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Open Letter: Bay Area Advocate Wants Planners for Second Transbay Crossing to do Better

A new Capitol Corridor Amtrak locomotive next to a new Caltrain train set in San Jose. They run on the same tracks and serve stations in common, but will the services be integrated some day via a second Transbay tube? One advocate is concerned. Photo: CV Makhijani

Gerald Cauthen, Co-Founder and President of the Bay Area Transportation Working Group, has been a long-time critic of Bay Area planning and the way it seems to stretch on and on and on, while consistently delivering projects with huge cost overruns and delays. Think of the Bay Bridge Eastern Span, the recently opened Central Subway, or the Salesforce Transit Center, "the Grand Central Station of the West" that still has no trains. Cauthen wrote a letter to BART about developing Link21 plans to build a second Transbay tube which can accommodate Caltrain and Amtrak's rail standards. Streetsblog thought readers would want to read it and think about the issues Cauthen raises.

January 14, 2023

Open Letter to Members of the BART Board

Dear Chair Li and Other BART Board Members,

BATWG has now completed an initial review of the six sketch alternatives your staff just placed on the Link21 website (scroll to Program and click on Example Concepts).

The alternative sketches Regional Rail A and B, Combined A and B, and BART A and B were helpful in better acquainting us on how things are progressing.

Pursuant to our review, the following are questions in need of answers before substantial additional consultant work is done. Here are some issues that are, or at least should be of immediate concern:

    1. Post-COVID, the permanent long-range changes will likely include a permanent shift to work-at-home for at least three days a week for many categories of employees, a dispersion of both residents and places of employment away from cities, and a resulting drop in the level of activity of San Francisco’s financial district. BART’s pre-COVID ridership was about 450,000 riders a day. Today’s ridership is running about half that many. What amount of total Transbay BART ridership would justify a $30 to $40 billion second rail tube? Has your original plan for Link 21 been modified to reflect currently anticipated conditions? Does the Region still even need a second tube? If so why?
    2. For the Regional Rail alternatives, the Salesforce Transit Center is obviously the most effective West Bay point of connection. Salesforce has been listed as a connection alternative, but with the warning that “costs could be prohibitive”. It is essential that this question be answered immediately. ARUP [engineering] is already well aware of the nearby geotechnical and structural conditions and therefore probably already has a pretty good idea of the extent and cost of making this connection.
    3. Is the BART Staff seriously considering sending both BART and standard gauge trains under the Bay? If so please enumerate the advantages of so doing. (Excellent BART-to-standard-gauge connection opportunities exist on both sides of the Bay)
    4. In the BART and Combined alternatives BART is shown as extending under Market Street, but where under Market? At what location? To where? Could you be more explicit? How would extending BART beyond Salesforce affect the cost of the project?
    5. In the BART and “Combined” alternatives it is proposed to relocate the Jack London Capital Corridor Station to connect directly with a new Jack London BART station. Can a BART/CC transfer station be fitted in under JLS? What would be the cost of adding this station?
    6. How would the proposed BART/Capital Corridor Coliseum transfer be improved?
    7. In Combined B, why is 4th and King listed as a possible transfer station?
    8. Regional B, designates an “improved” Capital Corridor Jack London Station. Improved how?
    9. Serving Alameda is listed as an alternative. How many projected riders would be added by placing a rail station in northwestern Alameda? At what additional cost?
    10. In BART A and Combined A you show a connection between BART and the Salesforce Transit Center. There are at least three different ways in which a BART connection could be made. Please be more explicit.
    11. The need for equity is repeatedly emphasized. With the rail routes and stations already largely in place, other than discounted fares for lower-income people, what does the term “equity” in this context mean?
    12. “Cost Containment” has been emphasized. Cost containment how? Please outline at least 10 areas of opportunity.
    13. In excess of $65 million has already been spent on the Link 21 project. Other than a preliminary marketing plan and the six sketch alternatives, what are the products of this expenditure?

It is rumored the project is being run entirely by HNTB. If so, it is suggested that HNTB’s Principles be invited to a BART Board meeting to describe Link21’s key accomplishments to date in detail, as well as address some or all of the above questions.

A map of the Link21 project.
A map of the Link21 project.
A map of the Link21 project.

If there is resistance to addressing these issues in a timely manner, it is strongly recommended that a team of seasoned outside peer reviewers well-experienced in the heavy engineering and project control aspects of major public infrastructure projects be brought in to spend a solid week going over everything that has been done to date.

Peer reviews conducted early in the lives of major projects often pay big dividends. if you want further information please do hesitate to call us.

Sincerely yours,

Gerald Cauthen P.E.
Co-Founder and President,
Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG)


Gerald Cauthen is co-founder of the Bay Area Transportation Working Group and SaveMuni. He has managed the design and construction of Muni, San Francisco Water Department and Hetch Hetchy infrastructure projects. His letter was published by Streetsblog with permission.

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