Early Plans for Second Transbay Tube Coming Into Focus

By Jordan Rosenfeld

Almost since the first Transbay Tube opened in 1974, the Bay Area Rapid Transit District has been eyeing a second transbay crossing as the population of the Bay Area has continued to swell. It can’t come too soon, either, as transportation demand is expected to exceed supply by 2030, according to a transit study done by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Now a second tunnel is one step closer to reality, according to Nicholas Josefowitz, BART director for District 8, who is running for supervisor in San Francisco District 2. He explained that $200 million in funding has been earmarked to move the project into the preliminary analysis and design phase. Some $50 million of those funds come from Regional Measure 3, which voters passed in June, and the remaining funds come from a 2016 Measure RR BART bond.

While the funding will allow the district to do preliminary engineering, design and environmental review, it is not indicative of the total costs or time frame of actually building the tunnel, according to John Goodwin, MTC public information officer. The “scope and schedule and cost” are the goals of this preliminary phase, Goodwin said.

This doesn’t stop people from speculating, however. Thanks to a variety of studies done over the years on a proposed second crossing, Josefowitz said the estimated price tag is anywhere between $6 and $15 billion. Time estimates for completion of such a major project have also been floated out at anywhere from 2030 to 2040 but he said, “It’s a bit early is too early to stick a timeframe on it.”

What’s most important, Josefowitz said, is that the analyses are comprehensive enough to allow for a sophisticated execution of such a major project. “It’s important to work on how we can actually deliver a project of this scale in a way which doesn’t get bogged down in all the project delivery failures we’ve seen in so many of the large transportation projects across the bay.” Josefowitz cited The Transbay Transit Center and the Van Ness Avenue Bus Rapid Transit facility as examples of such failures.

After all, this project would be “the largest public works project in Bay Area history,” said John Grubb, chief operating officer of The Bay Area Council, which represents the large businesses of the Bay Area, and which has a long history with BART. The Council helped write the legislation to create BART decades ago, he said. “We’ve been working with BART ever since to help generally expand the system, which is the transportation spine of the Bay Area.” More recently, they advocated for the 2016 BART bond.

The council and several other groups are looking at sponsoring a “go big or go home mega-measure,” Grubb said, for the 2020 ballot. This infrastructure improvement plan would be “on the scale of $100 billion” which he said would be highly likely to include the funds to pay for construction of the crossing.

Though the costs to build the tunnel will be massive, Josefowitz said it will have an equally enormous economic payoff for the Bay Area. Not only would a second crossing help “get people to where they need to go faster and more reliably,” he said, it also has the potential to help bring back people forced out of the region due to traffic congestion.

Additionally, it will be a boon for construction work of all kinds. “This is the type of project where the economic benefits could provide tens of thousands of really great paying construction jobs,” Josefowitz said.

Eddie Alvarez, a representative for The Building & Construction Trades Council of Alameda County, which has already signed a project labor agreement (PLA) with BART for various stabilization projects, said the new crossing falls under that agreement. “We look forward to working with our community partners to help spur growth and transportation.”

The project might even spur the creation of a new labor force. Josefowitz said that projects of this magnitude often require more labor than is on hand, which forces a “concerted effort, over many years, of working with apprenticeships and building trades to train up the construction workforce that will be able to take on a project of this [scope].”

The next big question on everyone’s mind is the tunnel’s location. According to local published reports, the tunnel could begin in Alameda and exit in Mission Bay, paralleling the Transbay Tube, but veer to the west side of the bay rather than along Market Street. Or it could also cross between Alameda and AT&T Park.

Researchers with the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) say one answer may include the portion of the Interstate 980 known as the I-980 “trench” which is a below-grade portion of the freeway. Some are suggesting the second BART tunnel could start there to save excavation costs. From there the tunnel would turn west alongside I-880, connecting Jack London Square with Alameda Point. SPUR authors said developers could convert the rest of the thoroughfare into a new area for housing and an intercity and regional terminal.

While these and other sites are contenders, Josefowitz stressed that no one can answer the location question until after the data comes back from various analyses of ridership, land use and other questions of infrastructure.

Also, Grubb said, there is a “light controversy” over whether it should be a tunnel or a bridge, which will also influence location. The pro-bridge side of the equation is heavily influenced by U.S. Senator Feinstein, (D-Calif.), who “has a very strong point of view that it should be a bridge because she feels that cars should be part of it, too,” Grubb said. However, there is a strong anti-car contingent, as well, he explained, that does not believe planning should cater to more cars.

If it does turn out to be a bridge instead of a tunnel, Grubb said the most likely place for one is between the two major airports of the region, Oakland and San Francisco. “If you look at the roads, they were partially engineered for a bridge.”

Though the location decision “will be a very interesting fight” among stakeholders and residents, Grubb said a second tunnel is “hugely popular among residents of the Bay Area.”

A tunnel may turn out to be easier to build because of the power of tunneling machines, Grubb said, but a bridge might offer more options for location and versatility of access. “You could do a BART rail, but also include a Caltrain extension or other kind of rail,” Grubb explained.

With a toll, “you actually have a way to pay for the project, so the cost to the taxpayers is less to build a bridge, in theory,” Grubb said.

Whatever form and location the crossing takes, Josefowitz said, “This project can have deep regional implications for people that live all over the Bay Area.”

Jordan Rosenfeld is a Bay Area freelance journalist.

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