eBART Extension Nears Bid, Rep Garamendi Tours Station Sites

ebart_dmu.jpgImages: BART
With bids for the eBART extension project expected in early February, newly elected Congressman John Garamendi from California's 10th District conducted a tour of the planned station sites of BART's 10-mile extension from Pittsburg Bay Point to Antioch. Garamendi joined BART Director Joel Keller, Brentwood Mayor Robert Taylor, and representatives from the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, BART, Tri Delta Transit and the State Route 4 Bypass Authority on a Tri-Delta bus for the tour.

The $462 million eBART extension is funded mostly through bridge tolls and a Contra Costa sales tax measure and will accompany the widening of Highway 4 to six and eight lanes along the corridor from the existing four lanes. 

BART Director Keller asserted eBART would finally be delivering on a BART promise to bring transit to eastern Contra Costa County. Keller said he routinely hears from his constituents that they have been paying taxes for decades and that cities like Antioch were upset that they didn't have the rapid transit that was promised when BART was originally built.

"The perception of taxpayers in my district is 'We've paid for BART, we should get BART," said Keller. eBART will use Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) technology and won't run on the traditional BART lines, a choice that was made for financial reasons. If BART were to build its traditional trains, the extension would cost $1.1 billion.

Expecting to take advantage of the current construction climate, eBART Project Manager Ellen Smith said that BART was hopeful the overall budget would be lower than anticipated, much like the Oakland Airport Connector bid, which came in $60 million under budget.

If all goes as planned, BART expects to break ground on eBART by the summer and would complete the extension by 2015. Ridership estimates are 10,100 per day in the horizon year (though only 5,801 are needed to meet BARTs expansion policy threshold) and 340,000 pounds of CO2 are expected to be removed from the air from reduced traffic.

Brentwood Mayor Taylor said those numbers were fine, as was pedestrian and bicycle access, but the most important thing for his constituents was employment. "One thing that is extremely significant though, particularly out here, is a thing called jobs," he said. BART expects to create 615 temporary direct jobs and 40-80 permanent jobs.

In an area with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state, the prospect of transit-oriented development built near the stations pleased smart growth and transit advocates TransForm. "It provides the T in TOD – you get the transit nodes in cities that have not thought of those types of development patterns in the past," said TransForm Deputy Director John Hobson. "Now those cities are looking at developing around transit stations in walkable neighborhoods."

route_copy.jpg
Unlike the Oakland Airport Connector, which TransForm vociferously opposed, Hobson said eBART "is creating two new nodes for transit-oriented development in a suburban context that had none of those nodes before. It is causing Pittsburg and Antioch to think of land-use patterns in a very different way than they did before; now they are talking about significantly higher densities.  Making that change and giving those cities a different model of growth was very significant."

BART Director Tom Radulovich, who represents San Francisco and voted against the authorization of the eBART environmental report in April 2009, was concerned that the increased ridership would overburden core capacity.

Radulovich also noted that doing the eBART project without widening Highway 4 was never studied in the EIR and wondered whether eBART was merely window dressing on a highway widening project. "The most sustainable solution was one that wasn't even evaluated in the EIS."

TransForm's Hobson argued that his organization was content with the eBART project because Contra Costa County officials were intent on widening the highway no matter what. He said at least this project would provide transit and stimulate smart growth.

"We don’t feel like doing transit expansions in highway medians is necessarily the best way to do rail stations. We would rather see them more integrated in the community," said Hobson, who added the expansion of Highway 4 was going to happen "one way or another. It has been the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd priorities for E. Contra Costa county for decades."

Representative Garamendi spent most of his day traveling to meetings on transportation policy and in the afternoon visited the Central Contra Costa Crossover project, which began construction in October 2009. The project, funded in part with $13 million in federal stimulus funds, will add two sections of crossover tracks between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations. When completed in December 2010, the Crossover project will mean riders on the Pittsburg/Bay Point line will have more seating, more frequent trains and better on-time performance during commute hours.

Garamendi, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, said the re-authorization of the transportation act could conceivably happen this summer when the stopgap measure to fund the Highway Trust fund runs out. He supports Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) in pushing for a dramatically larger funding act that emphasizes urban areas.

On transit operations, he said he recognized the funding woes and operating budget issues at agencies like BART and Tri Delta and said the federal government should do more to alleviate their burden.

Finally, citing the new Siemens light rail plant near Sacramento, Garamendi said the U.S. needed to become a leader in train manufacturing, even using excess capacity in automobile plants where that is feasible.

"It does a great deal of good to build a transportation system, it does us a great deal of good to have new buses on the road, but it will do us much more good if these things are manufactured in America," he said. "These things can be built here."

He also noted that the new relationship at the federal level between the U.S. DOT and HUD was a step in the right direction. "The federal legislation is pushing these kinds of coordinated systems so that you have a housing and a development plan that is consistent with a public transportation plan, moving away from freeway planning to more integrated public transportation planning. All of these policies fit together, climate policy and transportation planning."