BART Board Gets Closer to Dublin/Pleasanton Line Extension Decision

Extensions vs. Core Capacity Conflict Resurfaces

The Dublin/Pleasanton line. Image: Wikimedia Commons
The Dublin/Pleasanton line. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The BART Board of directors spent two and a half hours this morning debating and hearing from staff and constituents about a proposed $1.6 billion extension of the Dublin/Pleasanton branch to Livermore. The extension would travel roughly five miles east, in the middle of I-580, to a new station in the center of the freeway and ramp complex at Isabel Avenue. A final vote on the extension could come as soon as May 24.

ConventionalBARTExtensionMap

The agency is also looking at cheaper alternatives to conventional BART for the extension, including standard-gauge diesel multiple unit (DMU) trains such as on the East Contra Costa “eBART” extension of the Pittsburg/Bay Point line. Another option is to build a conventional electric multiple unit (EMU) train, such as those used in Denver, Chicago, on the east coast of the U.S., or anywhere in Europe or Asia. In those cases, passengers would have to transfer at the Dublin/Pleasanton station. BART is also considering a system of express buses (basically, Bus Rapid Transit oriented around connecting Livermore and the surrounding communities and job centers to Dublin/Pleasanton BART). That would cost $367 million.

Director Nick Josefowitz questioned the assumption that this BART extension will automatically increase access to more affordable housing. Image: BART
Director Nick Josefowitz questioned the assumption that this BART extension would automatically increase access to more affordable housing. Image: BART

As to the “cheaper” rail alternatives, according to BART’s study, DMU would cost $1.599 billion. EMU seems like a complete non-starter, as it would cost $1.665 billion–more than conventional BART, which is estimated to cost $1.635 billion (it should also be noted that technically a BART train is an EMU, in that each car is electric and has its own motors, although in American rail jargon EMU usually refers to mainline trains that can operate on the same tracks as Amtrak and freight trains).

Opponents to the plan took issue with spending so much money on a freeway rail extension in a low-density, sprawling suburb while the core of the system continues to suffer from maintenance issues and capacity constraints. “It feels terrible to have to deny someone this dream that they have, but the reality for the region is we can’t afford it right now. BART is in a terrible predicament,” said Joël Ramos, Regional Planning Director for TransForm (and an SFMTA director), during public comments.

“I agree the infrastructure is important, but we can’t lose sight that we have an area that’s been paying for [BART] for a long time,” said Director Deborah Allen, in support of the extension. She argued that taxpayers in Livermore have paid into the system and therefore deserve top-quality, direct service.

Director Nick Josefowitz and others argued that express buses can provide that good service much more immediately and for far less money. He also questioned the argument, put forward by supporters of the extension, that it will give people access to more affordable housing, pointing out that median home prices in Oakland and San Leandro are actually lower than in Livermore. He asked BART staff to look into how the extension–and the expenditures it requires–will impact equity. “We can’t build a simplistic model that if BART goes farther out it will automatically better serve people who are struggling.”

“A BART director is asked to be, first and foremost, fiscally responsible,” said BART Director and Board President Robert Raburn. “This proposal doesn’t have sufficient funding to move forward without bankrupting the core-capacity projects that are already our highest priority. If we were to turn our backs on the core capacity issues, we’re turning our backs on the hundreds of thousands of people at crush load or being passed by on platforms [on the existing system].” Raburn, along with Josefowitz and Director Rebecca Saltzman, supported running express buses from the communities of Livermore to the Dublin/Pleasanton station.

In conversations with Streetsblog, some opponents also took issue with the alignment itself. In an earlier plan from 2010, (seen below as it was included in a presentation for a project to upgrade the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) commuter train), the BART extension was to leave the median of I-580 and go down Portola Avenue to downtown Livermore, where ACE and BART customers could easily transfer. That plan also proposed eventually continuing BART directly to the Lawrence Livermore National Labs.

A logical way to tie up the end of the Dublin Pleasanton line would be to leave the freeway median and connect with ACE in downtown Livermore. Image: ACE
A logical way to tie up the end of the Dublin Pleasanton line would be to leave the freeway median and connect with ACE in downtown Livermore. Image: ACE

So what happened to the downtown Livermore transfer station idea, which was certified by the BART board as the alignment in the preliminary environmental review? According to a BART report, Livermore “…determined that it preferred an alignment along I-580 from Dublin/Pleasanton Station to Greenville Road, with stations at Isabel Avenue and Greenville Road. This alignment was then incorporated into the City of Livermore’s General Plan.” In other words, the city of Livermore wants a BART extension–but only if it doesn’t go near the center of Livermore.

