BART in Alameda?

A second transbay tube could ease Alameda’s nightmarish traffic and boost Oakland’s economy. And transportation officials are now taking the idea seriously for the first time.


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Illustration by Ryan Raphael

(page 1 of 4)

The Posey Tube is choked with commuters. So are all the bridges exiting the Island. Plus, the parking lot at the Harbor Bay Ferry Terminal is jammed, as usual. It’s just another hellish morning commute for people trying to get out of Alameda and to their jobs or to the closest BART station.

And even when they get to BART, the unpleasantness continues. People are crammed on the trains, shoulder to shoulder, with no place to move. They grab hold of whatever they can as the train lurches into motion. 

Shouldn’t there be another, less-crowded way, for East Bay residents to get to work?

For the first time, Bay Area transportation officials are starting to talk seriously about solving that vexing problem with the construction of a second transbay tube — a new train line that would connect to San Francisco, probably by running through Oakland’s Jack London Square and then across the estuary to Alameda before heading to the city.

The idea may sound far-fetched to some, and a new tube will likely be costly — an estimated $12 billion to $15 billion. But it already seems certain that the region will need one by 2030, if not sooner.

Indeed, planning for a possible second tube is already happening in earnest as the entire Bay Area’s transportation infrastructure continues to groan under the weight of a surging population and a vibrant economy. “There’s real momentum for the project for the first time,” said Nick Josefowitz, a BART director from San Francisco.

And while the enormous cost and potential benefits of a new tube would be borne and felt across California, the resulting changes promise to play out with particular focus in the East Bay neighborhoods at the center of a transit network that serves so many.

Evidence that the current system is and will be inadequate is abundant, with roadways now clogged and BART trains miserably over capacity during commute hours.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional body, really kick-started discussions about a potential new tube late last year with the latest study to bring the region’s major transit operators together to address getting people into and out of San Francisco’s core in a comprehensive, coordinated manner.

It aimed to get people on the same page about key issues the regional transportation system faces, and its conclusions were sobering: To wit, a wide array of projects other than a transbay crossing can help alleviate overcrowding in the near term. Such initiatives include adding more transbay buses, ferries, and new BART cars and getting a new control system that allows trains to run closer together. But even with those necessary improvements, the study revealed that both BART and the Bay Bridge will become overcrowded again in the not-too-distant future.

“Another Bay crossing is not about San Francisco wanting a shiny toy,” said Matt Nichols, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s policy director for infrastructure and transportation. “It’s a regional thing we should all be all talking about.”

 

BART started service in 1972 when the Bay Area’s population was close to 4.6 million. In the last 46 years, it has swelled by roughly 67 percent to about 7.7 million. It’s expected to hit 9.3 million by 2040.

Regional projections show San Francisco growing by 35 percent, or more than 200,000 people, by 2040, and Alameda County expanding by 32 percent, or nearly 500,000 people, over the same period.

With the local economy strong in recent years, auto traffic and BART ridership increased significantly more than expected, the MTC study noted. Average weekday BART use grew 36 percent between 2005 and 2015, from approximately 310,700 daily passengers to 423,100.

In the transbay corridor, specifically, demand has already hit what was predicted for 2040. “BART is at a point where having another tube is a ‘gotta have,’ not a ‘nice to have,’ ”said Randy Rentschler, MTC’s director of legislation and public affairs.

During peak hours, BART now carries 29,000 people per hour across the bay to San Francisco, almost three times the 10,000 that travel the Bay Bridge in cars.

The prognosis is for more of the same. BART projects that daily ridership will increase to nearly 500,000 by 2025 and to 600,000 by 2040.

To cope, BART has planned major investments, including buying 775 new train cars; installing a modern train control system; opening a maintenance facility in Hayward; and making power system upgrades.

The transit agency has not yet identified funding for all of these projects, but it expects the new fleet of rail cars and the new control system allowing trains to run closer together will increase BART’s transbay capacity  — now maxed out during peak hours — by over 30 percent in 10 years.

After that, the MTC study found that projected growth will again overload the system in 2030.

“All these new tall buildings in San Francisco are going to have workers in them, and the BART trains are all full,” Rentschler noted.

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