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San Diego plans to start construction on $27M railroad crossing at Park Boulevard near Petco Park

A complement to the existing pedestrian bridge, the at-grade crossing has been decades in the making and would let motorists drive over the train tracks along Harbor Drive near Petco Park, better connecting downtown to the waterfront.

An aerial view of the intersection at Park Boulevard and Harbor Drive near Petco Park. The pedestrian bridge, completed in 2011, allows people to cross the high-traffic rail site by foot, but a long-planned vehicular connection has yet to be constructed. - San Diego Union Tribune

San Diego Union Tribune

Jennifer Van Grove

February 28, 2023, 5:15am PST

Construction of the long-planned railroad crossing at Park Boulevard, which would let motorists cross over the tracks along Harbor Drive near Petco Park in downtown San Diego, could start in August.

Permits have been secured and city consultant Civic San Diego will solicit bids for work on the $27 million project in May, Christina Bibler, who is the director of the city’s economic development department, told the Union-Tribune. The updated timeline could see a contractor awarded the project in July with work beginning the following month, she said.

Construction is expected to take 18 months, meaning the crossing, barring hiccups, could be completed by February 2025. The work must be finished by September 22, 2025, per the most recent deadline imposed by the California Public Utilities Commission, which governs the high-traffic rail site.

he Park Boulevard vehicle crossing has been in the works for more than two decades and has been characterized as an important piece of infrastructure, better connecting San Diego Bay to East Village and beyond.

The project was first necessitated by the 1998 voter-approved Ballpark District ordinance that includes Petco Park. It is a state-mandated replacement of the former Eighth Avenue crossing, which was used by an estimated 29,000 vehicles per day but was shuttered to allow for the stadium’s construction. The new vehicle crossing is meant to complement the existing pedestrian bridge.

Just southeast of the former Eighth Avenue crossing, the Park Boulevard at-grade crossing would let cars drive over tracks operated by the Metropolitan Transit System and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company, connecting the southern portion of the Convention Center to the ballpark. Currently, the closest vehicle crossing is at Fifth Avenue and Harbor Drive.

The Park Boulevard at-grade crossing, however, has been plagued by regulatory setbacks and financial shortfalls.

Initially, plans were tied up as city stakeholders quibbled with CPUC staff members over public safety measures. In 2004, the state regulatory agency approved the construction of the Harbor Drive pedestrian bridge and the cars-only, at-grade crossing. The pedestrian bridge was finished in 2011 at a cost of $26.8 million, but the vehicle crossing stalled because of complications with the dissolution of the city’s redevelopment agency in 2012.

The timeline was further stretched in 2015 when the city and the San Diego Padres sought to make modifications to the state regulator’s already approved plan. The CPUC signed off on the changes in 2017, but California’a Department of Finance denied in 2019 the city’s request to use former redevelopment bond proceeds to pay for a bulk of the project. The state of California stepped in shortly thereafter with a $21 million check, directed as a one-time budget allocation and advocated for by State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego.

More recently, pandemic-related challenges have pushed back the project’s anticipated state date, Bibler said.

“As there were industry-wide limitations with available staff to complete the design documents and city staff’s ability to review the documents, it took longer as most projects did during 2021 and 2022,” she said.

The decades of delays have contributed to a project initially envisioned as costing a few million dollars in the early 2000s to now being budgeted at $27 million. The estimated all-in price tag, which includes staff time and padding for potential cost overruns, assumes a hard construction cost of $19 million. The budget will be put to the test when contractors submit bids for the project later this year.

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