Pleasanton Weekly

Column - February 18, 2011

BART opens new station today but not without its critics

by Jeb Bing

Today's opening celebration for the new Pleasanton/Dublin BART station may be the most festive for the rapid transit system in 50 years. Honor guards, bagpipers, federal, state and city officials will be crowding onto the I-580 freeway station platform and the entry level ticket-taking area above to cut the ribbon or push the start button or whatever BART people do when a new station opens. It's especially good news for BART, which has had problems completing the $100-million-plus station since it was first planned in the mid-1990s.

A key part of the project, pre-formed steel walkways to connect to Dublin and Pleasanton, were delivered with faulty welds. "Faulty" was what Caltrans, the state's highway authority, called them. A BART spokesperson said at the time that it didn't appear the weldings were unsafe, but the agency deferred to Caltrans' requirement that they be rebuilt, with an additional $2.5 million added to the total cost due to welding problems. That has delayed the opening of the station by nearly two years.

Also, private funding for the pricey station has largely gone away. The project was developed as a public-private partnership, with $57.5 million stemming from bonds BART sold, $14 million in grants and $15 million in land-generated revenues. The city of Pleasanton entered into a funding agreement in 2006 along with the city of Dublin and the Alameda County Surplus Property Authority that allowed BART to draw from a reserve fund at the time the transit agency was selling construction bonds.

That agreement called for each entity to provide reserve funds that BART can access should their operating revenues fall short of its expenses, including debt service. Out of a total commitment of $8 million between all of those agencies, half has been set aside to BART. The remaining $4 million will be allotted when the project is completed. Pleasanton's share is a total of $1 million ($500,000 of which has already been set aside) that comes from funds the city collects in transportation development fees to be used toward reducing traffic congestion. Since the station didn't open on time, BART drew down $1.5 million from that reserve fund for debt service on its bonds.

As part of the station project, a new transit village was planned on the Dublin side to include a 150-room hotel, 210-unit apartment complex and retail/office space. On the Pleasanton side, a 350-unit apartment complex described as a transit-oriented development to reduce freeway congestion was approved with its completion to coincide with the opening of the station. Part of that development also included 14,000 square feet of retail space, where developers had hoped to house a grocery store. But last year, the developer of those projects, San Diego-based Windstar Communities, said those projects would be pushed back due to the economic downturn. Windstar Vice President Eric Heffner said the hotel may not be a viable option anymore. Bob Russell, a principal for Oakland-based Ampelon Development Group, which acted as the master developer on the project, said a portion of land in Dublin that was slated for the apartments has now gone back to a lender, but the parcel's status is unclear. Windstar still controls the other portions of the project, including the hotel and retail space in Dublin and the residential development in Pleasanton, but its financial status is unclear and none of the projects is actively being pursued.

BART says the new station, located in the median of I-580 between Golden Gate Road in Dublin and Stoneridge Mall Road in Pleasanton, will provide an additional stop in the current 10-mile gap between what's now called the East Dublin/Pleasanton and Castro Valley stations. Still, the new station has its critics. Although it will be BART's 44th, it's only 1.6 miles from the Pleasanton/Dublin station, which has become a major transit center for buses serving Hacienda and Bishop Ranch business parks and the Livermore and Sandia national labs. It adds no new track. And it comes at a time when BART and Livermore representatives, including Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton), who will be a key speaker at today's ceremony, have been clamoring for state and federal funds to extend BART to Livermore.

BART officials said they still plan to extend rail service to Livermore someday, but that project must wait until the train system can line up the money for it. At a Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce meeting last week, John McPartland, a BART director from Castro Valley, said BART still wants to go to Livermore, but that will take billions of dollars and many years. With West Pleasanton/Dublin, BART can open the station now.

Today's public ceremony started at 10 a.m. with regular train service to start tomorrow.

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