OCTA declares state of emergency to stabilize coastal cliffs damaging railroad tracks in San Clemente – Orange County Register

Transportation officials issued emergency permits on Monday, October 3, allowing the start of a $12 million project to shore up an unstable landslide that is displacing a coastal bluff in south San Clemente and damaging a major rail line that runs along the Strandes runs transport commuters and freight.

The tracks had been so badly shifted by large waves during recent storm surges, which combined with high sea levels and put pressure on the small stretch of beach, that train services were halted late last week. If all goes well, officials hope to have the line back in service by mid-November.

The Orange County Transportation Authority board of directors in a special meeting Monday declared an urgent need for the track work, allowing workers to find a contractor and get started on the project faster.

The work will drive large metal anchors along a 700-foot escarpment to prevent the track from being pushed further towards the water. Ground anchors are typically effective in preventing ground movement by laying steel cables diagonally into bedrock beneath the slope, OCTA officials said.

Geologists and engineers monitoring the area found that tracks have moved from 0.01 inches to 0.04 inches per day since the last storm.

Slope motion data will be evaluated using the temporary anchors by mid-November and if this works, more permanent anchors will be installed early next year. Construction would be completed between March and July.

Trains carrying more large boulders, dubbed rip rap, have already been mobilized to supplement the 18,000 tons of rock placed between the tracks and the sea last year in hopes of stopping the waves from doing more damage. Train services were suspended for about two weeks last year after the tracks began to move.

The California Transportation Commission also held an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the ongoing problem and voted to cover half, or $6 million, of the cost. In a separate action, Caltrans declared a government transportation emergency due to the damage.

“The long-term solution is elusive,” said Darrell Johnson, CEO of OCTA. “Again, that’s a plan – we’re hopeful, but there’s no guarantee. Mother Nature is at work.”

Recent problems on this vulnerable stretch of coast followed Tropical Storm Kay, which brought large waves that combined with extreme tides that slammed rocks along the railway line and slammed seawater onto the tracks.

The erosion issues and damage to this stretch of coast are just a glimpse of Southern California’s challenges as the sea creeps closer to infrastructure, roads and homes, and the complexities policymakers face as climate change advances and the sand acting as a buffer from the sea, experts say.

More needs to be done to preserve the region’s beaches through sand fill efforts, said Orange County Superintendent Katrina Foley.

“We need a long-term plan, this is only a temporary solution,” she said. “The bottom line is that sand replenishment really is the solution. We weren’t aggressive enough to get the sand replenishment.”

Foley said more also needs to be done to engage with the scientific community and find solutions.

“We can not wait anymore. This is a temporary fix,” she said. “It won’t stop the problem — I think it may actually make it worse in other areas.”

Some experts believe that adding the large boulders, called hard armor, can worsen erosion, causing wave action to intensify as the sea smashes the rocks and further crushes sand. The California Coastal Commission discouraged the use of much hard armor.

Johnson said his team at OCTA will look at long-term solutions, which could include discussions about rerouting the line under Interstate 5, although that option is “complex and expensive.”

“There aren’t many choices, which makes it difficult,” he said. “We’re going to start looking at the long term, but that’s measured in decades, not years.”

The rail line is a critical part of the larger system, officials said. It has served as a passenger and freight train line since the end of the 19th century.

30 years ago, when OCTA took over, fewer than 2 million people a year traveled by train. According to the latest figures, collected just before the pandemic broke out, an estimated 8.5 million people used the line annually, equivalent to a full lane on Autobahn 5. It is also used by freight trains going to the Port of San Diego and Camp Pendleton as a strategic defensive rail.

“This is about people. It’s about a project, but it’s about balancing what the people need and what the community needs, what the environment needs,” Johnson said.

About a year and a half ago, his agency conducted a “Climate Resilience Study” that identified this stretch of coast as one of several “hotspots” to watch out for possible rail damage from erosion.

The beach there was once spacious with enough space for volleyball courts, rings of fire, and plenty of sand space for towels. But erosion there — and throughout South Orange County — has been exacerbated by a lack of rain to push new sand into the flood channels, more frequent storm surges ravaging the region, and delays in sand-fill projects.

Gary Walsh, a member of the Citizens of San Clemente advocacy group, said he understood the urgency of stabilizing the area for rail traffic, but he also asked officials to be open to ideas for long-term solutions and make beach restoration a mission make .

“The rip rap is compounding the loss of the beach,” he said. “A few years ago we could walk on the beach, but we can’t anymore.

“We want OCTA to take responsibility and commit to restoring these beaches after the tracks are stabilized,” he said. “We have innovative ideas, we urge and beg you to fix these beaches.”

https://www.ocregister.com/2022/10/03/octa-declares-emergency-to-stabilize-seaside-bluff-damaging-train-tracks-in-san-clemente/ OCTA declares state of emergency to stabilize coastal cliffs damaging railroad tracks in San Clemente – Orange County Register

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