B'game

A rendering of the proposed grade separation in Burlingame. 

Burlingame officials landed a large grant intended to help finance construction of a grade separation and new train station at the Broadway Caltrain stop, but much more money is needed to complete the endeavor.

The San Mateo County Transportation Authority awarded $18.3 million in grant money last month to Burlingame officials raising money to improve safety at one of the state’s most dangerous thoroughfares.

Public Works Director Syed Murtuza expressed appreciation for the significant contribution, while also noting the need to drum up an additional nearly $300 million to finish the project.

“This $18.3 million will allow the project to be shovel ready for future phases, such as construction,” said Murtuza.

As it stands, the project is the preliminary design and environmental review stage which officials expect will give way later this year to a final design phase, expected to last until 2021.

Over that two-year window, officials will seek to raise additional funds, with an eye on awarding a construction bid in 2023 and starting work with the hope of finishing in 2026.

Much of the progress is contingent on fundraising though, as the project once anticipated to cost $275 million has jumped over the past few years by about $50 million to about $325 million.

With the most recent grant, Murtuza said the city has already collected or contributed an estimated $20 million for the project, much of which is already committed. The rest of the money will be sought from federal and state agencies, while the city looks to increase its capacity to finance the project as well, said Murtuza.

As part of an effort to enhance safety, officials are interested in elevating the train tracks onto a berm and lowering Broadway so cars can pass underneath the rail line. The initiative would reduce congestion which forms when the train guard rails drop, and also eliminate the threat of collisions between cars and trains, said Murtuza.

As it stands, congestion at the Broadway intersection is some of the worst in the city and region, according to previous city report claiming more than 70,000 vehicles pass daily through the area.

The backup is exacerbated by the gates dropping along the railroad crossing, which has also been the cause of a variety of car and train crashes while also posing problems for emergency responders, according to a city report.

Delays can last as long as five minutes during peak traffic hours and, without a grade separation, waits could grow to being nearly 30 minutes or longer, according to the report.

The Safety and Enforcement Division of the California Public Utilities Commission Office of Rail Safety has also identified the Broadway project as the second most necessary grade separation of 10,000 candidates throughout California. It was also named the top priority in Northern California.

Murtuza said wide recognition of the issues at the intersection helps Burlingame build its case when seeking competitive grant funding.

Beyond the grade separation, Murtuza noted the existing Broadway station needs to be redeveloped to accommodate the reconfigured track alignment and a modernized Caltrain system — pushing the overall cost of the project even higher.

Though the project is growing increasingly expensive, Murtuza said the reworked station will be essential to serve a community expected to grow larger over the coming years with increased residential development.

“With all those additional people in Burlingame, we don’t want more traffic,” he said. “So the train station will really help in that regard.”

He added officials will examine the design of the station to assure costs are kept as low as possible.

While the need for the new station and grade separation is certain, the financing strategy is facing far more questions, said Murtuza, and officials will commit to examining the variety of opportunities.

“The city is working with Caltrain and the Transportation Authority to identify funding sources for construction, which is the biggest challenge,” he said.

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