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Dumbarton Rail may be sacrificed to help SJ BART, Pacheco HSR

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  • 6/15 Redwood City Daily
    Published Sunday, June 15, 2008, by the Redwood City Daily News Dumbarton rail faces financial fight Critical report questions need for project By Will Oremus
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 15, 2008
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      Published Sunday, June 15, 2008, by the Redwood City Daily News

      Dumbarton rail faces financial fight
      Critical report questions need for project

      By Will Oremus
      Daily News Staff Writer

      Already slowed by mounting costs and a looming legal tussle, a
      $600 million project to connect the East Bay to the Peninsula with
      a Caltrain rail bridge is in danger of stalling in its tracks.

      Last week came a critical Santa Clara County civil grand jury
      report titled, "Dumbarton Rail Bridge Project -- Do we need it?"
      Now the regional commission that holds its purse strings may shunt
      $91 million to a proposed extension of BART toward San Jose.

      Officially, the project is still chugging ahead, with trains
      scheduled to begin running between Newark and Menlo Park in 2012.
      Backers believe it will eventually be an essential cog in the Bay
      Area's transit network, easing the traffic and environmental problems
      created by the droves of Peninsula workers who commute from the less-
      expensive East Bay.

      But the setbacks have supporters lowering their expectations and
      critics circling like buzzards. Realistically, those involved say,
      it's shaping up to be a long haul.

      "This project, like many other big capital projects, is struggling
      to get off the ground," said Randy Rentschler of the Metropolitan
      Transportation Commission, which plans and finances regional transit
      projects.

      The reasons for the difficulty are manifold.

      They start with the price tag, which in the course of the planning
      process has doubled from the original estimate of $300 million.
      Voters approved $135 million in Dumbarton Bridge toll revenues for
      the rail project in 2004, but there's no plan to make up the gap
      that has emerged since.

      To complicate matters, the Union Pacific Railroad owns part of the
      line and doesn't appear eager to sell. Then there are residents in
      Menlo Park and other cities who are concerned about noise. Others
      aren't pleased that the service would initially be only westbound in
      the morning and eastbound in the evening, rendering it useless for
      the minority who commute in the reverse direction.

      Added to their voices are those of critics who believe there are more
      efficient ways to ease Dumbarton Bridge freeway traffic, such as an
      express bus lane or an electric light-rail system. Menlo Park City
      Council Member Heyward Robinson questions the wisdom of building
      an "old style, heavy rail" extension just as Caltrain is looking to
      electrify the rest of its line.

      Besides, he noted, traffic jams on the Dumbarton Bridge have died
      down since the project started gaining momentum in the dot-com
      era. "I think it is appropriate for everybody to step back for a
      second and ask, 'Is this the best thing we could be doing with the
      dollars we have?'"

      The anonymous, citizen-led Santa Clara County civil grand jury honed
      in on those issues in a June 4 report. It cited a study from 2004
      that estimated daily ridership on the line would be just 12,800 by
      2030.

      Calling the rail bridge's benefits "questionable," the grand jury
      urged the county's Valley Transportation Authority to reconsider its
      $44 million commitment to the project. The VTA has 90 days to craft
      an official response to the recommendations.

      The rail bridge's supporters put little stock in the report.

      Malcolm Dudley, a longtime Atherton official who has been fighting
      for a Dumbarton train since before the freeway bridge was built,
      said it would be shortsighted to cut back on funding now.

      "To talk about it as a train between Union City and this side of the
      Bay is missing the point," he said. "This is about interconnectivity
      to all rail

      systems. It's about connecting up (the Peninsula) with BART, the
      Altamont Commuter Express, the Capitol Corridor."

      Sue Lempert, the former San Mateo mayor who sits on the MTC and
      several other transportation boards, recalled that a previous civil
      grand jury in Santa Clara County blasted the rival BART-to-San Jose
      extension.

      "Grand juries change," she noted wryly.

      Liz Kniss, a Santa Clara County supervisor who chairs the VTA,
      questioned the grand jury's reliance on a 2007 study that found "low
      ridership potential" for the proposed Dumbarton line.

      "Gas prices were much lower when that study was done," she said. "In
      the last couple of months, our ridership is up, and interest in any
      kind of rail project has risen dramatically."

      Still, Kniss agrees with the grand jury that Dumbarton shouldn't be
      the county's top transit priority. Rather, it's the extension of BART
      to San Jose, a huge undertaking for which the county is exploring a
      funding measure on the November ballot.

      That can't go forward without BART first being extended to a proposed
      station in Fremont's Warm Springs district, another long-planned
      project that stands just $144 million short of its funding goal.

