I attended because of my personal and intense interest in afternoon commute traffic jamming Foothill Road in front of my home and our neighbors. Naturally, given the way government moves, there is nothing on the immediate horizon to improve the situation—despite the simple solution we presented. The county will wait until work is completed on the intersection of Niles Canyon Road in downtown Sunol and then re-evaluate.
That said, it was intriguing to hear about what’s going on with BART to Livermore; the Interstate 580 improvements, Highway 84 and plans for new routes for Wheels designed to serve the BART station.
I was particularly struck by the Wheels Forward effort that has been led by General Manager Michael S. Tree who joined the agency in 2014. Saying the existing route map resembled a plate of spaghetti, he introduced the preferred changes that include more direct service to the BART stations. Routes will run from the downtown Livermore Transit hub where the ACE trains stop to BART using the I-580 express lanes and along Stanley Boulevard to Valley Avenue to Santa Rita route ending at BART. He said there are 17,000 households living within a five-minute walk of stops along Santa Rita. UPDATE: When I called this number to Wheels' attention, Christy Wegener responded that the 17,000 number was people--not households. The agency is updating their information.
Given the miserable parking situation at the BART stations, these changes could make Wheels an excellent alternative. There’s a public hearing on the proposal route changes on May 2 at 6 p.m. at the Bankhead Theater. Comments can be submitted online until April 22 at www.wheelsforward.com.
One overall agency goal is to gradually reverse its ridership—currently 70 percent of patrons have no alternative and 30 percent ride by choice. Tree wants to get to the point where 70 percent of passengers are choosing Wheels. Planners estimate that the route changes will increase ridership by 10 percent shortly after they are instituted.
While there was the Wheels good news, it will be many years before there are other substantial improvements to the major transportation arteries through the valley. That’s another seven or more years before Highway 84 can be a four- to six-lanes from I-580 to I-680 and there is no funding currently identified for the last 2 ½-mile segment from Pigeon Pass to I-680. The next round of improvements will just shift the congestion further south along Highway 84.
Meanwhile, there could be some form of BART to Livermore in about the same time frame, if everything goes well and another $700 million in funding is identified. BART planning manager Andrew Tang said $550 million has been identified and his team currently is studying a variety of approaches to the first what’s hoped to be an eventual two-station extension.
The irony is that simply getting BART to the Isabel (Highway 84) neighborhood likely will not result in major ridership growth. The job growth in the South Bay has been explosive as it also has been in San Francisco. BART is a great alternative for the city, but, even with the San Jose extension under construction, it will be a lousy South Bay connection. ACE trains will be much better, but connecting with ACE means getting the BART rails to Greenville Road—a project that has no funding.
There was one well-spoken audience participant who asked the obvious question of why spend $1.2 billion on BART instead of putting money into the ACE trains. Sadly, because BART to Livermore was listed as a project on the ballot measure voters approved that doubled the sales tax to 1-cent for 30 years, it would take a public vote to change the priorities.
Perhaps the most intriguing option being examined by the BART planners is utilizing buses in special lanes that would connect with the BART station in the middle of the freeway. That would cost dramatically less and provide nearly the same level of service. If somehow the politicians and decision-makers could settle on that option, the money set aside might be enough to get all the way to Greenville.
The biggest cost obstacle with the BART extension is that it will run in the freeway median and thus will require relocating the interstate. That means the newly completed HOV lanes will have a relatively short life, but likely will be well used until new construction starts after 2021.
No accommodation was made for BART because there was no funding identified when the I-580 toll lane expansion was designed.
The greater irony is that the governor and his cronies keep pouring money into the high-speed rail (there are concrete pylons constructed in the first phase as well as a major construction yard in downtown Fresno). That’s despite having at best 15 percent of the funding identified and with valid legal questions of whether using the cap-and-trade revenues for the absurdly expensive train is justified. And those funds currently are designed to sunset in a few years, which will require another action by the Legislature.