Earlier this month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and East Bay congressman Mark DeSaulnier caused a little bit of a stir when they wrote officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and told them that they needed to start planning — now — for a new vehicular and rail crossing between the Peninsula and East Bay.

The two suggested that the planning effort ought to be undertaken under the auspices of Regional Measure 3, a pitch to Bay Area voters to increase bridge tolls by as much as $3 to raise money for dozens of transportation projects.

The $4.5 billion measure, which the MTC hopes to place before voters in the nine Bay Area counties next June, includes $50 million to pay for preliminary engineering, environmental review and design of a second transbay rail crossing. Since the designated project sponsor in the measure’s enabling legislation is BART, most assume that $50 million would go to building a second transbay tube — maybe with capacity for high-speed rail, too.

In their Dec. 6 letter to MTC Director Steve Heminger, DeSaulnier and Feinstein said the regional measure — and its promise of $8 and $9 bridge tolls — does not come “anywhere close to addressing one of the most significant traffic problems facing the Bay Area – namely, the need for an additional route across the bay for both BART and vehicular traffic.”

DeSaulnier said in an interview that the lawmakers’ sense of urgency is driven by the region’s increasing traffic congestion and the harm it’s doing to commuters’ quality of life and to the overall Bay Area economy.

If the start of planning is delayed, DeSaulnier said, regional residents will “look at 20 or 30 years of increasing congestion with no significant remedy to relieve it. That’s the window of opportunity we have in the next few months.”

Regardless of whether a study recommends a second BART tube or a major new bridge, actually building it will be expensive.

A 2012 MTC study put the cost of a combined vehicle-rail bridge from Interstate 380, near San Francisco International Airport, to I-238, on the southern edge of San Leandro, at $12.4 billion. The price tag for three different alignments of a new BART tube in roughly the same area was estimated at $8.2 billion to $11.2 billion.

“We’re going to have to think in a very transformational way to pay for some of these transformative but huge projects, like a second transbay rail crossing,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, who serves on the upper house’s Transportation and Housing Committee.

Randy Rentschler, director of legislation and public affairs for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the need goes well beyond one marquee project.

“We need serious money,” Rentschler said. “And not just for one project such as a second crossing, but for a whole host of things that benefit not just those who are crossing the bay, but for those who are in San Jose in congestion, to benefit those who are stuck in congestion on 680 or 580 or 101 — wherever you are.”

Wiener, Rentschler and others say another reality goes along with the need for “transformational” thinking.

If Bay Area residents want big new transportation infrastructure like a new rail crossing, they’ll need to be ready to foot the bill themselves.

John Grubb, chief operating officer of the Bay Area Council, a group that represents business throughout the region, says Los Angeles County offers an example of how the Bay Area might proceed. Last November, 71 percent of voters said yes to a sales tax measure that’s projected to raise $120 billion for transportation over the next 40 years.

“L.A. has the worst traffic in the country, we’ve got the second-worst traffic in the country,” Grubb said. “We need to think big.”

Grubb said that the council, along with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and other planning groups, are studying whether it will be feasible to put a funding measure before voters in the nine Bay Area counties in 2020.

One possibility, Grubb said, would be a regional bond measure, which would be paid for through a parcel tax on both commercial and residential property owners.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do between here and there to figure out what the final mechanism would be,” Grubb said. “But that is a way to raise that amount of funding in the Bay Area, for something between 75 and 100 billion dollars in transportation improvements.”

The question, Grubb said, is what the electorate would support. He said initial research shows that two-thirds of voters “are willing to support even what sounds like an astounding amount of money for transportation — that’s how upset they are.”

But the Bay Area Council and Silicon Valley Leadership Group say they’re focusing first on passing Regional Measure 3.

“I’m going to cite the baseball maxim, ‘Don’t lose sight of the game you’re in and start thinking about tomorrow’s game,’ ” Carl Guardino, SVLG’s president and CEO, said in an interview. “The effort we’re all in now is Regional Measure 3. So while we’ve been working together for nearly a year and a half on what we might do in 2020, for this year we are focused on what we absolutely must do in 2018.”

The MTC will hold a workshop Wednesday to discuss how much of a bridge toll increase the measure will seek and how it might be phased in if voters approve it.