      Therein lies the latest threat to the Dumbarton plans.

      In a report issued Thursday, the MTC divided big regional transit
      projects into four tiers based on how close they are to being fully
      planned and funded. Warm Springs extension was in the high-priority
      second tier, along with the BART Oakland airport connector and
      Caltrain electrification.

      Dumbarton rail landed in the bottom tier, for "projects with a
      capital shortfall greater than 50 percent of total cost."

      The discrepancy led MTC staff to recommend diverting $91 million in
      Dumbarton toll money to close the gap on the Warm Springs project. In
      theory, the money would be repaid later from a separate funding pool.

      "The idea is to put the money we have into the projects that are
      ready to go right away," said Doug Kimsey, the MTC's planning
      director. "We don't want to just be holding money back waiting for
      projects to move along."

      The scheme got mixed reviews at an MTC meeting Thursday in Oakland.

      Union City Mayor Mark Green, a leader on the Dumbarton rail policy
      committee, argued losing the money would be a huge blow to the
      project, hindering negotiations with Union Pacific.

      San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said she sees the logic
      but thinks it's premature to divert funds to Warm Springs with BART-
      to-San Jose still in doubt. She also wonders whether the money would
      be repaid.

      But Warm Springs backers feel it's about time they were on the
      receiving end. They're still waiting for $145 million that was
      borrowed from their project to pay for BART's San Francisco Airport
      extension, which opened in 2004 and has fallen drastically short of
      revenue projections.

      "I think there's a history of moving money around to get these major
      public works projects built," said Alameda County Supervisor Scott
      Haggerty. "I think it will be paid back, and that will someday put
      (Dumbarton rail) in a position where it becomes the No. 1 priority."

      The MTC's board will be asked to make a decision on the plan at its
      next meeting, on July 9.

      BY THE NUMBERS

      A look at the key figures in the Dumbarton Rail Corridor plan to
      connect Caltrain to the East Bay:

      6: Number of trains that would run across the bridge daily. They
      would leave Newark in the morning, with three heading north from
      Menlo Park and three south. They would return along the same route
      in the evening.

      2012: Year construction is supposed to be complete. Delays could
      prolong that indefinitely.

      12,800: Number of people who would ride the train daily by 2030,
      according to projections from 2004. Supporters believe high gas
      prices could significantly increase that number.

      $600 million: Latest cost projection. Less than half that money is
      available, and there's no plan for where to find the rest.

      $91 million: Amount that the MTC is considering loaning from
      Dumbarton rail to help pay for an extension of BART to Fremont's Warm
      Springs district -- a step toward an eventual San Jose extension.


      E-mail Will Oremus at woremus@...


      [BATN: See also:

      SCCo. civil grand jury questions VTA's Dumbarton rail contribution
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/38710

      Shock news: 98-yr-old abandoned Dumbarton rail bridge in disrepair
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37874

      Union City recognized for TOD near BART, future Dumbarton rail
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37844

      Dumbarton Rail advisory panel to meet in Newark on Tuesday
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37822

      SMCo. bridge history: Dumbarton Bridge was first to span the Bay
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37632

      NIMBY Menlo Park to study Dumbarton rail station location
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37297

      Citing NIMBY fears, Fremont opposes Altamont HSR route
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/36159

      Union City backs Altamont HSR, while NIMBY Fremont doesn't
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/36109

      Regional Rail plan calls for Caltrain upgrades, Dumbarton rail
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/36061

      Comment: NIMBYs have nothing to fear from Dumbarton rail
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/35501

      Public invited to Dumbarton Rail Corridor scoping meetings
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/32769

      Dumbarton rail delayed till 2012 -- cost doubles in 2 years
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/32636

      Dumbarton Rail delayed to 2012; UP seeks freight train access
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/31411

      Fremont NIMBYs fight Dumbarton Rail, Union City station
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/27783

      Fremont NIMBYs gird to fight Union City station plan
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/27752

      Surprise! Fremont NIMBYs still oppose Union City rail plan
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/27731

      Dumbarton Bridge rail plan fully funded, moving ahead
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/26126

      NIMBY Fremont blasts Union City rail project study design
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/24955

      Orchestrated Fremont NIMBY crew opposes non-BART rail, again
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/24813

      Fremont anti-rail NIMBYs cite cancer in bid to block rail link
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/24571

      Dumbarton rail line ties burned on Hwy 101 bridge (13 Jun 01)
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/1837

      Dumbarton Bridge rail service plan approved (13 Jan 01)
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/340 ]
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