portal undercrossing construction is slated to start this fall and continue for two years.

It’s exciting when a regulatory body gets to the official, final “Yes” vote. I’ve seen projects that have been discussed and never designed, and projects that have been designed and never built. This project has been discussed, designed, and now will be built. It’s worth taking a moment to recognize that when all those factors align, something great will markedly improve the community.

The day the El Portal undercrossing opens will be an exciting one for Encinitas!

This Coast News article includes more details on the El Portal project, as well as covering other items that we discussed at our City Council meeting.

The Five Big Moves 

While El Portal is at the construction phase, the countywide transportation plan called The Five Big Moves is at the plan phase.

This week the professional staff at SANDAG unveiled to the board the bold re-envisioning of transportation throughout the county for the next several decades with a $177 billion plan that was described as “fast, fair and clean.”  

This is a vision we can all get excited about. I look forward to seeing the picture become even clearer as plan details are developed. 

Executive Director Hasan Ihkrata quoted Michaelangelo on Friday in his introduction remarks about the ambitious plan:

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” 

Here’s a short video from SANDAG, “A Vision for Faster, Fairer, and Cleaner Transportation in the San Diego Region,” that reveals the exciting possibilities. A Spanish-language version is here.
The San Diego Union-Tribune has published a summary article with some graphics that provides more detail. 

I’ll be keeping you up to date as the planning for this daring vision progresses. 

Virtual ‘Passport to Encinitas’ coming next Saturday

The Passport to Encinitas: Arts and Cultural Diversity Celebration arrives at 5 pm. on Saturday, Aug. 22. It’s a virtual presentation by Encinitas Friends of the Arts, and you can get tickets here. Here’s an Encinitas Advocate article.

Surfboards and school boards

These cool surfboards create the newest crosswalk in downtown Encinitas. Thank you to the Encinitas 101 Main Street Association for working hard with the city staff to make this happen! This Encinitas Advocate article has details.

In other board news, there’s going to be a higher-than-usual turnover rate in our local school boards this election; and school reopening issues are particularly relevant right now. If you’re interested in seeing who’s running to oversee our Encinitas schools, this Encinitas Advocate article summarizes all the Encinitas school board races. There are three school boards – two elementary, and one junior high and high school.

For quite a while I’ve enjoyed reading Marsha Sutton’s meticulously researched and written columns in the Encinitas Advocate about schools called “Education Matters.” Some of those past columns can be found here. Recent changes regarding freelancers at the Advocate have resulted in her starting to write for the North Coast Current, where her last two columns have been about the rebuild at Cardiff School.

Given the high level of interest in this topic, I’m including links to her articles — Continued Controversy Plagues Cardiff Community and Personal Attacks in Cardiff Sink to New Depths.

New I-5 undercrossing paths complete, waiting for mosaics

Highly functional and safe new bike and pedestrian paths underneath Interstate 5 at Encinitas Blvd and Santa Fe Drive were recently completed by SANDAG and Caltrans. Colorful local mosaics will soon adorn the walls, topping off this exciting Encinitas mobility improvement! Here’s the Encinitas Advocate story.

Join me for a free housing Zoom event

I’m excited that Encinitas 4 Equality has invited me to participate in their free hour-long Zoom event tackling “the perils, pitfalls and opportunities of housing in Encinitas.” It’ll be held Tuesday, August 25 at 6 p.m.

E4E is a non-profit that emerged recently during the national outrage in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. Their leaders and members have impressed me with their passion and desire to delve beneath the surface on several issues to create a more equitable Encinitas.

As E4E’s Zoom invitation states, “We believe that a diverse community is a beautiful and just community and that one of the obstacles to a more diverse community is the access to affordable housing. We know that sculpting the future is contingent on a deep understanding of the past, and learning how we can make changes to meet the present hurdles.”

You can make your free reservation here, and submit questions in advance by emailing [email protected].

Who was that masked man?

We’ve entered a hot spell here in Encinitas and countywide. I hope you enjoy the outdoors, trails, and the beach, while staying safe. I ran into Andrew Collup (pictured here) last weekend when I was handing out free masks with Deputy Mayor Kellie Hinze. He proudly sported the mask and posted this photo of himself on Facebook, saying “Mayor Blakespear [is] keeping me honest at the beach today.”

If you’d like to be part of the solution and volunteer to hand out masks, please email [email protected].

Beaches are for birds, too

I’d like to leave you with a photo of our local wildlife shared with me by Sidney Merritt, who took this photo recently at a beach staircase. I love the seagull’s beak color! I know bird bones are hollow and all, but isn’t it still amazing that those legs can hold up that body?! The weight distribution through the feet must be key to that successful alignment.

In ongoing service,

Catherine Blakespear Signature

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