Study approved to fix Rengstorff train crossing

35 accidents have happened near crossing in past two years

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."

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13 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2018 at 3:59 pm

I cross this frequently enough to be familiar with it, but it is confusing particularly in the dark from both directions. Those who are familiar are unlikely to make mistakes, but someone who is unfamiliar and in particular with GPS or WAZE wanting to turn off Rengstorff with any of the intersections both sides of the tracks gets my sympathies as it must be confusing.

Saying that, we have our own confusing intersections with Caltrain and Alma in Palo Alto.

31 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 6, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Some people may get confused, but what I see is a frequent lack of common sense.

No matter what the lights say, no matter what the signs say, you should NEVER drive onto train tracks, under any circumstances, unless there is a spot for you on the other side to clear the tracks. Rengstorff backs up a lot during rush hour, and people try to squeeze through the light so as not to wait for the next one, piling up on the tracks without room to clear them. That is profoundly stupid.

25 people like this
Posted by priority first over castro
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Dec 6, 2018 at 5:10 pm

Castro St. should be second, regarding any grade separation, Rengstorff should be first and all available money should be used there first for a badly needed grade separation.

Jac Siegel brings back memories when we had truly the best in council members. Jac, if you are still in our city, please run again for council in 2020.

What we have now is young, inexperienced, idealog's who do not have any understanding of what is actually needed to run anything, which is common sense.

21 people like this
Posted by Kyle
a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 7, 2018 at 7:44 am

This has already been studied before. Why are they studying it again? FIX THIS MESS. Half of mountain view is inaccessible during rush hour and that's nuts.

2 people like this
Posted by It sure needs fixing
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Just look at that picture! First off, I'd get the car out of there.

1 person likes this
Posted by Bad Spot
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 7, 2018 at 2:12 pm

I cannot think if the time that this intersections wasn't a pain going in any direction at any time. OK, maybe making a right hand turn, but anything else has been a pain for decades.

13 people like this
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2018 at 2:57 pm

It is not an unsafe intersection; there are unsafe drivers who violate the law.

Like this comment
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Dec 7, 2018 at 5:21 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

Correction to the MV Voice. The Grant Road & El Camino Real intersection is by far the most hazardous MV intersection if accident rates are the determinant. Didn't The Voice recently post an article about this? Once Caltrain is electrified (forget High Speed Rail, that Ignorant Greenie and Union Pipe Dream will never happen), both the Rengstorff and Castro crossings must be "cleaned up" keep vehicles from interacting with rail traffic. The best option would be to trench the rail tracks so that huge amounts of private property won't be confiscated and destroyed.

My suggestion is to force the CA State Legislature to pay for commuter train trenching all of the way from Southern Santa Clara County all of the way to San 3rd and Townsend in SF. They want HSR??? They can can pay for HSR not ruining traffic in both No Cal and So Cal cities.

4 people like this
Posted by James Thurber
a resident of Shoreline West
on Dec 7, 2018 at 7:40 pm

James Thurber is a registered user.

The solution to this is stone simple. The cost? Probably under $20 thousand. The same solution could (and should) be used for the Castro Street / Caltrain crossing.

Simply erect immovable concrete barricades on both sides of the track, blocking the roadway(s) and extend the fencing so as to prevent pedestrians from crossing the tracks.

Provide U-turn spots where the road(s) now end. Traffic coming from the other direction can / could simply turn right or left onto Central Expressway.

Driver will find a way around the blocked roadways. They can use Shoreline or perhaps San Antonio Road, both of which provide an over-crossing to the tracks.

To consider spending $3.5 million on a (silly) study when the solution is so simple is a waste of money. And anyone considering spending between $100 and $200 million to build a tunnel under the tracks at Rengstorff seems to be a bit "off"

Thanks for listening.

Like this comment
Posted by Ah, A study you say
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2018 at 6:34 am

Well, that'll be money well spent. LOL

Like this comment
Posted by JR
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2018 at 6:11 pm

Why not close Rengstorff to auto traffic just like Castro? San Antonio is just a few blocks away, people can easily get over the tracks on the existing overpass. If Rengstorff is able to bypass the tracks and Central Expy. then it will turn into a high-speed freeway from 101 until El Camino. The community does not need more traffic, more speeding, more pollution in a residential neighborhood, not to mention Rengstorff Park.

4 people like this
Posted by fedup
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 8, 2018 at 9:01 pm

Rengstorff is a parking lot during peak hours due to Google. Mountain View traffic enforcement, isn't. Between extreme levels of impatience and no enforcement, no wonder this intersection is dangerous. Mountain View drivers have learned that attending to one's internal angst about getting to work by speeding and red light running - you know, the new Mountain View norm - is most important.

I expect nothing to change at this intersection, or in any of the city's driving problems, ever.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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