Should Warm Springs BART defund transbay Dumbarton rail?
- Published Wednesday, July 16, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac
Should $91 million for Dumbarton Rail be given to BART in East Bay?
Two key meetings on this topic are set for this week and next in
Menlo Park and Palo Alto.
By Marion Softky
Amid rising gas prices, escalating construction costs, and shrinking
budgets, the regional infighting over who should get limited transit
funds is reaching new heights.
The latest squabble could take $91 million allocated to bringing
rail service across the old Dumbarton railroad bridge by 2012, and
give it to BART for an extension from Fremont to Warm Springs near
the Alameda-Santa Clara county line.
From Warm Springs, it could take $4 to $5 billion more to get BART
to its goal in San Jose, said Jim Bigelow, chair of the Menlo Park
Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee. "BART can cost $100,000
The $91 million would come from funds provided under RM-2, the 2004
ballot measure that raised tolls on seven Bay Area bridges by $1 to
improve traffic flow across the Bay. These funds are currently
committed to the ongoing project to rebuild the Dumbarton Rail
bridge so that East Bay commuters have a new way to get to jobs on
The shift in RM-2 funds to BART was recommended by the staff of the
Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), at the instigation of
BART supporters in the East Bay and parts of Santa Clara County. The
staff suggests that Alameda County will repay the funds in 10 to 15
Now supporters of Dumbarton Rail and better transit across the Bay
are pushing back. The MTC staff is re-evaluating its recommendation,
and the full commission will take action at its meeting Sept. 10.
The MTC is the regional agency responsible for allocating funds to
transportation projects based on its regional plans.
"This (Dumbarton rail) is an important link in the regional rail
network," said Sue Lempert, representative of San Mateo County's 20
cities on MTC. "This is the most cost-effective place (in the Bay)
to put a railroad."
Two community meetings in the next week will help shape input to the
MTC decision in September. The Citizens Advisory Panel will meet
Wednesday, July 16, at 7 p.m. in the Menlo Park Senior Center, 110
Terminal Ave. in Menlo Park; the Dumbarton Rail Policy Advisory
Committee, made up of public officials from communities served by
the rail project, will meet Tuesday, July 22, at 2 p.m. in Palo Alto
City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.
While Menlo Park is conflicted about the project to restore rail
service, it wants to keep the money. Residents support better
transit, but many, particularly those who live near the old railroad,
don't want trains; they support alternatives, such as buses or light
"I'm against moving money out of the Dumbarton Corridor," said Menlo
Park Councilman Heyward Robinson, who serves on the policy advisory
committee. "When voters passed RM-2, they intended for the money to
help cross-Bay travel. That money is coming from tolls on the
The dream of passenger service across the 1914 rail bridge dates back
more than 30 years to Malcolm Dudley, then a councilman in Atherton.
Cross-Bay trains would allow East Bay passengers from the Altamont
Commute Express, Capitol Corridor, BART, and buses to connect
directly with Caltrain stations on the Peninsula.
Now, SamTrans has purchased the right of way as far as Newark, $300
million in funds have been secured, and planning is well under way
for trains to begin running by 2012.
Partial engineering, and an environmental impact report should be
complete by late 2009, and construction could start in 2010, Mr.
Initial service would consist of six round trips per day. Six morning
trains from the East Bay would travel to Redwood City, where three
would go north toward San Francisco, and three would head south to
San Jose. They would return in the evening.
"We're only talking about six trains a day. We're not talking about
trains at night," Ms Lempert said. "It won't have freight; that's
what people are worried about. The line will eventually be
Nevertheless, a host of problems still face the project, even if it
hangs on to the $91 million. The estimated cost has doubled to $600
million, and there are tricky negotiations with Union Pacific, which
still owns the right of way between Newark and Union City.
At the same time, changes in the economy may make expansion of
transit even more important. Ms. Lempert cited population growth,
the revival of Silicon Valley, and soaring gas prices. "There will
be gridlock on the Dumbarton (highway) Bridge," she said. "Getting
on and off the Dumbarton Bridge is already a problem. All this will
intensify in the coming years."
Ms. Lempert suggested the MTC might fund a rapid bus line across
the highway bridge in the interim before trains are ready to run.
Mr. Bigelow suggested the projects could be phased to allow service
to begin on schedule and postpone less critical components.
There also remains substantial opposition to reviving train service,
particularly from the communities of Lorelei Manor, Suburban Park
and North Fair Oaks that are threaded by the tracks
Hearings on the environmental impact report in 2009 will allow
opponents to push for alternatives, such as buses.
Mr. Robinson supports bus rapid transit as cheaper and potentially
better. "I'm open to whatever the best solution is," he said. "There
are not enough transit dollars to go around. We need to use the
transit dollars we have most effectively."
Santa Clara County is split, with the San Jose area committed to
BART, and northern communities more favorable to Dumbarton solutions.
This year's Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury slammed the Dumbarton
rail project and recommended that Santa Clara County withdraw.
Meanwhile, Palo Alto Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, a member of the
Dumbarton policy advisory committee and also the Valley
Transportation Authority board, blasted the proposed transfer of
funds to BART, in an opinion piece in the Palo Alto Daily News.
"BART to Warm Springs is in itself a bridge to nowhere," she wrote,
since the county can't afford the further extension to San Jose.
She called for a more regional vision, including improvements to
Anything to do with BART in the East Bay seems to be unpopular on
this side of the Bay. "I don't support expanding BART anywhere,"
said Mr. Robinson.
Ms. Lempert questioned MTC's commitment to BART. The real damage
BART is doing, she said, is to "take money away from all other
"Is it better to get people to Warm Springs? Or to get them across
Two key community meetings are planned to deal with the issue of
diverting funds from Dumbarton rail to BART. The Citizens Advisory
Panel will meet Wednesday, July 16, at 7 p.m. in the Menlo Park
Senior Center, 110 Terminal Ave. in Menlo Park; the Dumbarton Rail
Policy Advisory Committee, made up of public officials from
communities served by the rail project, will meet Tuesday, July 22,
at 2 p.m. in Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.
[BATN: See also:
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