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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The city currently has four bridges and two tubes connecting to Oakland, and traffic clogs badly at commute times, though many of the 2,400 people headed to and from BART find other ways of getting to stations, like on buses or bicycles. It also has two ferry terminals with service to Oakland, San Francisco, and South San Francisco.

The situation could get a lot worse. The city is actively trying to attract thousands of jobs and a lot of new housing, much of it in Alameda Point, the former naval air station currently being redeveloped, noted Jennifer Ott, the city’s transportation director. The hope is that local residents will be able to go to local jobs, she said.

The city council recently approved an initial development of 800 multifamily units on the former military base in a deal that included the developer paying $10 million toward a new ferry terminal. The plan has 65-foot height limits on buildings, but those could be exceeded near the water with special findings of exceptional architecture and proximity to transit.

Alameda Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer said she’s glad her city of roughly 77,000 is being considered for possible future BART service, but the potential is so theoretical now that she is focused on other projects that promise more immediate relief, like a new ferry terminal, increased bus service, and building a pedestrian/bike crossing over the estuary into Oakland. “It would be very nice from my perspective,” Spencer said of a new transbay tube. “At this point, it’s up to BART.”

Spencer said she has not had meaningful conversations with local residents about the potential for a BART line, though Ott said a survey showed that 65 percent of Alamedans support BART coming to the Island.

Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, who is expected to challenge Spencer for the mayor’s office this fall, has long advocated for BART service in Alameda. She said she welcomes more houses and businesses, and it’s time to get working to get BART, even if it’s two or three decades away.

“I’m raising the pompoms,” Ashcraft said. “You have to start your planning, get all your funding lined up way in advance. I think it’s time to start.”

Alameda City Councilmember Frank Matarrese, who also likely will run for mayor this year, similarly said the city has to get active or it will suffer. “It’s future talk. If we participate in it, we can get what we want. If we shun it, it almost guarantees that we will be left behind,” he said.

In particular, Matarrese wants to investigate setting aside land at Alameda Point for a possible BART station.

From a regional business perspective, Wunderman said he is excited about the possibility of bringing BART to Alameda. “Having BART come to Alameda would be a big game-changer for that city,” he said. “No doubt about it.”

Wunderman also said discussions about a potential BART station near Jack London Square on the Oakland side of the estuary are promising. That site has a ferry terminal and the opportunity to connect with Capitol Corridor and Amtrak trains. Plus, it’s next to Howard Terminal, which the Oakland A’s are eyeing as a leading site for a new ballpark.

Where a new BART line might run from the Oakland waterfront would be of momentous import and could dramatically remake the Jack London district and more.

One enticing vision is touted by Chris Sensenig, founder of a group called ConnectOakland that wants to remove Interstate 980, a hideous two-mile trench of sunken freeway that cut downtown off from largely African-American West Oakland.

Sensenig, an urban planner by trade who has proven himself an effective advocate, sees a clear opportunity to put rail lines underground in the already existing freeway trough that would connect with a new transbay crossing. It’s a strategy that would save tunneling costs, he said.

On top would be surface streets and 17 acres of new city-owned land available for development, Sensenig said. “It has the potential to correct a social injustice, reconnect West Oakland to downtown and spur infill development,” he said.

BART officials, however, say the route presents significant problems for rail.

Nichols, Oakland Mayor Schaaf’s policy director for transportation and infrastructure, said his boss is very interested in the possibility of removing 980, and it’s a goal that has been included in a city’s draft downtown plan, complete with pretty renderings of a tree-lined boulevard bordered by high-rises.

Removing an interstate freeway, of course, would require federal and Caltrans cooperation, Nichols said. But should federal officials choose to look at the region’s transportation problems as presenting a significant threat to the region’s economy, Oakland stands to benefit enormously, he said.

The city might even want to remove 980 before a new BART line is built, which would raise the question of whether to accommodate rail before the gash is refilled with dirt, he said.

“I think it’s a long time away, and we may want to do something with 980 before the 20-year horizon for a tunnel,” Nichols said. “If we did that, should we put in a concrete box to serve as the basis for a train alignment?”

 

Following on the heels of the MTC study, BART is taking the lead on studying a new transbay tube with money from the regional $3.5 billion BART modernization bond voters approved in November 2016. The measure earmarked $200 million for capacity growth, and much of that will go to the transbay tube project.

To keep the studies moving, BART and other regional officials and boosters are also hoping — even expecting — that area voters in June will approve Regional Measure 3, the proposal to raise Bay Area tolls to $9 over time. That would set aside another $50 million for transbay tube studies.

The total cost for building a tube would likely be more than twice the $6.4 billion cost of the new Bay Bridge, which took far longer and cost far more than anticipated (not comforting).

As part of its study, BART expects to consider whether a transbay crossing is really needed, whether both BART and standard gauge rail could share a facility, and, if so, how it could be built. MTC will separately evaluate the possibility of a new crossing in the South Bay — something U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier have advocated. (Transit advocates are opposed to another bridge for automobiles.) Among other things, the agency will consider plans for reviving the unused rail crossing next to the Dumbarton bridge between Alameda, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties, something that local officials are already pursuing.

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