“There is strong support in the Tri-Valley for conventional BART to Livermore,” said Livermore Mayor John Marchand, in a statement today to the BART directors. “Conventional BART would carry the most new transit benefits.” In previous meetings, Marchand reportedly nixed any suggestion of having BART go downtown.

Nearly any transit planner will tell you that the space in the middle of or adjacent to freeways is a horrible place to put rail stations, because the lanes of asphalt and roaring traffic cut them off from the surrounding community (unfortunately, the Bay Area already has many examples of this, including, obviously, the Dublin/Pleasanton station). The argument for a freeway-median rail line is that it’s cheaper because the right of way is already available. However, in this case, I-580 was widened east of the current BART terminus, which used up the median (see below). To add BART on I-580 east of the current terminus would require widening the freeway, either to make room for tracks or for huge pylons to hold up an elevated line.

The whole point of building transit in a freeway median is the median. But I-580's median was already taken for a freeway widening project. Image: Google maps
The whole point of building transit in a freeway median is the median. But I-580’s median was already taken for a freeway widening project. Image: Google maps

Freeways are, however, nice places for buses that can serve local communities in Livermore and then run in express lanes down the freeway to the current Dublin/Pleasanton terminus. As director Raburn argued, this is a more reasonable option for suburban Livermore, which, in his view, just doesn’t have the density to justify a $1.6 billion BART extension. “BART is the ideal for mass transit,” he said. “But mass transit is for providing access to high-density environments.”

  • Kieran

    Honestly Livermore should’ve just accepted the original BART extension where it’d have went downtown and then to Livermore National Laboratory where it would’ve connected with numerous buses and ACE at both stops. That would’ve actually been a nice way to spend 1.6 billion $.. I doubt the freeway alignment will be very good but we’ll see..

  • david vartanoff

    As long as Livermore doesn’t want the subway into their ‘downtown’ they deserve nothing. The money isn’t available to drop several billion toget a couple thousand drivers to park and ride when the same money could be better spent to improve service for multiple thousands by improving the existing system to run more trains per hour.

  • crazyvag

    We justify highway widening by how many hours we save drivers in a given time period. But in this case, by how many hours are we delaying commuters who can’t have a quick transfer between ACE and BART.

    And then there’s this article:
    https://sf.curbed.com/2018/4/25/17280190/cars-traffic-commuter-commute-san-francisco-bay-area

  • ender

    Livermore didn’t take the downtown idea because it defeats the whole point of Bart from Livermore s perspective. Bart is meant to reduce traffic on 580, and having a station at Greenville would get people commuting from the Central valley to get off the freeway and take Bart instead. The other reason is that anywhere a Bart station is built, crime goes up and property values go down, at least that’s the hysteria that the Livermore folks got themselves to believe. Going down the center of the freeway is exponentially easier than digging a tunnel or Subway.

  • OaktownPRE

    The fact that this whole project is even being considered tells you everything you need to know about why public transit is so horrible in the Bay Area. A single freeway median station that costs $1.66 billion! Talk about gold plated. A DMU option that costs nearly as much! Where did these estimates come from? Nowhere else in the world do these simple above ground extensions cost so much. And the fact that after $1.6 billion it STILL won’t link up with the ACE train is an abomination. Finally all this whining about the taxes that Livermore has been paying. They couldn’t have paid for even a fraction. And what about all the folks in The Richmond who were promised Geary BART. They’ve paid much more I’m sure.

  • OaktownPRE

    If it doesn’t link up directly with the ACE train it should be a non starter. And how exactly does reducing someone’s commute five miles reduce traffic in 580? Total waste of scarce resources.

  • Gocurrey

    All a freeway median extension to Livermore is going to do is result in people driving 5 fewer miles on the freeway, shortening their existing park-and-ride in Dublin/Pleasanton trips. While the aggregate decrease in VMT is good, I’m not sure this decrease is worth the $1.6 billion price tag. It’s almost certainly not going to attract many new riders, and won’t really lead to a significant mode shift. If Livermore sees the goal as decreasing Central Valley commute traffic on I-580, the result may be that more local residents hop on the freeway, because there are fewer Tracy residents driving now.

