Last night, Burlingame City Council chose a split design, with the train partly elevated, and roadway partly depressed, to separate Broadway from the Caltrain tracks. The choice reflected a shift from the prevailing opinion on the Council and the community several years ago, when sentiment favored lowering the tracks; and strong opposition to High Speed Rail’s proposal to have a fully elevated 4-track viaduct the length of the Peninsula.
The other alternative, lowering the tracks and raising the roadway, would have required 15 properties to be wholly or partly condemned, taken twice as long to build, putting burden on local businesses, posed ongoing challenges with drainage and flooding, permanently removed trees, required tall fencing to keep people from being able to access the live wires powering future electric train service, and would cost about twice as much to build. Earlier on, analysis showed that putting the train in a trench would be even less feasible, taking more property, costing more, and having more drainage impacts.
Council members were motivated by safety, and by getting ready for increased rail service on the corridor from Caltrain and potentially High Speed Rail. Broadway, which has been rated by the California Public Utilities Commission as the second most dangerous at-grade railroad crossing in the state the most dangerous in Northern California.
While funding isn’t currently available, Peninsula cities including Burlingame are starting to work with MTC to plan for grade separations along the corridor, and Burlingame wants to be ready to go when funding becomes available.
Representatives of the business community supported the chosen alternative, as did a strong majority of community members who made comments at the meeting, and at previous community meetings.
Council members echoed concerns raised by community members in public comment about safety for people walking and bicycling, based on the preliminary illustrations. Multiple council members said that pedestrian and bike safety should be a priority as the project moves forward to more detailed design.
A majority of Council members took the opportunity to express a combination of fear and deep skepticism about potential future High Speed Rail service. A couple of community members, and Council Member Brownrigg, raised concerns that if Burlingame approved an alternative that partly elevated the Caltrain tracks, then High Speed Rail might have precedent to impose elevated alignments along the Peninsula Corridor even in places where they were unwanted. However, the council came to the unanimous conclusion that Alternative A was the best solution for Burlingame.
Another concern raised was about how the Broadway grade separation design would affect options at Burlingame’s other at-grade crossings, which have less traffic and lower safety risk, but will eventually be stressed by greatly increased rail frequency. This question will be looked at, in less detail, as the planning moves forward.