Widely regarded as one of Mountain View's most hazardous traffic spots, the Caltrain crossing at Rengstorff Avenue is inching a little closer to getting a major fix.
At the Nov. 27 meeting, the City Council unanimously approved a new engineering study to examine tunneling Rengstorff Avenue underneath the train tracks. The study is expected to cost about $3.5 million, which will be partially paid by Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, the agency in charge of Caltrain.
For years, drivers have been complaining that the Rengstorff Avenue train crossing is a hazard. The intersection's two traffic signals and crossing gates can cause an aggravating wait. But the location's tight spacing has also caused vehicles to occasionally get trapped on the Caltrain tracks, with some getting hit by a train.
Since the start of 2017, there have been 35 accidents near the Rengstorff Avenue crossing, including 24 injury crashes, making it one of the city's most problematic spots. These collisions mostly involved people running red lights, speeding or failing to adequately stop, according to Mountain View police data.
To say this grade-separation project has been a long time coming would be an understatement. Mountain View originally completed a feasibility study of various road options back in 2004.
City officials dusted off those plans as it became clear that Caltrain officials intended to electrify the rail system, a project expected to be completed by 2022. This upgrade should increase the speed of the trains as well as the number of passengers they can transport, and it will no longer be safe to have vehicles moving across the tracks.
Reconfiguring the streets won't be cheap. Bringing Rengstorff Avenue under the Caltrain tracks could cost as much as $120 million, according to past estimates by city officials. In addition to the Rengstorff Avenue crossing, Mountain View city officials are also planning to implement major changes at Castro Street. At that crossing, city officials are planning a $60 million project to close off the street to vehicle traffic and to build a new underground crossing for bicyclists and pedestrians.
A significant portion of that money is expected to come from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which is setting aside $700 million of its Measure B sales tax funding for grade-separation projects. That pool of money is set to be divided between Mountain View, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale. In addition, the Rengstorff crossing project could get funding from the California Public Utilities Commission, which recently earmarked $20 million for the grade-separation project.
The new grade-separation study signed off by the Mountain View City Council last week would put Caltrain in charge of launching an engineering and environmental study. Along with completing the required studies and design work, Caltrain officials will be responsible for acquiring all the needed permits to ensure the project goes forward.
As they prepared to vote on the project, council members described it as a milestone after years of work. Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga remembered how around 2011 she had traveled to Washington, D.C., with former Councilman Jac Siegel to request money from local congressional leaders. When they asked for $60 million, Rep. Anna Eshoo erupted in laughter.
"But then she gave us some good advice to start planning and designing it and getting it shovel-ready," Abe-Koga said. "I never dreamed we would actually have a chance of funding this."