Public Works Director Chip Taylor explained during the Nov. 13 council meeting that the issue was last studied in depth about eight years ago. Some of the assumptions underlying that study no longer hold; for example, it assumed that crossings in Palo Alto and Atherton would all be at ground level and high-speed rail would be built on four tracks.
"At the time there was a need to do further analysis," Mr. Taylor said, particularly in evaluating impacts, alternative designs and costs.
The county is only asking for letters of interest at this point, not actual project proposals. It has $225 million available — an amount that Mr. Taylor said will pay for three to five grade separations out of the 40 crossings in the county.
"If we even got funding for one we would probably be considered lucky," Mayor Kirsten Keith noted during the meeting.
The letter of interest needed to indicate a prioritized list of rail crossings, a proposed timeframe for completion, safety and congestion issues near the crossings, any potential economic and transit development benefits, and whether other funding sources were available to chip in.
The four Caltrain crossings in Menlo Park were prioritized based on traffic counts conducted in 2012, with Ravenswood Avenue leading the pack with an average 24,100 vehicle crossings a day, followed by Oak Grove Avenue, Glenwood Avenue and Encinal Avenue, according to the staff report.
The three Dumbarton Rail crossings within city limits were not considered a priority given the current lack of passenger trains on the line.
Although council members Kelly Fergusson and Rich Cline suggested "having a priority of one," i.e., focusing on the Ravenswood crossing, Mr. Taylor pointed out that building a grade separation at one crossing may create a need to make changes to the others, so in the end the council agreed to indicate it wanted to study grade separations at all four crossings.
"I don't disapprove the idea of a study," Mr. Cline said, acknowledging that the previous reports were outdated. "I want to make sure that when we do that we're articulating very clearly what we want and don't want" just in case high-speed rail heads in a different design direction than expected.
He expressed concern that a lack of clarity in the letter would suggest to the California High-Speed Rail Authority that Menlo Park had come onboard with the four-track design. "No, we have not."
Mr. Taylor agreed that the letter could reiterate Menlo Park's support for a two-track design with no elevated segments.
The council voted 4-0, with Councilman Andy Cohen absent, to submit the letter, which was due Nov. 21.