You Say You Want a New Bridge or 2nd BART Tube? Here’s How You Might Pay for It 19 December,2017Dan Brekke

  • Robert S. Allen

    Not all rail projects cost billions. Stockton-San Jose ACE (Altamont Commuter Express) can expand to commutes from Manteca, Modesto, and Merced on existing freight rail at low cost. BART could ease I-680 congestion by running its orange line to eastern Contra Costa instead of Richmond, and I-580 by adding a new route from the Tri-Valley to Richmond when the new cars come.. No huge capital cost.

    ACE comes near BART in the Tri-Valley. A joint station allowing easy transfer would ease regional commute woes. Stop ACE plans to bifurcate their line, though; that would severely degrade the service they now provide. Far better: extend BART along I-580 to Greenville and an intermodal transfer there, as sought in an initiative petition signed by about 8400 Livermore voters in 2011.

    Until that comes, add HOV lanes on I-580 over the Altamont, massive parking at Grant Line Road in far eastern Alameda County, and commute hour buses to Tri-Valley ACE and BART stations. Use parking fees to underwrite the bus operation. Unclog I-580, a prime route for people and freight between the Bay Area and the Central Valley.

    • densely

      And coordinate the ACE and BART schedules.

      • keenplanner

        Impossible. 2 different agencies. Can’t be done. No way. Forgetaboutit.

        • Roland Lebrun

          This may come as a total shock but BART and Capitol Corridor ARE managed by the same (BART) agency…

          • crazyvag

            Sounds like ACE needs to take over and manage BART. 🙂

      • Robert S. Allen

        AM commute not bad; maximum wait for BART is 15 minutes. PM commute takes more careful planning to avoid a long wait.

  • densely

    Nothing we do to increase commuting capacity will improve the quality of life in the Bay Area as long as the number of new jobs is a large multiple of the number of new housing units. Adding more bridge lanes and more freeway lanes within the Bay Area enables more long car commutes and adds more cars to a region that’s already nearing saturation with them.

    We need housing, industry, and traffic capacity to grow in balance with one another. Right now the short straw is housing. Enabling longer car commutes to push housing development out into the Valley will keep the Peninsula and Silicon Valley on a path to degraded livability.

    • Vooch

      Yup – a easy partial solution is to

      1) eliminate all parking mandates

      2) Allow retail-office-residential use in any zone except R-1.

      These 2 zoning reforms would result in a explosion of housing throughout the bay area. Millions of properties which are currently impossible to build housing on would become available.

  • keenplanner

    No new bridge, please. A waste of money. No new BART tunnels, please. Waste of money. How about a high-speed rail tube connecting the Capitol Corridor to TransBay Terminal and Caltrain? So much more effective than dumping billions down BARTS 1970s pie hole.

  • Kevin Withers

    If either the ill-advised, wasteful spending of transportation dollars is a focus, or indentifying a potential source of revenue for fantasies such as a new Bart tube is the goal, in both cases, the Jerry Brown high speed rail fiasco should be in everyone’s crosshairs.

    • Edward

      A cars only person?

  • crazyvag

    We really need to provide a better option for the I80 corridor because the current Amtrak + BART combo is not viable to lack of capacity and slow detouring via Berkeley and Oakland.

    While a new BART tunnel is nice, we only run about 24 trains per hour. London underground runs 36. Rather than invest in a second tube, we should make better use of it. Notice how Muni’s train system is able to start the following train a few seconds after one in front starts moving and then pull them up really close? In BART trains in SF, a train needs to be pretty much at Montgomery station before following one will enter Embarcadero! That’s a real life example of how far train control technology has come!

    We also should consider a second line that better covers the I80 corridor. Making that line compatible with Caltrain would also enable better capacity of Transbay Terminal since trains don’t have to turn around and can keep going to Oakland. This might be a good time to build an underground station in Oakland, near/under Oakland downtown stations. This will be expensive, so we need to maximize its usage by putting it next to stations in East Bay that have the highest ridership.

    Bonus, we also have a way to sneaking HSR trains into SF from East Bay…. OR… Connect Oakland to the HSR system via SF!


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.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

Email Dan at: dbrekke@kqed.org

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