Menlo Park, Atherton look to split trains, cars

Four downtown intersections could be overhauled in the coming years to make way for the potential influx of trains passing through the Caltrain corridor, costing Menlo Park hundreds of millions of dollars.

City leaders from both Menlo Park and Atherton will begin discussion on how the cities can afford to install grade separations, routing cars either over or under the Caltrain corridor, at several crossings such as Watkins, Greenwood, Oak Grove and Ravenswood avenues.

The grade separations are considered necessary, according to city leaders, to ease auto traffic if the Dumbarton Rail Corridor is completed. The rail project would extend commuter service across the South Bay between the Peninsula and the East Bay. Caltrain, the Altamont Express and Amtrak would all be linked up.

Each grade separation can cost $100 million or more, San Mateo County Transit District spokesman Jonah Weinberg said. Cities must raise the bulk of that money, although both the San Mateo County Transit Authority and the Measure A transportation sales tax have some funds set aside.

Menlo Park and Atherton council members will meet Tuesday to launch talks on the potentially sticky proposition of overhauling train crossings in both cities. Leaders have already launched a study of how adding the separations would affect businesses and neighborhoods, Councilmember Richard Cline said.

“There are some intersections that [weave through] both of our cities,” Cline said. “Second, we’ve got a lot of ideas for changing our downtown, and grade separations are the elephant in the room, in a lot of cases.”

In addition to adjusting for the Dumbarton Rail Corridor, Menlo Park leaders must also consider the state high-speed rail plans. If a route is eventually built along the Pacheco Pass, “then this whole area gets grade separations whether anyone wants it or not,” Weinberg said.

In the meantime, Menlo Park leaders want to take the pulse of local businesses and residents regarding how construction and long-term changes would affect them, Cline said.

“The period of construction would need tonot create short-term devastation to respond to long-term need,” said Clark Kepler, owner of Kepler’s, a bookstore next to the place where Ravenswood Avenue intersects with the Caltrain corridor.

The Menlo Park and Atherton city councils will meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Menlo Park City Hall, 701 Laurel St.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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