Alameda and Oakland Officials Contemplate the Possibility of a Second Transbay Tube
Early proposal for a second Transbay Tube serving the BART system contemplates a station in Alameda or Jack London Square, or both.
Will BART come to Alameda via a second Transbay Tube? It’s along way off, but it could happen, and officials are talking about it.
Schematic courtesy of BART
Will there be political consensus for an Alameda BART station? Would a Jack London Square BART station with elevators popping out in Alameda and in Oakland be feasible? And who would pay the multibillion-dollar cost of a second Transbay Tube?
These questions are beginning to fly as Bay Area Rapid Transit, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, and other regional transportation agencies study proposals to build a second Transbay Tube in the face of warnings that the current tube will hit absolute capacity within 50 years.
A second Transbay Tube is currently only a concept, not a BART-supported idea, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said. “But at some point, BART will need to build a second Transbay Tube, and one idea is a line going through Alameda,” she said.
In 2013, BART director Robert Raburn said Alameda could be well positioned for its own BART station, given its high transit ridership. Raburn’s comments came in response to a July 2013 letter from then-Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore, who requested that BART consider building an Alameda BART station and an additional Transbay Tube. This extension, wrote Gilmore, “would provide a convenient and efficient transportation option for transit riders throughout the region and allow the city to create a truly transit-oriented development at Alameda Point.”
Today, Raburn says Alameda can still be a BART destination—if the public supports making the island a part of the second Transbay Tube, the alignment is feasible and cost effective, and such an alignment is favored over other alternatives such as a multimodal passenger rail station.
But Raburn is sure of one thing: “If a station is built on the island, it will change Alameda forever,” he said.
“So, I need to hear all sides, and of course, we wouldn’t do that if the city of Alameda was saying, ‘we don’t want it,’ ” Raburn continued. “I have no wish to force an idea that’s going to cost millions of dollars down people’s throats.”
Alameda’s new mayor, Trish Spencer, acknowledged that the island’s transportation challenges are growing, with heavy development on the way at Alameda Point and the historic Del Monte building. But she wonders how funding for a second Transbay Tube will be secured, whether Alameda is a good fit for the transit-village style of development that BART likes around its stations, and whether the project’s time frame matches immediate demands on the island.
“Alameda needs to make its plans for transportation sooner rather than later,” Spencer said. “We are an island, and we are going to run out of space.”
“With regards to changing the island forever, many of us like Alameda,” Spencer added. “But I’m sure the community would welcome the conversation.”
Alameda Councilmember Frank Matarrese couldn’t help speculating where an Alameda BART station would be built, following the publication of a draft map of the second Transbay Tube.
“The plan I saw would head under Oakland, then pop up at Jean Sweeney Park,” Matarrese said, referring to open space named after longtime Alameda resident and civic activist, the late Jean Sweeney, who helped the city buy and convert former railroad property to become the park. “That would be an interesting conversation with Jean. She would not be thrilled.”
But Matarrese said the Alameda BART question makes for an interesting discussion. “It’s been a challenge for people to take public transportation to work in Silicon Valley from Alameda,” he said. “The closest we have to a solution is Google and Apple buses.”
He noted that Alameda’s population dipped, after the Navy left, to 73,812 residents in 2010 and is not expected to top Navy levels until 2020, when the population is projected to reach 80,000.
“You came to Alameda for a feel; you believe in smart development, but what is our real capacity?” Matarrese asked, noting that bigger picture questions surround the practical implication of transit plans. “A BART model of transit villages comes with BART stations.”
So, what about Oakland? Raburn said that incorporating a bike/pedestrian Oakland-Alameda connection under the estuary could be a major benefit of a Jack London Square-Alameda Station.
“The idea, if it’s really done right, is to also build a conduit for bicycle and pedestrian traffic,” Raburn said. “These are early stages yet, so we can float up all sorts of trial balloons. But it’s going to come down to engineering, feasibility and political yeas or nays.”
Newly elected Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf sits on the MTC and notes that discussion of a BART extension to connect Oakland, Alameda, and San Francisco’s Mission Bay is still at a “very preliminary” stage.
“But it’s worth studying as the population and job markets shift,” Schaaf said, observing that two high-rises are going up at Jack London, in addition to the development at Alameda Point and explosive growth in Mission Bay.
“We are a disaster-prone region, so to have redundancy in a second tube would be good for resilience in our region,” Schaaf added. “And we are blessed to be on the water, but that does create transportation challenges, and we want to move people out of their cars and into transportation that has less impact on the environment.”
Schaaf’s observations come as the MTC, which is responsible for regional transportation planning and financing in the Bay Area, kicks off a two-year study of public transit needs in the nine-county region.
MTC planner and policy analyst Carolyn Clevenger said she doesn’t believe it’s possible to build a second tube in 15 years. “But the exact time frame depends on what the demand analysis shows,” she said.
In 2007, a MTC regional rail study estimated that a second Transbay Tube would cost up to $26.5 billion, and Clevenger says the project will definitely require new revenue sources. “The type of financial need is going to far exceed existing funding sources,” she said. “It will need major participation from the federal government and will probably need new funding sources.”
Tilly Chang, executive director of the SFCTA, notes that previous generations thought of building a second tube. “But now we have aging infrastructure, maintenance and operational constraint that are starting to erode reliability, along with crowding, historic demands, and a younger and older generation that doesn’t want to drive.”
Chang says the timing of the project will depend on public and political support, piecing together money, and figuring out what’s doable, and where the consensus lies on the questions of design and route. “The commute is one of the things that determines happiness,” she said.
Ratna Amin, transportation policy director at SPUR, said the urban policy group doesn’t believe a regional rail station location decision can be made without considering where there will be large numbers of people. “Specifically, we should look for downtown-like densities of jobs and housing in walkable neighborhoods around the station,” Amin said.
Amin said there are creative ways to think about how a new rail tube under the bay could create new connections between rail services already operating in the region, such as Caltrain, ACE, the Capitol Corridor and, in the future, high-speed rail. “We should think about networks, not just lines,” she said.