The BART Board of Directors narrowly voted against building a full BART extension to Livermore, but by also not selecting a preferred project alternative Thursday night, the board left the door open for the new Tri-Valley regional rail authority to take the lead on the proposed project.
BART directors voted 5-4 to defeat a motion favoring a $1.6 billion extension of conventional BART to a new station in the middle of Interstate 580 at Isabel Avenue, with the main opposition coming from board members representing BART core cities of San Francisco and Oakland.
Soon after in the meeting in Oakland, the board also voted against a proposal to instead extend BART service from Dublin-Pleasanton to Livermore via Express Bus or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), an option strongly opposed by many in the Tri-Valley.
The directors did vote to certify the final environmental impact report for BART to Livermore, but they decided against choosing a preferred project option — with light rail, enhanced bus and no project at all also on the table.
If the BART board takes no further action by July 1, the newly created Tri-Valley San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority would be given the right to select a preferred project option and produce a feasibility study to the public by July 2019.
“This was a lost opportunity for the region to create a viable rail transit connection and create desperately needed affordable housing,” Livermore Mayor John Marchand told the Weekly, referring also to his city’s proposed Isabel Neighborhood Plan.
“Tonight, BART demonstrated that they are incapable of building a five-mile extension,” Marchand said. “But now the Measure BB funds go to the AB758 regional rail authority will now move ahead to plan build a rail connection cheaper, faster and more efficiently without BART's 40% soft costs or $360 million maintenance yard.”
“Some BART directors said that BART along the freeway is too expensive at $1.6 billion but that it should go into the downtown Livermore (at a cost of $3.6 billion),” he added. “You can one of the arguments, but not both. They cannot claim to support an extension that costs $3.6 billion that has less housing and transit oriented development and then say that $1.6 billion with more housing is too expensive."
“It was disappointing that BART couldn’t get behind the decision that is clearly the best choice for our community and the entire megaregion,” Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-Dublin) told the Weekly.
It was Baker’s Assembly Bill 758, later passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, that created the new regional rail authority to step in and possibly take over the Livermore extension if BART failed to act.
“Last night was evidence of why it was so necessary to pass AB 758,” Baker added. “I am glad that the AB 758 authority is going to be able to take the reins.”
The Tri-Valley came out in force to the meeting in Oakland to try to convince the BART board to support a conventional BART extension to Livermore.
“It was packed, standing-room-only. Plus they had a second room that was full,” said Pleasanton Vice Mayor Arne Olson, who attended the meeting with a bus-load of people organized by Innovation Tri-Valley. They were joined by other groups of Livermore residents.
The Tri-Valley’s preferred option would see conventional BART rail extended 5.5 miles down the center of I-580 from the eastern Dublin-Pleasanton station to a new station in the median just past the Isabel Avenue intersection.
It would also come with pedestrian bridges to connect riders to either side of the freeway, a new BART storage and maintenance facility northeast of Las Positas College and 3,412 new parking spots on the south side, as proposed by BART.
Freeway alignment would need to be shifted to fit the BART line and the new station, and significant public and private right-of-way would need to be purchased to make the project work.
All told, BART estimates design and construction of the traditional BART extension would come in at $1.635 billion.
That pricetag compared closely to costs for the light-rail options, diesel multiple unit (DMU) or electrical multiple unit (EMU), which are smaller, self-propelled cars with a diesel or electric engine. DMU and EMU construction was estimated at $1.6 billion and $1.67 billion, though ongoing operating costs would be less than full BART.
For some BART directors, the rail extension options proved too costly, but the Express Bus/BRT option (which would include direct transfers to Dublin-Pleasanton BART in the freeway median) was more attainable at $380 million.
But many Tri-Valley leaders and residents saw Express Bus as falling woefully short of the region’s ridership need.
Express Bus/BRT was projected to add 3,500 new riders per day, far less than full BART estimated at 11,900 new riders per day and 244,000 fewer vehicle miles traveled. The DMU/EMU would see 7,000 new BART riders and 140,600 fewer vehicle miles traveled, according to BART’s estimates.
“My sense is that (BART) board is really concerned about their financial situation. They just couldn’t take on another project that would cost $1.6 billion or $1.4 billion to do an extension out to Livermore,” Olson said.
The BART board heard from dozens of Tri-Valley residents and leaders who strongly supported full BART, and perhaps as strongly opposed any expanded bus alternative, according to Olson.
“The other point that came up that I don’t think got a lot of play was that there are quite a number of people who take BART from the core out to jobs in the Tri-Valley, counter-commute,” he added.
There were a few public speakers in favor of the bus option, citing examples they liked from Los Angeles and Europe, Olson said.
“People from the core of the operation that don’t want any new money spent on expansions and the view that the system is badly in need of maintenance and upgrades and ‘take care of what we got and we haven’t done that,’” Olson added.
In the end, the BART board voted 5-4 to defeat a motion for full BART to Livermore, with directors Bevan Dufty (San Francisco), Nick Josefowitz (San Francisco), Rebecca Saltzman (Berkeley), Lateefah Simon (West Oakland) and Robert Raburn (Oakland) against building the $1.6 billion extension.
They then voted down a motion for Express Bus/BRT to Livermore, on a count of 5-3-1.
“My sense of it is they definitely heard us, that we don’t want anything to do with buses,” Olson said. “No question they heard us.”
The board closed by voting 5-2-1 to not advance any alternative and revert to the regional rail authority -- meaning it would be up to the authority to select a preferred option, as long as the BART board doesn’t change its mind before July 1.
“It’s good for the Tri-Valley,” Olson said of decision-making shifting to the authority. “I think the door is open for them to be somewhat creative and look at some options here … both in terms of operationally and financially.”
The authority is overseen by officials from Tri-Valley and west San Joaquin cities, both counties and BART and is tasked solely with delivering improved connectivity between BART and the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train.
They are exploring the concept of light rail across the Altamont, connecting Livermore to communities such as Mountain House, Tracy, River Islands, Manteca and perhaps ultimately Stockton. That could involve traditional BART, DMU or EMU from Pleasanton to Isabel.