While it seems unlikely to be built anytime soon, a plan for a Rengstorff Avenue under-crossing at the Caltrain tracks was given a preliminary go ahead by council members Tuesday -- just in case $120 million dollars become available for such a project.
Council member Margaret Abe-Koga says Congress members have laughed at city officials in recent years over funding requests for such projects, but public works director Mike Fuller recalled how quickly "shovel ready" projects got federal stimulus funding during the recession, and council members agreed that it would be a good idea to be prepared. And there may soon be a priority list of such crossings, which will be needed if high speed trains ever run up the Caltrain corridor.
"There isn't person in Mountain View who does not hate this intersection," said one resident who lives nearby. Resident Greg Unangst noted the numbers of collisions that have occurred at the highly trafficked railroad and expressway crossing, including at least one death last year.
Council members supported one of two favored designs, "concept A," which at $120 million was $2 million more expensive than another option members expressed interest in (concept B). Both options would depress a section of Rengstorff and Central Expressway so that cars and pedestrians could pass under the train tracks, which would remain at grade level. Crisanto Avenue would be closed in both designs, extending Rengstorff Park to the train tracks. Concept A added a physically separated "cycle track" instead of a bike lane and a wider pedestrian bridge across Rengstorff next to the train tracks, along with additional plants and landscaping on the bridge and walkways.
"Concept A, for pedestrians, is the most friendly one," said council member Ronit Bryant. "What I envision one of these days is a bicycle and pedestrian path from downtown as far as Palo Alto" along the train tracks.
"That bridge is one piece of something that will really serve our city well. It needs to be as big and attractive as possible," Bryant said.
The under-crossing can't be built without significant impacts to several property owners, including the Shell gas station at Central and Rengstorff and Mi Pueblo market. Both would lose their current driveways. The gas station would lose direct access from the street, and only have access from the shopping center behind it. Mi Pueblo would have to have its parking lot rebuilt where three homes would have to be "taken" next to the market on the west side of Rengstorff, Fuller said.
The three homes next to Mi Pueblo would lose their driveways because of the need to depress that portion of Rengstorff. The homes would also stand in the way of a new routing of Leland Avenue around the lowered section of Rengstorff.
If the property owners felt their businesses were no longer viable without their street access, "hopefully we'd come to a price," to buy those properties, Fuller said. "Otherwise, there's eminent domain or other options."
Council member Jac Siegel noted that "eminent domain was invented to do a lot for many people versus the few who might get hurt from it" while members Margaret Abe-Koga and John Inks noted that governments often end up paying more for properties taken through eminent domain than they would otherwise be worth, something Abe-Koga said was evident as a VTA board member working to extend BART to San Jose.
"I really can't imagine those businesses would want to stay in those locations," council member John McAlister said of Shell and Mi Peblo. "It doesn't seem like those two would remain viable locations for those two businesses."
Monta Loma Neighborhood Association vice president Bill Cranston said Monta Loma residents questioned the need for a set of switchbacks to allow pedestrians to climb 15 feet to the Shell gas station from the corner of a depressed Rengstorff Avenue and Central Expressway when they could take the sloping sidewalks up Central or Rengstorff. He said a protected right turn lane onto Central should be added in its place.