"My sense is you're dealing with these alternatives because the practical matter is the BART board doesn't want to go to Livermore. They don't want to go to ACE," Pleasanton Vice Mayor Arne Olson said as two BART officials presented an update on the BART to Livermore project to the City Council earlier this month.
Now, we don't think the situation is that dire (certainly no final decision has been made), but make no mistake: This spring marks the most critical juncture for the BART to Livermore project, and the potential of bringing a BART rail extension to Isabel Avenue is very much up in the air.
So make your voices heard.
Pleasanton council members made a strong statement at that March 6 meeting, declaring that their top choice is conventional BART rail down the Interstate 580 median to a new station near the Isabel intersection.
That opposed to alternatives BART is also considering: a light rail extension to Isabel, new Express Bus services or less-intensive enhanced bus services -- or no BART to Livermore project at all.
The BART board is expected to make a preliminary choice for its preferred project option in April, which would put the agency on track to then review and certify the final environmental impact (EIR) report and confirm the final project option in May.
The pro-rail Tri-Valley has its work cut out, according to Director John McPartland, who represents Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore on the BART board.
One side of the nine-member BART board consists of "directors who represent the (existing) core system, that want to end up taking every scrap of money they can in order to retrofit and build anew," McPartland told the Pleasanton council.
"We've got a portion that is clearly on the extension side, another group that is on the core side and then a portion of the directors that are riding in the middle. Welcome to the real world of politics," he added. "The board is divided right now, and I've got to fight tooth and nail."
McPartland says it's vital for Tri-Valley residents to tell BART leadership their thoughts about the BART to Livermore proposals. (Comments can be submitted online ahead of next month's board meeting, at www.bart.gov/livermore).
Count us among the conventional BART rail camp.
BART to Livermore, an extension envisioned for decades, is the most significant traffic relief project proposed for the congestion-riddled Tri-Valley, and the traditional BART option would add the most new BART riders and take the most cars off I-580 and local city streets during commute hours.
The base proposal outlines extending conventional BART rail 5.5 miles down the I-580 median 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 -- though we agree with the Pleasanton council that that parking count could fall woefully short.
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's a high pricetag, but not really all that much higher than the two rail alternatives BART is considering, which both offer much less ridership than traditional BART.
Those other rail options are diesel multiple unit (DMU) or electrical multiple unit (EMU), known colloquially as light rail. They are smaller, self-propelled cars with a diesel or electric engine.
DMU and EMU would offer less ongoing operating costs than traditional BART rail, but the project construction costs are nearly the same ($1.6 billion and $1.67 billion, respectively) and the right-of-way impacts are more significant -- all for much fewer new riders.
The full BART option would result in the highest number of new BART riders (11,900 per day) and most cars off the road (244,000 fewer vehicle miles traveled), according to the EIR. That ridership number actually jumps to 13,400 if Livermore's Isabel Neighborhood Plan comes to fruition around the new station.
The DMU/EMU totals don't compete: only 7,000 new BART riders and 140,600 fewer vehicle miles traveled. Why spend nearly the same amount of construction money for that many fewer rider spots, especially when you know the demand is there between Livermore and western San Joaquin County?
With those statistics in mind, the two bus alternatives make no sense: Express Bus/Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) at $380 million to see 3,500 new riders and 92,600 fewer vehicle miles, and enhanced bus at $25 million to add 400 riders and reduce vehicle miles by 6,500.
The bus options are tone-deaf to the needs and wishes of Tri-Valley leaders and residents. (Well, not quite as insulting as the no project option.) We concur with the City Council's decision to openly oppose a bus-only BART extension to Livermore.
BART board members should weigh the comments of all three Tri-Valley councils and their residents carefully before making a final decision this spring.
And they must commit to a preferred project option by June 30, otherwise the newly formed Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority will make the selection.
That new authority, formed under state legislation last year, 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 recently met for the first time and 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.
The authority could take over the selection of an Isabel extension option, find funding for and build the project, and turn operations back over to BART when completed -- if there is no BART board decision come July 1.
Then again, given how BART leaders have waffled on supporting what's clearly the best project option, putting that decision in the hands of local stakeholders most impacted by the project might just be the best option.