    Also, Livermore has been paying its share into BART, yes, but it also derives benefit from BART. Livermore residents have been benefiting from the Dublin/Pleasanton line for a while, now. Not everyone gets BART service to their doorstep (or their nearest freeway median).

    Lastly, I recently found myself at the Dublin/Pleasanton station, for the third time in my life. Waiting for a train there is AWFUL. It’s so loud and windy and unpleasant. If we have to provide BART to Livermore, I agree that it should be done with the previous alignment, that goes into downtown, connects with ACE, and serves the labs–all of which will actually attract new riders and may allow some people to permanently ditch their cars.

  • Easier doesn’t mean it’s worth the time, trouble and expense.
    Livermore residents voiced a huge concern about increased crime and other nonsense about a downtown station, but you know what? Let them suffer in stop and go traffic as development increases and more people clog the freeway. Rather than learn a valuable lesson from LA, they are begging to repeat it.

  • I’d rather have that money go towards infill stations or shorter subway extensions in either SF or Oakland.

  • Kieran

    I agree…A 30th st station in the Mission sounds nice and would be way better than a Livermore 580 freeway median station for obvious reasons. It’s a damn shame BART ended up the way it is today..

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    One look at the new bloated Warm Springs station and it’s no wonder why the Bay Area pays so much money more than any other city for worse poorly designed mass transit that is inconvenient, inefficient, and just grossly wasteful.

    The only function the new Warm Springs station really needed was a canopy. They spent billions building a hideous concrete bunker with nothing within walking distance other than parking lots. This type of dysfunctional transit design is hideously overpriced and can never function as anything other than a suburban commuter rail system station because nothing is built around it.

    Now they want to do this again with Livermore pouring billions more for construction and billions more for operating a commuter rail station? Bart, FUCK YOU! You are the reason we have such shit for transit!

    We will never be able to fix our bloated transit mess with dumbfucks like this designing our transit. If there are any transit advocates who actually think spending $1.6 billion just to build a highway median extension to Livermore is a wise and sustainable investment in transit please speak up and try to explain this to us.

    The Bay Area transit system is broken, completely useless for many people and frustratingly inefficient. And Bart’s answer is that commuters should just drive to Bart stations so they get the worst of both options!!?!?!?

    It’s difficult to imagine a less efficient transit system design. Does anyone know of any metropolitan transit systems that are actually doing a worse job then we are? Does any region spend more money then we do to move fewer passengers? $1.6 billion for a commuter rail station in Livermore? WTF? How did we end up here and what can we do to fix this mess!

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Extend BART to downtown Pleasanton instead. This was the original plan for BART anyway, and should have been done then. Double-track the existing mainline between Pleasanton and Livermore and run a SMART-like DMU service on short headways. Cheap, easy.

  • jonobate

    By far the biggest cost driver of this extension is expanding the freeway, which is why the DMU/EMU alternatives don’t come in any cheaper than regular BART. So, there’s a really simply solution to the high price tag of this extension – remove a freeway lane in each direction, and use the space for BART. Given that BART can move far more people per hour than a lane of freeway, this should be a no-brainer, but for some reason we treat freeways like they are sacrosanct and push the costs onto transit instead.

    If we can’t do that, the best alignment choice is Alternative 5 from the 2010 EIR. This has the same cost as the currently proposed project, but manages to connect with the ACE line at Stanley/Isabel, and avoids a freeway median station. And, it would be easy to extend to a downtown station if Livermore ever comes round to the idea.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/545ce001009d46cc4b55dc3cc2b5fac5b5de93995b55c2cba03dff45d4c48a84.png

  • OaktownPRE

    Can somebody explain to me how the ten miles of DMU extension to Antioch in the middle of Highway 4 cost $525 million per the BART website but this project has a DMU cost estimate of $1.6 billion for half the mileage? Something literally doesn’t add up.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    It’s because Caltrans isn’t willing to give over any lanes of 580 to BART. The CA-4 RoW was radically expanded *including* the BART line which cut the costs a lot. The BART proposal for 580 includes adding lanes on both sides of the road.

