City asks for Dumbarton Rail separations

Officials say a plan for a new transbay rail link now in the works could worsen traffic for local commuters, including those trying to cross the Dumbarton Bridge.

An environmental review of the Dumbarton Rail plan, which would move rail commuters between Union City and the Peninsula, is chugging ahead. Menlo Park city officials, however, say that unless the plan includes grade separations at Marsh and Willow roads, traffic at those busy intersections will worsen when the service kicks off — as early as 2010.

“You can’t postpone [the grade crossings],” Menlo Park City Councilmember Mickie Winkler said. “If you attempt to make the grade separations after the train is operational, you will have to suspend service to do it, and the riders will go away.”

The commuter rail plans call for six round trips per day initially, carrying 4,800 passengers — a number projected to rise to 6,900 by 2025. However, the $300 million project, funded in part by Measure A, San Mateo County’s transportation sales tax, and by Measure 2, a regional transit tax, does not currently include money for grade separations.

“It wasn’t in the original estimate,” said Richard Napier, executive director of C/CAG, who agrees that it doesn’t make sense to install a new railway system that could worsen traffic approaching the Dumbarton Bridge. “As long as it’s in the [environmental review], you can decide if it’s part of the base project, and how to pay for that.”

Phase One of that environmental review — which involved studying all options for the Dumbarton Rail plan — is complete, according to Jonah Weinberg, spokesman for the San Mateo County Transportation Authority. Phase Two, which involves identifying the best option, comes next.

That phase will include studying how the new railway would affect local traffic patterns, and whether grade separations or other measures will be necessary, Weinberg said.

Adding grade separations would have the added benefit of making the rail corridor quieter, because trains are required only to sound their horns at grade crossings, Winkler said.

That noise is “terrible” and “injurious,” according to resident Margaret Petitjean. As a landlord, she’s seen tenants leave after three weeks because of the noise. Currently, railway neighbors are working with the county toward installing four other grade separations at Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Encinal and Glenwood avenues.

The MenloPark City Council meets tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 701 Laurel St.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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