Published Wednesday, July 30, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac
BART vs. Dumbarton Rail debate gets testy
Advisory panel opposes plan to lend $91 million of Dumbarton Rail
money to BART.
By Rory Brown
The dust has settled, and round one in a fight for scarce Bay
Area transit dollars goes to Dumbarton Rail supporters.
The Dumbarton Rail Policy Advisory Committee, made up of public
officials from communities and agencies that would be served by
commuter train service across a restored Dumbarton rail bridge,
voted 9-3 on July 22 to denounce a proposal to take $91 million
from the project's budget and loan it to BART to extend service
to Warm Springs. (Warm Springs is in southern Fremont, just north
of the Santa Clara County border.)
The final decision on the proposed $91 million transfer is up to
the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which is expected
to vote on the issue in September.
At the July 22 meeting, committee members' emotions ran high and
speeches ran long, as the $91 million question pitted devout BART
supporters against others who said that taking funds from Dumbarton
Rail -- even on a temporary basis -- would delay, and effectively
kill, efforts to get the estimated $600 million cross-Bay train
As proposed, six trains a day would take commuters from the East Bay
to the Peninsula via a new bridge before connecting to the Dumbarton
line through East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. The trains would hit the
Caltrain tracks in Redwood City, where three would head north toward
San Francisco, and three would head south toward San Jose. Trains
would return to the East Bay in the evening. The project was
originally slated to be built by 2012, but that timeline is looking
"If we lose the $91 million, this project is going to be dead, in my
opinion," said committee member Sue Lempert, who also represents the
cities of San Mateo County on the MTC.
The $91 million is available by means of Regional Measure 2 (RM-2),
the 2004 ballot measure that raised tolls on seven Bay Area bridges
to improve traffic flow across the Bay. Ms. Lempert, other committee
members, and 10 of the 12 public speakers at the meeting said that
funds originally intended to improve cross-Bay travel should remain
dedicated to cross-Bay projects.
"I'm not comfortable with the BART-to-Warm Springs proposal," said
committee member and Menlo Park Councilman Heyward Robinson, who
labeled BART a "black hole" that "sucks up" transit dollars. "In
general, BART is the most expensive [form of transit] as far as
dollars per passenger mile."
Others to express reservations about lending Dumbarton Rail funds
to BART included Fran Dehn, president of the Menlo Park Chamber of
Commerce; Linda Craig, a spokesperson for the League of Women Voters
of South San Mateo County; and Alex Kobayashi, a spokesperson for
state Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City.
The strong opposition to the $91 million transfer didn't sit well
with the committee's BART supporters.
"I don't see anything wrong with this exchange of funding," said BART
director and committee member Tom Blalock. He noted that extending
BART service to Warm Springs is a key step toward the bigger goal of
connecting the system to San Jose.
BART supporters stressed that Dumbarton Rail's ballooning cost (from
$300 million to $600 million in recent years), wavering ridership
projections, and need for additional right of way from the Union
Pacific Railroad, make it a longer-term project. They said plans to
extend BART to Warm Springs are set, but the project needs more funds.
"Nobody's saying that Dumbarton Rail isn't important, but Dumbarton
Rail should wait its turn," said Alameda County Supervisor and
committee member Scott Haggerty, who was visibly irked by Mr.
Robinson's description of BART as a black hole. Mr. Haggerty, who
is also an MTC board member, said that by flat-out rejecting
transferring the funds, the committee showed an unwillingness to
negotiate, and may end up losing the money with no concessions.
"This motion will go nowhere," he said of the committee's vote.
Fighting for dollars
Transit agencies and politicians often push the need to address
transit issues regionally, but Margaret Okuzumi, executive director
of the Palo Alto-based nonprofit Bay Rail Alliance, said that when
limited transit dollars are up for grabs, officials tend to push
"pet projects" rather than think on a regional level.
"There's a huge funding shortfall for transportation overall,
including public transit projects," Ms. Okuzumi said. "There's never
been a good regional decision-making process by which projects are
vetted, so it all gets very political. ... MTC is made up of these
local representatives, and they're not too eager to support someone
else's project, since they all have to protect their own projects."
[BATN: See also:
Should Warm Springs BART defund transbay Dumbarton rail?
Editorial: Don't divert Dumbarton rail funds for costly SJ BART
Comment: Push to cannibalize Dumbarton rail funds for SJ BART
Dumbarton Rail may be sacrificed to help fund Warm Springs, SJ BART
SCCo. Grand Jury advises VTA to pull Dumbarton rail funds
SCCo. Grand Jury slams VTA, San Jose BART
Grand jury raps BART linkup to San Jose
SCCo. Grand Jury report: halt SJ BART extension
SCCo. Grand Jury blasts VTA on SJ BART extension
VTA chair brushes off Grand Jury SJ BART criticisms
SCCo. Grand Jury: Halt BART to SJ, reform VTA