The Missed Opportunities

Here are some of the projects of potential that MTC either blocked or killed by inattention and a lack of interest:

Neglected Project: The ACE branch to San Francisco - The Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) rail line to San Jose is being upgraded. To ease crowding on BART’s transbay section and reduce the traffic backups on I-580, I-680, I-238, I-880 and Highway 92, there has long been a plan to extend a branch of the upgraded ACE service via a rebuilt Dumbarton rail bridge and the Caltrain right-of-way to downtown San Francisco. Instead of giving this clearly-needed second transbay rail connection the priority it deserves, MTC appears to regard the San Francisco branch as nothing but a cash cow to help pay for favored projects of lesser importance.

Eliminated Project: Bay Bridge Rail - It has been well-recognized for many years that BART is running out of transbay carrying-capacity. In 1998 the voters of San Francisco, Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley voted overwhelmingly to study a proposal to return passenger rail service to the Bay Bridge. As a result MTC reluctantly hired a consultant to study the idea. In late 2000 the Consultant submitted its report concluding that the idea was “technically feasible but costly”. Costly compared to what? The question was neither asked by MTC nor answered. The day after the Consultant submitted its report MTC eliminated Bay Bridge Rail and to this day has not seriously addressed the looming transbay capacity question. Instead people talk of constructing a second transbay rail tube. The tube, with needed subway connections on both sides of the bay would cost at least 4 times as much as a light rail line placed on the Bay Bridge would have cost. In large part because of these misallocations of scarce transportation resources and missed opportunities, Bay Area transit operators are reporting large shortfalls in their capital improvement budgets. BART has disclosed that it needs upwards of $6 billion just to replace its aging fleet and otherwise improve its existing system. Early in 2013 San Francisco MUNI Director Ed Reiskin put the backlog of unmet Muni capital needs over the next twenty years at a whopping $25.4 billion. AC Transit needs upwards of $1 billion just to keep its current fleet of buses in operation.

Ignored Project: Connection between Amtrak and Caltrain - Transferring in between the Capitol Corridor and other East Bay main line trains and BART has always been difficult. For southbound Amtrak travelers it is necessary to transfer in Richmond and then take a circuitous BART ride through Berkeley before reaching downtown Oakland or the transbay crossing to San Francisco. For northbound Amtrak travelers the switch to BART is cumbersome, especially for travelers with bags. In this case he or she must get off at the Coliseum Amtrak Station and then walk at least 800 feet across a major thoroughfare to reach the Coliseum BART Station. There is a relatively easy fix for this major regional transportation problem which has long been neglected by MTC. What is needed is a Main Line to BART transfer station in West Oakland. Being able to conveniently transfer between Amtrak and BART would make a vast difference to many travelers and undoubtedly cause more commuters who now clog I-80 for much of every day to go by train. This in turn would ease the congestion of the East Bay's important San Pablo Boulevard which becomes a virtual parking lot every time I-80 suffers a hiccup. Footnote: This would put more riders on BART's already crowded transbay section, which is still another reason for extending a branch of ACE into San Francisco and otherwise addressing the oncoming BART transbay capacity crunch.

MTC's HOT Lane Program - It becomes more obvious with every passing year that widening Bay Area highways does ease congestion. Bigger highways invariably soon result in more traffic and the Bay Area's towns and cities, whose streets cannot be widened, consequently soon experience more traffic congestion. Because of this awareness of the bankruptcy of the highway expansion policy, Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission have taken to using euphemisms. Instead of highway widening such programs are now called HOT lanes. Despite the hype MTC's HOT lane program is essentially a highway widening scheme, destined to add no less than 300 lane miles to the Bay Area's system of freeways. For a summary of what's wrong with MTC's HOT lane program see BATWG Release No. 2:

Bay Area Transportation Working Group

Release No. 2

May 13, 2013

Mr. Steve Heminger, Executive Director

Metropolitan Transportation Commission

101 8th Street

Oakland CA 94107

Subject: HOT lanes should be deleted from MTC’s program

Dear Mr. Heminger:

As noted in the Sierra Club Bay Chapter’s May 2, 2013 letter to MTC: The AB 32 target for 2020 is to have GHG emissions reduced to the 1990 level. Your HOT lane program runs counter to this objective.

As the Sierra Club also noted, the 2050 target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector to 80 percent below than 1990 levels. HOT lanes run counter to this objective as well.

It is not acceptable in 2013 to be advancing programs that would so obviously do significant environmental damage to the greater Bay Area. Here’s a portion of what’s wrong with MTC’s HOT lane program:

1.) It expands Bay Area Freeways: Over three hundred lane miles of new freeway would be added to the existing system. Only someone willing to ignore (or wink at) the inevitable traffic-generating effects of increased freeway capacity could, in the 21st Century, be promoting such a program for the Bay Area.

2.) It establishes a Class Structure on public roadways: Airplanes, trains and luxury cruise ships all have first class sections available to customers willing to pay a premium for the privilege of more comfort. But the airplanes, trains and cruise ships are privately owned and consequently can dispense their services as they please. Hot lanes on the other hand are piggy-backed onto public roadways paid for by everyone. What’s going on here? How can so inappropriate an idea have gotten so far along the political pipeline?

3.) It benefits mainly the wealthy: Everyone has heard the story of the harried mother rushing to pick up her child. However, the truth of the matter is that the day-in, day-out benefits of HOT lanes would devolve mainly to those able to part with $5 or $10 or $15 a day for the privilege of bypassing other travelers.

4.) The much heralded benefit to public transit is myth: What benefits? Experience in Southern California and elsewhere has shown that after the construction, toll enforcement, and maintenance costs are deducted, there would be precious little “surplus” left for anyone. In fact, the slow-down of urban bus operations caused by the resulting uptick in regional traffic would raise transit costs, not lower them.

The HOT lane program should be scrapped. There are better ways to go. So how could the $6 billion earmarked for HOT lanes be better used? Below are examples of projects which would have a strong positive effect on the mobility and environment of the Bay Area. The 9 MTC counties can do better. We would be happy to discuss these and other improvement opportunities with you.

Sincerely yours,

Robert Feinbaum, for BATWG (510) 534 7008

Gerald Cauthen, for BATWG (510) 208 5441

Roy Nakadegawa, for BATWG (510) 526 5094

Ken Bukowski, for BATWG (510) 305 0000

cc’s: Opinion makers