A controversial plan to close off Castro Street at the Caltrain tracks will get formal scrutiny by Mountain View officials in the coming months. At its Tuesday meeting, the City Council unanimously approved a $1.56 million contract for a new engineering study on the downtown street closure and plans to reroute traffic along Evelyn Avenue.
The city is rehiring Kimley-Horn, the same traffic engineering firm that had previously studied the crossing, to conduct the new study. Over the next 18 months, the firm will analyze how to close off Castro Street and build a new on-ramp to link Evelyn Avenue to Shoreline Boulevard. The engineers will also plot out a new underground crossing for bicycles and pedestrians under Central Expressway.
The full cost for these modifications is expected to run $60 million, which should mostly be covered by the Valley Transportation Authority and its funding through the Measure B sales tax. Mountain View would likely be on the hook to pay $6 million, said Assistant Public Works Director Dawn Cameron.
That Measure B sales tax money is currently in limbo due to an ongoing lawsuit filed by Mountain View attorney Gary Wesley. That case is currently in appellate court, and it is expected to wrap up within six to 12 months, Cameron said. The sales tax money is still being collected, but it is being held in an escrow account, and VTA is barred from spending it.
City and transit officials have expressed confidence the tax measure will ultimately prevail in court, and they have continued pursuing transit projects that will rely on the funding. Mountain View's proposed Castro Street modifications are expected to be funded from $700 million earmarked in Measure B for grade separation projects.
"By not letting this (study) be held up by the court decision, we'll be in the best place to compete early for the grade separation money," Cameron said to the council. "One thing VTA has valued in the past is project readiness."
Officials from Mountain View and several other cities along the Caltrain line are trying to prepare for when the train service upgrades to an electric system in 2022. That upgrade will speed up the service and serve as a precursor for building a high-speed rail line along the same corridor.
In the future, city officials are also planning what they call "Phase 2," —> a redesign of the transit center to accommodate more passengers, and include an underground parking lot and new retail space. Those plans are less certain, especially in light of the city's push to also include a new automated transit system that would likely use the downtown transit center as one of its main stations. An update on this automated system will be discussed by the council at their Feb. 27 meeting.