Three options to separate the Caltrain rail line from the Menlo Park streets it crosses were presented by the city of Menlo Park and representatives of the construction engineering consulting firm, AECOM, at a community meeting on Oct. 4.
Grade separations are being studied as a way to improve traffic flow and safety around the railroad tracks.
One option is to run Ravenswood Avenue under the tracks, which would remain at their current grade. The underpass, expected to be 740 feet in length from El Camino Real to Noel Drive, would have a steep grade downhill, and would be 22 feet below the ground at its lowest point. It would also cut off access at Alma Street. Alma Street would continue across the intersection at grade level parallel to the tracks.
A second option is to build two grade separations, at the Ravenswood and Oak Grove avenue crossings, that would both raise the tracks and lower the roadway considered a "hybrid" approach. At Ravenswood, the crossing would go 8 feet down while Caltrain would be elevated 14 feet up, and at Oak Grove, the crossing would go 15 feet down and the tracks 6 feet up. The project would cover a span of 5,400 feet, from East Creek Drive to Glenwood Avenue.
The third option is a "hybrid" as well, but would add a grade separation at the Glenwood Avenue crossing. It would run 5,800 feet, from East Creek Drive to Encinal Avenue, and over the three intersections, would have a maximum added height of 10 feet and maximum depth of 15 feet.
Each would have bike and pedestrian crossings separate from the tracks. Each also has its pros and cons, presenter Etty Mercurio of AECOM said, and carries implications for the possibility of building future grade separations along the Caltrain line. For instance, if the city were to pick the first option, then it could be harder and more expensive to build grade separations at the other rail crossings later on, since the chance to raise the Caltrain line may have passed.
The three options will also be presented to the Menlo Park Transportation, Bicycle and Planning commissions for feedback.
According to Menlo Park Associate Engineer Angela Obeso, the purpose of the study is for the City Council to have the information it needs to pick an option and move forward with creating designs. From that point, she said, it'll probably take three to four years to identify funding and proceed with designing the project, and then another three to four years to get construction funding and build the project. Construction time will vary based on the selected project.
Buildings at the Menlo Park train station may have to be moved, Ms. Obeso said.
"Due to the need for wider platforms (the current station platforms are non-standard widths) and the proximity of the existing buildings to the existing platforms, most likely the buildings would have to be moved," she said in an email.
Based on the requirements of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, which helped fund the feasibility study, the designs cannot interfere with the train's electrification process or preclude the possibility of the construction of a passing track, or third track lane.
The contract for the feasibility study says the fee is "not to exceed $631,000."
According to Casey Fromson, external affairs officer at Caltrain, the electrification process has already begun to get the electric train fleet built.
The current timeline for the electrification process is for construction to begin in 2017, with four different phases, expected to be completed in 2021. Caltrain service will continue, with construction taking place in off-peak hours, on weekends and during evenings.
A third community meeting on the feasibility study is expected to be held in early 2017. At that point, Ms. Obeso said, the consultants and city staff are expected to have refined designs, cost estimates, and more information about the possible impacts and project staging plans.
"Once we have a preferred alternative and cost estimates prepared, the project will be better positioned to apply for additional funding. Potential sources are local, regional, state and federal funds and we'll need to explore all possibilities," she said in an email.