Palo Alto received a welcome boost this week for its ambitious effort to reconfigure the rail crossings at Churchill Avenue, Meadow Drive and Charleston Road when U.S. Rep Anna Eshoo announced a $6 million grant for the project.
The money will come from a grant program administrated by the Federal Railroad Administration and its Rail Crossing Elimination Program. The program is being funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in November 2021 and which authorizes $1.2 trillion in transportation and infrastructure investment.
Palo Alto will be able to use the funding for work on the three rail crossings. The City Council has been narrowing down options for the future design of these rail crossings for nearly a decade. Its fourth crossing, at Palo Alto Avenue, is slated to be considered as part of a broader plan for the downtown area sometime in the future.
Currently, the city's preferred alternative for Churchill is a "partial undercrossing" that would lower Churchill west of the Caltrain corridor so that cars can pass under the tracks and turn on Alma. For Meadow and Charleston, which are being explored in tandem, the city is considering a tunnel, a trench and a "hybrid" design that combines lowering the roads and raising the tracks.
Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, said in a statement that she is proud to have supported the legislation that provided the funding for great separations. She noted in her statement that the Charleston Road crossing is the 19th most dangerous in California, with more fatal collisions than any other along the Caltrain corridor.
"There is significant demand from my constituents for grade separations along the highly congested Caltrain corridor, and this funding will increase traffic flow, improve air quality, and promote traffic safety," Eshoo said in a June 6 statement.
While the funding will help with the design costs, Palo Alto will still need to find additional funding to complete the three grade separation projects, which are expected to collectively cost hundreds of millions of dollars. (Cost estimates vary widely, with some alternatives costing far more than others.) The biggest pot of funding remains Measure B, the 2016 county bond that earmarked $700 million for grade separations in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale.
Palo Alto is banking on receiving half of the Measure B money, based on the number of at-grade rail crossings within the city.
Michelle Bouchard, Caltrain's executive director said in a statement that the agency is thankful for Eshoo's efforts to champion grade separations and looks forward to working with Palo Alto to deliver the projects.
"Separating the Caltrain corridor from local roads is vital for connecting communities, improving public safety, and reducing bottlenecks for all modes," Bouchard said.
Palo Alto Mayor Lydia Kou also expressed her gratitude to Eshoo on behalf of the city. Leveraging federal funding to support rail safety improvements is "critical in addressing our community's needs including ensuring connectivity for our many transportation modes through advancing rail grade separation priorities," she said.
• Read more about Palo Alto's plans for its rail crossings.