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US Secretary of Transportation takes train to erode Del Mar cliffs. ‘It just doesn’t meet today’s needs’

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined local elected officials and transit agency officials for a 30-minute train ride on Tuesday that took them to the eroded coastal cliffs of Del Mar.

Mayors, civil engineers and others each had a few minutes during the ride to talk to the Transportation Secretary about the importance of saving and possibly rerouting the tracks, which are threatened by rising sea levels in multiple locations along the 350-mile LOSSAN corridor from San Diego to San Luis Obispo.

A new emergency arose Sept. 30, when Metrolink and Amtrak both suspended passenger service between San Diego and Orange counties after tracks shifted again over an old landslide near San Clemente, just north of Camp Pendleton. Repairs are underway, but passenger service between San Diego and Orange counties is expected to remain unavailable until at least mid-December.

“Whether we’re talking about movement of passengers or supply chains, we need smooth movement along the coast,” Buttigieg said at a press conference after the ride.

“What we’re seeing here is really a dual set of issues…restoring things like Amtrak passenger rail, so we can get back to where we were, but also recognizing that our goal shouldn’t just be to restore what we inherited,” he said. “It should be to have improved routes, faster routes and routes that will make sense a century from now. We currently live with alignments that, in some cases, were put in place over a century ago, and it just doesn’t meet today’s needs.

Buttigieg’s train journey underscores the importance of rail access to San Diego, which is entirely dependent on the single route that connects it to Los Angeles and the rest of the United States.

The LOSSAN Corridor is the second busiest passenger route in the country. Annual ridership is nearly 3 million on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner trains and 5 million on Coaster and Metrolink trains. Freight trains on the route move $1 billion worth of freight annually, according to a 2021 report by Transportation Secretary David S. Kim. Additionally, the Department of Defense has identified it as part of the Strategic Rail Corridor network due to its access to Camp Pendleton and the Port of San Diego.

So far, more than two-thirds of the 60-mile coastal rail route in San Diego has been double-tracked, reducing delays, increasing speeds and shortening travel times. However, there is no room for a second set of tracks in Del Mar or San Clemente, causing bottlenecks.

Service outages have also occurred in Del Mar, where studies show erosion is receding cliffs at an average rate of 6 inches per year.

Regional officials have been working for years on preliminary plans to reroute the 1.7 miles of track in Del Mar away from the coast and into a tunnel under the small town. This year, the state awarded $300 million to the Association of San Diego Governments to pursue this plan, although construction is not funded, and it would likely take a decade or more and there are still years to go. from the beginning.

Construction costs for the Del Mar tunnel have been estimated at $4 billion or more. A combination of funding sources will be needed, but it’s likely that much of the money could come from the Federal Railroad Administration, which is an agency of the Department of Transportation.

Buttigieg was in San Diego to attend the American Trucking Association’s annual management conference and expo, where he delivered the keynote message on how President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law is improving roads, bridges, ports and more.

The Biden Infrastructure Act expands the Federal State Intercity Passenger Rail Partnership Program and increases funding for the program to an unprecedented $7.2 billion per year for the next five years.

The partnership program announced $233 million in funding in August for 11 projects in eight states, including up to $27.3 million to replace the century-old San Luis Rey River Railroad Bridge in Oceanside. The new double-lane concrete bridge will eliminate a 0.6-mile single-lane bottleneck and add improvements such as a bike path, pedestrian underpass and signals.

The Transportation Secretary made the train trip in part at the invitation of Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, who met him at the Old Town train station with State Senator Toni Atkins, D- San Diego, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, Solana Beach Mayor Jewel Edson, and representatives from the San Diego Association of Governments, North County Transit District and others.

“He was very interested and asked good questions,” Edson said after his turn to meet Buttigieg. They talked about the next phase of the Del Mar bluff stabilization plans and the need to eventually redirect the lanes there.

Levin thanked Atkins for his help securing funding to reroute the lanes in Del Mar.

“But we still need money for construction,” Levin said. “We’re going to need billions of dollars over time, it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen, and I think the secretary just saw, especially here in Del Mar, why this funding is so essential.

California Daily Newspapers

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