The BART Board of Directors has voted unanimously to place a $3.5 billion bond measure on the November ballot.

The measure — see the full text and supporting documents below — addresses a wide range of long-term basic infrastructure needs, none of which you’ll think is sexy.

The biggest single project for which BART plans to pay with bond proceeds: $1.225 billion for replacing the system’s aging electrical systems, including substations, electrified third rails and dozens of miles of cable.

The second-biggest item on the BART bond shopping list: $625 million for replacing worn rails. No. 3: $570 million to fix leaking tunnel structures, especially under San Francisco’s Market Street. And No. 4: $400 million upgrading BART’s central control computer system and expanding passenger capacity by allowing trains to run closer together.

The bond measure also includes a provision for an independent annual audit of how the bond proceeds are spent.

The measure, which will appear on ballots in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties, will require two-thirds approval to pass. Homeowners in those counties would see an increase in property tax bills of between $35 and $55 a year for the 40-year life of the bond program, depending on the assessed valuation (not market price) of their properties.

Proponents of the bond say it’s key to modernizing a system that has become crucial to travel throughout the Bay Area and has seen dramatic ridership increases in recent years. The system now provides about 435,000 rides every weekday — that’s the average of daily fare-gate exits — up about 35 percent since 2010.

Anyone who rides BART has come to feel the system is strained to or beyond its limits. That’s palpable in jampacked rush-hour trains and in the system’s frequent breakdowns. Those service problems were on high-profile display in March, when a still-mysterious electrical glitch along the tracks between North Concord and Pittsburgh/Bay Point in Contra Costa County damaged dozens of cars and briefly triggered a systemwide crisis.

Stuart Cohen, executive director of transit activist group TransForm, said at Thursday’s board meeting his group supports the bond measure because it believes it will increase the system’s reliability.

“We all know that when BART stops, the Bay Area stops as well, and we’ve seen it a bit too much” in recent years, Cohen said.

“We’re squished like sardines,” he added, “and we’re just about to get to that place that Washington, D.C.’s Metro is, where they’re now having frequent meltdowns.” (Electrical problems in the D.C.-area system prompted a one-day emergency shutdown in March.)

Not everyone is enamored of the prospect of giving BART the authority to borrow $3.5 billion for its infrastructure needs.

Contra Costa County state Sen. Steve Glazer is an outspoken critic of BART’s financial management, and said earlier this year he would oppose the bond unless the agency takes steps to show it can be trusted. For instance, he has suggested that BART undertake a salary survey to compare its pay scale with those of other transit agencies. He has also insisted the agency restrain pay increases to its non-union managers.

Glazer had no comment on the BART board vote, spokesman Steve Harmon said Thursday.

 


  • DoNoHarm

    Happy about the upgrades but shouldn’t the Bart Board have been budgeting for maintenance and upgrades all along? When I owned a condo, we were required to have reserve funds to replace and upgrade the buildings. Sounds like we have many years where any excess income has just gone into bonuses. It doesn’t make sense to me. Where I have worked, we only get bonuses if we perform well and are good fiscal stewards.

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Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

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