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State, county working to improve transportation

Opening last month of I-580 toll lanes may be best traffic relief for years

Representatives of several public transportation agencies said at a meeting last week that while the I-580 express/toll lanes were completed and opened in record time, it will still be years before other major projects will be completed.

Turning Hwy. 84 into a mini-expressway between interstates 580 and 680 won't be completed until 2023. Extending BART to Isabel Avenue in Livermore, although much discussed, isn't even in the construction design stage yet.

The best news given at a two-hour public transportation meeting held by Supervisor Nate Miley at the Pavilion at the Fairgrounds in Pleasanton was that ACE train service could be extended to Merced within five years with six trains making the round trip to San Jose by then.

"Traffic here is constantly increasing and our job of trying to stay ahead of the volume is difficult," Supervisor Nate Miley said. "We're constantly looking at how we can address traffic issues in the county, but unless our population stops growing, we can't solve the problem."

Representatives of BART, the Wheels bus service, Caltrans and local transportation experts outlined current efforts underway to improve traffic congestion, both in Pleasanton and on adjacent roadways and freeways.

Richard Carney, Capital Projects Program Manager for Caltrans, said the new express/toll lanes on I-580 between Greenville Road and the I-680 interchange were completed two years ahead of the planned opening date.

"There were 126,000 express lane users in the first seven days after the new lanes opened," Carney said. "Our toll gantry equipment readers showed that 20% of those were carpoolers."

Carney also said that construction is starting this month to widen Isabel Avenue (Hwy. 84) to two lanes in each direction between Ruby Hill Drive to the north and to where the road has already been widened at Concannon Boulevard.

An environmental review of the final section from Pigeon Pass to I-680 will be completed in 2018 with that four-lane section scheduled to open to traffic in 2023.

John McPartland, one of nine elected directors of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District who represents District #5 serving Pleasanton, said plans to extend BART to Isabel and Livermore are still years away from completion.

"We are a number of years away before digging up anything," he said.

The $1.2 billion project as currently planned will mean widening the median of I-580 and tearing up some of the new lanes just opened on both sides of I-580.

The station now contemplated for Isabel will look much like the West Dublin/Pleasanton station near the Stoneridge Shopping Center with walkways over the freeway to parking facilities in Livermore. The city of Livermore is also planning a transit-oriented retail and residential complex on the north side of the future station.

McPartland also said planners are looking at alternatives that could cut costs and speed up the completion process. These include express buses that would connect to the current Dublin/Pleasanton East station at Hacienda business park that would climb from street to platform level.

Various alternatives to a full mid-freeway station are under consideration with a final recommendation due next year.

Design work would be completed by 2022 and construction completed by 2026, McPartland said.

Michael Tree, executive director of the Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority, which operates the Wheels bus service, told the Transportation Forum that changes re underway to make the system"more simple and reasonable."

He said results of a survey of passengers has resulted in a program called www.wheelsforward.com with plans to implement many of the suggested changes in August. Those changes could include having buses to the Lawrence Livermore and Sandi national laboratories running every 15 minutes all day long, even until midnight.

"There are 17,000 households within five minutes of our bus lines," Tree said. "We want to make our system their preferred transportation alternative."

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