  • keenplanner

    It’s just irresponsible to continue to expand the expensive BART system. Finish the San Jose extension and then start focusing on making the existing BART system work. It would be easy to add an express bus station to the Pleasanton BART station, and then make sure the express bus/HOV lanes all the way to Livermore operate at 60 MPH. Provide center-lane ramps so the buses could access the downtown area.
    To me, it makes more sense to invest in converting existing regional rail to high-speed rail. I see providing HSR service on the Capitol Corridor line as a key to reducing traffic on I-80, and reducing BART overcrowding. HSR could continue under the BAY to the new Transbay Terminal, and then down the Cal Train HSR right-of-way.
    Picture getting from your home in Vacaville to your job in Sunnyvale or Redwood City in a fraction of the driving time. With WiFi. Who would want to drive?

  • Sean
  • Sean

    A rapid streetcar down Hopyard would be a lot cheaper.

  • 94110

    Last I heard the estimate for a 30th St station was a whopping $0.5 billion dollars. Seems too expensive… until you start to consider a $1.6 billion dollar project to serve fewer people.

    Livermore should have to compete against 30th St. Everything should have to compete against 30th St as the default use of cash.

  • Ethan

    Make Express lanes on 580 to Livermore, then extend them to Tracy. Run lots of buses from the Tracy and beyond all the way to San Jose and San Francisco. BART is already bursting at the seams. The Bay Area needs additional capacity.

  • Chairman Meow

    The top investment priorities for the system should be fare enforcement station infrastructure, equipment upgrades, then a second transbay tube that enables 24 hour service. At the bottom of the list is extending spurs into exurban communities to promote more soul-crushing sprawl development

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I like it.

  • OaktownPRE

    Actually this isn’t just a conflict between extensions and core capacity, or even primarily that. It’s a conflict between a good proposal and a negligently bad one. I think Geary rail and DTX should top the list of any question on where to spend the Bay Area’s scare transpo dollars but I could accept this if it was a good cost effective proposal. Spending this kind of money for such little, even negative return, is just bad decision making. And we all lose because of it.

  • Kieran

    That’s an interesting point you bring up about 30th st and it being the default use of cash for infill stations. If I’m correct(I’m probably wrong) the 30th st station was proposed as an infill station when BART was first being designed….

    Hell, it’d be the perfect infill station on the BART system partly because it’s almost halfway between the 24th st and Glen Park stations, along with it being at an important transit/commercial hub where the 24, 49, 36, 14 local and rapid along with the J nearby…It’d get a helluva lot of passengers, many more than any new passengers on the Livermore extension or the E-BART extension to Antioch, for instance.

  • Ethan

    How much choice does BART have now that AB 758 passed to establish a Tri-Valley-San Joaquin County rail authority?

  • jonobate

    The BART board can (and should) simply choose No Project as the prefered alternative. Then, the Alameda County Measure BB sales tax funds directly programmed for BART to Livermore will be transferred to the new rail authority. BART at least will not have to waste any more of time or money on this pointless extension.

    As noted in a comment below, I could get behind a BART extension to Isabel/Stanley purely in the interest of linking up with ACE. But if that’s not going to happen (and it almost certainly won’t) it would be better for this new authority to plan a DMU rail extension, because they won’t be tied to BART’s 15-min peak headway. That in turn means they can single track the extension in the I-580 median, which would greatly reduce the cost, as only one side of the freeway would have to be widened.

    Of course, BART could also assume a lower headway when planning a DMU extension; but the simple fact is that they won’t, because they don’t want to tarnish their reputation for having show-up-and-go frequencies throughout their entire system.

  • LazyReader

    The one good thing about the San Francisco Bay Area is that many of
    the region’s most ardent transit advocates realize that BART is a big
    waste. Even Public Citizen, a Ralph Nader group, has gone out of its way to bash BART in an expose it wrote on Bechtel, one of BART’s original builders. Only 1.655 Billion? What about the $6.5-billion route to San Jose, which won’t be completed before 2025 (maybe longer, as these projects have a propensity for delays) and is redundant anyway, San Jose already has commuter trains to San Francisco. Plus factor in whenever the agency releases a price for this project it tends to increase, often 50% every 5 years. Since this project wont be finished til 2030 why build it when we can simply wait for driverless cars to steal all their customers.

  • John French

    Not redundant exactly – BART will also connect San Jose to the East Bay, though Amtrak and ACE trains already do that. Furthermore BART is “regional rail”/”S-Bahn”/whatever you want to call it, not commuter rail – the difference being that it runs frequently all day, while Caltrain runs hourly outside of normal commute hours (and ACE/Amtrak are even worse).

