The sky high and rising costs associated with completing the grade separation between the street and train tracks at Broadway in Burlingame is forcing one official to question the future of the adjacent rail stop.
With an expectation that the existing price tag will jump from a current estimate of $274 million to $326 million over the coming years, Councilman Michael Brownrigg suggested considering halting train service at the Broadway station.
“I find it really difficult based on these renderings and the implications for our city to be supportive of this project as designed,” he said, according to video of the meeting. “I completely support the goal, but I find it very difficult to be in favor of this design. I think it is going to be terribly ugly and divisive.”
Central to Brownrigg’s concerns were project plans showing a redesigned and expanded Broadway train stop which will span 850 feet on top of 15-foot berm separating the tracks from car traffic below.
The length of the existing station will need to expanded by about 150 feet from its current design to accommodate electrified trains, pushing out the distance the berm will need to span along the tracks.
While Brownrigg said he continued to support the need for grade separation at the tracks, he suggested the project could be cheaper and quicker to complete if a station was not present.
“In light of the length and the cost and the implications for the design for the city, I’m not sure I think it is worth having a station there,” he said.
His colleagues largely disagreed, suggesting the station should be preserved — especially in light of a recent general plan approval which zoned the surrounding area for housing development due to proximity to the station.
“We need a stop at Broadway, and we are depending on it, and we made land use decisions related to that,” said Vice Mayor Emily Beach.
Furthering the opposition to Brownrigg’s proposal, Councilwoman Ann Keighran noted the station’s expected presence helped persuade community members to support the proposed grade separation.
“It took a lot of work to get where we are, so I would hate to go backwards on this issue and go back to the drawing board,” she said. “Because if we wait any longer, that price is going to escalate.”
No decision was made at the meeting, as the issue was only discussed following a presentation from the county Transportation Authority, which allocates Measure A sales tax revenue for transit projects. The project is currently largely unfunded, and is expected to be completed by 2026, according to available financing.
Examining the rising cost of construction, Transportation Authority officials anticipate the price will jump by about 35% over the life of the project, amounting to about $40 million more than the proposed current cost by 2026.
By the time the project is anticipated to be done, the city would likely need to contribute $15 million, along with $121 million in Measure A money, $15 million from both Measure W, another transportation tax, and One Bay Area Grants, plus $95 million in state funding and $65 million in federal money.
Keighran questioned the likelihood of tracking down the variety of funding sources needed to finish the project, and Public Works Director Syed Murtuza said officials are considering hiring lobbyists to improve the city’s odds.
Beyond financial and design concerns raised by Brownrigg regarding the grade separation, officials expect once regular Broadway service is revived following electrification, ridership numbers will remain some of the lowest along the rail line.
In a separate presentation, a Caltrain official said future service at Broadway will sap stops from the Burlingame station as well, as the proximity of the two stations will result in one train stop at either station every 30 minutes.
The confluence of factors caused Brownrigg to question the future of the city’s rail service.
“It causes me to wonder about our entire thinking about how do we do train stations in Burlingame,” he said.
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 the 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 a previous 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.
While the issues are already severe, officials expect the problems to be compounded once the railway corridor is electrified and more trains are passing along the Peninsula, according to the report.
For her part, Keighran said it is essential for safety and quality of life that the project is pushed ahead as rapidly as possible.
“It’s a huge liability if this is not taken care of,” said Keighran.
In other business at the meeting, officials approved allowing recreation businesses such as gyms and fitness facilities along Burlingame Avenue. The commercial zoning code was loosened in an effort to crack down on the rise of storefront vacancies which are becoming increasingly common in the city’s central shopping district.
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