A sign warns of danger near a recent rock slide on the Del Mar bluffs. Photo by Chris Jennewein

The latest phase of erosion-prevention work on the Del Mar bluffs has been completed, local transit authorities announced Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, the San Diego Association of Governments, North County Transit District, Caltrans District 11 and the City of Del Mar celebrated the completion Phase 4 of the six-phase project. Phase 5 will begin next year.

Phase 4 work began in May 2020 and included the installation of additional support columns to stabilize localized areas and sea walls, construction of a drainage channel along the top of the bluffs and improvements to concrete channels and storm drain outfalls. Phase 5 will begin next year.

According to the agencies, the bluffs regularly experience erosion — roughly six inches per year on average — largely due to storm and irrigation runoff as well as sea level rise. These investments in drainage infrastructure are intended to direct water across the bluffs and to the ocean, avoiding some of the erosion.

“The completion of this work demonstrates significant progress in our multi-phased strategy to secure the Del Mar Bluffs and ensure continued reliability of this important rail corridor,” said SANDAG Chair and Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear. “SANDAG is currently evaluating long-term alternatives to completely move the tracks off the bluffs to ensure the safe operation of the LOSSAN corridor, which serves nearly 8 million passengers annually, and is a major economic lifeline for San Diego County.”

Since 2003, SANDAG and NCTD have completed three stabilization projects along the Del Mar Bluffs between Coast Boulevard and Torrey Pines State Beach. To date, efforts include the installation of more than 230 concrete and steel support columns and improvements to drainage infrastructure to protect the bluffs from future erosion.

On December 2, 2020, the California Transportation Commission awarded the San Diego region $106 million for a portfolio of rail enhancement projects along the Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor — also known as LOSSAN — including $36.2 million to support the next phase of stabilization efforts.

“This is a very important step toward realizing the dream of making transit competitive with the automobile and for curbing climate change-inducing emissions in our region,”  said  Allan Kosup, Caltrans Interstate 5 corridor director. “This grant will go a long way to modernize and install an advanced train control system that will lead to faster travel times, increased rail ridership, and an improved alternative to driving along Interstate 5.”

Construction for Phase 5 is slated to begin in 2022. This phase of the project is intended to address seismic and critical stabilization needs, including the installation of more support columns and replacing aging drainage structures. Phase 6 is intended to provide long-term rehabilitation and stabilization work, including protecting the base of the bluffs against additional bluff retreat.

“The Del Mar bluff stabilization efforts address the immediate concern to preserve track-bed support and  ensure safe, reliable rail service for passengers and freight movement,” Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland said.

While SANDAG and NCTD work to stabilize the bluffs, SANDAG is seeking additional funding to expedite the process of moving the bluffs inward as a long-term strategy. The funds are needed to increase the reliability of passenger rail service for nearly 8 million annual passengers and keep nearly $1 billion a year of goods consistently moving through the corridor, a SANDAG document reads.

“The rail service through Del Mar supports countless jobs and economic activity throughout the region, so it’s critically important that we stabilize the coastal bluffs under these tracks,” said Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano. “I was proud to announce an $11.6 million federal grant for this project earlier this year, and I’m excited to see the continued progress being made by SANDAG and NCTD to stabilize the bluffs and keep our community safe.”

–City News Service

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