    Of course it would have been cheaper to run a regional rail service using conventional rail technology on the existing Amtrak lines than to build the BART extension. Hopefully BART won’t try to connect Millbrae to San Jose, when Caltrain will be ready to offer 20 minute headways all day once the electrification project is complete.

  • LazyReader

    Or for less money run buses straight thru 101 from SF to San Jose. Every rail transit projects often rises in cost usually 50-150 by the time it’s initial price is stated. San Fran is 830,000 people out of a metro area of 4.7 million BART barely carries less than a few percent of the Bay Area commuters. It’s stations are dilapidated and even filled with…….human excrement.

    A four car light rail can move 12,000 people per hour. A highway lane can move about 2,000-3,000 cars per hour (with average capacity of 1.51 people per car), thats 3,000 – 4,000 an hour. But factor maximum capacities:
    A four car light rail can move 12,000 people per hour. A ten car heavy rail (BART) can move 45,000 per hour. A freeway full of cars (each car with five seats) can move 10,000 people per hour. BUT the freeway costs way less money to operate and maintain in the long run. A dedicated busway can move 60,000 people per hour and a busway with double decker buses can move over 90,000. Minibuses that carry less than 20 passengers on normal freeways and add as much as 10-20% to freeway capacity or 11-12 thousand WITHOUT any new construction.
    How can BART afford a 4.7 Billion extension with a 10 Billion dollar maintenance backlog breathing down their necks. The SF bay area has two major highways, 101 and 280. So two bus lanes (one in each direction) can move 120,000 people per hour.

  • John French

    Note that I wasn’t arguing in favor of the BART extension. It’s happening, but I would’ve rather seen service improvements to the existing passenger rail on both sides of the bay.

  • LazyReader

    That should be spoken for every rail transit service. Rail has a life expectancy of 30 years, once it’s that old you either have to replace it, or painstakingly refurbish it. But rather than fix what they have; agencies are embarking on financially suicidal campaign of building new rail lines farther out to suburban annexes and satellite cities just to attract a few upper income people out of their cars. BART was a disaster the day it was built, they went for a low capacity heavy rail system built to handle 100,000 a hour, is crushed by 400,000 today, is dilapidated, excrement covered and falling apart.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I appreciate your point here, although I wish you would try being a little more brief, but the thing you seem to refuse to acknowledge is that drivers refuse to give up an inch of what they perceive to be “their” freeway lane-miles. Everybody knows that if you dedicated a lane of the freeway to buses you would radically increase the capacity of that lane at very little cost. But that’s politically impossible.

  • LazyReader

    Its politically impossible because the politicians that be prefer rail over buses. Build a new highway thats for buses with HOV and double down as a HOT, high occupancy toll that single drivers pay to bypass traffic. I’ll be more brief, rail transit is obsolete.
    Long distance trains were made obsolete by flying in 1960’s (500+ miles)
    short distance trains by buses in the 1920’s (2-10 miles)
    the last vestige market they want to capture is the intermediate travel market (60-300 miles)
    and intercity and coach buses are already doing that.

  • The most useful thing to do is probably to extend eBART to use the tracks that run into Tracy, run the line through Tracy, and loop it back to Livermore on the ACE tracks. Since eBART uses standard gauge and the FRA waiver allows the DMUs to be in mixed traffic, they just need to get some of the ACEforward improvements done in the Altamont pass to provide the ability for increased frequency.

  • Andy Chow

    Basically the cost of relocating the highway facility will belong to the rail project’s budget. The eBART didn’t have to cover the full cost since Caltrans and Contra Costa County are going to rebuild and widen CA-4 anyhow.

  • p_chazz

    Extensions are capital costs while maintenance is an operational cost. Funding for capital costs is raised through bond issues while operational costs are paid out of the farebox and from property tax assessments.

  • If HSR rail is going up the peninsula you can forget any idea of a BART extension from Millbrae to Santa Clara. Instead of the ridiculously expensive BART extension from Fremont to SJ, commuter rail should have been upgraded along the Amtrak tracks.

  • John French

    Precisely. Upgrade existing lines, and improve the passenger experience through coordinated transfers and integrated fares.

    Caltrain can and should look, work, and feel like a branch of the BART system from a passenger’s point of view. That it uses different technology and is operated by a different organization is irrelevant.

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