Fairgrounds station, Del Mar bluff stabilization among priorities in transit district’s capital budget

Phil Diehl


More double-tracked railroad, a fairgrounds train station and continued stabilization of the Del Mar bluffs are among the priorities in the North County Transit District’s capital improvements budget for the next five years.

District officials outlined about $585 million in needed capital improvements in a presentation to the NCTD board on Thursday, but so far they only anticipate getting enough money to accomplish about one-third of the projects.

“Project needs always exceed funding that’s available,” Chief Financial Officer Eun Park-Lynch told the board.

Nearly all the money for capital projects comes from state and federal grants. A steering committee of district officials evaluates and ranks the projects based on multiple criteria to assure that the most critical ones are funded, she said.

The upcoming fiscal year 2024-25 budget will include money from a first-time source, the state’s Senate Bill 125, which provides $4 billion statewide for the Transit and Intercity Rail Program over the next two years.

NCTD, through the San Diego Association of Governments, expects to receive $95.5 million of that money over the next two fiscal years from the statewide rail program and $16.5 million over the next four fiscal years from the state for a Zero Emission Capital Transit Program. The zero-emissions program will help pay for the transition to zero-emissions buses and the facilities needed to support them.

More than half of the new state funding, or $50 million, will help pay to add a second set of railroad tracks at the San Dieguito Lagoon and a special events platform, or small station, to serve the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Park-Lynch said. Additional funding could be needed.

Two sets of tracks increases efficiency and improves service. About three-quarters of the San Diego County rail corridor has been double-tracked so far. Some of the remaining pieces will be the most costly because they include replacing old bridges, crossing sensitive wetlands, or rerouting through or around difficult spots.

Also included in the SB-125 money is $10 million for the next phase of work to stabilize the eroding bluffs along the tracks in Del Mar, a project that has proceeded in stages for more than 20 years.

Unfunded projects in the five-year plan include the proposed Carlsbad Village double-track, which may include lowering the tracks below street level, with an estimated cost of $560 million. Other pieces still to be double-tracked that remain unfunded include segments in Sorrento Valley and Leucadia, each expected to cost about $250 million.

The five-year, $585 million budget shows the district expects funding to cover about $155 million of that. Most of that money is expected in the first few fiscal years, with $63.4 million coming in fiscal 2024-25.

Further out in the fiscal forecast, it’s too early to tell what grant money might become available. Each year the district revises its five-year outlook as the picture comes into better focus.

“All projects beyond the current year are subject to change,” Park-Lynch said.

Most of the capital budget pays for what’s called “state of good repair” projects for bus and train services. Those are primarily the maintenance of assets in need of repair, also safety improvements and work underway with previous funding, and things required by regulations such as implementation of the positive train control system.

Board members said they were excited about the proposed projects.

“I really appreciate what we are doing and look forward to advocating for more millions of dollars so we can get this done,” said board member Corinna Contreras, a Vista City Council member.

The budget will return to the board in June with revisions for approval.

NCTD operates the Coaster commuter rail between Oceanside and downtown San Diego’s Santa Fe Station, the Sprinter passenger rail between Oceanside and Escondido, and Breeze bus routes and Flex and Lift on-demand transportation services across northern San Diego County.

Phil Diehl www.sandiegouniontribune.com

2024-01-22 13:00:20 , News

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