A map from a Bay Area Council report highlights current and future possible rail connections throughout the Bay Area and Northern California Megaregion. (Bay Area Council)

A map from a Bay Area Council report highlights current and future possible rail connections throughout the Bay Area and Northern California Megaregion. (Bay Area Council)

Rail providers back calls for second transbay crossing

BART and other regional agencies say integrated train system key to Bay Area’s future

Regional rail providers say a second transbay crossing between San Francisco and the East Bay would accelerate travel times and ease congestion, improve mobility equity for all riders and boost economic activity.

BART and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority revealed their dream map of an integrated, “megaregional” rail system for the Bay Area last week.

Called Link21, the early-stage proposal includes a comprehensive set of measures that would connect 21 Northern California counties, and ultimately aims to make rail service fast, frequent and reliable; develop a pipeline between affordable housing and jobs; and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by delivering a compelling alternative to commuting by car.

Essential to the plan is the construction of a second transbay tube between Oakland and San Francisco, a premise supported by a report released the same day from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

“A new transbay rail crossing is critical to building out a highly connected, highly efficient Bay Area and Northern California transportation network,” said Jeff Bellisario, executive director, in a statement. “Adding transbay rail capacity will also be instrumental in creating new economic opportunities for more people across the 21-county megaregion.”

Supporters of such a plan have long said a seamless transportation system will greatly benefit riders forced to endure complicated routes and burdensome travel times to move from areas where housing remains relatively affordable to job centers where the high cost of living has displaced many residents.

An example commonly used in the Link21 promotional materials is the route between Sacramento and San Francisco, said to be one of the most popular regional travel itineraries.

Currently, that trip requires transferring to BART at the Richmond Station or to a connecting bus at the Emeryville Station. With a direct rail connection made possible by the Link21 proposal, a rider could travel directly between the two metropolises, avoid a transfer and reduce road congestion on I-80.

“This program will dramatically improve how our riders get to and from the San Francisco Bay Area,” Rob Padgette, Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor said in a statement.

Construction of a second transbay crossing would be both expensive and time-consuming.

BART has already approved a $50 million contract with an infrastructure firm as well as committed $110 million towards planning the project from funds generated from voter-approved Measure RR in 2016.

Additionally, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has allocated $50 million from tax-generated funds, and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority has agreed to put $1 million annually into the project.

As for timeline, the Link 21 website says planning, project design and construction would take roughly 20 years. It estimates service could begin in 2040.

All that is contingent upon feedback from extensive public outreach and discussion possible program alternatives, according to a BART press release.

The Bay Area Council Economic Institute report estimates about 12.7 million people live in this broader mega region, many of whom have been forced to move out of San Francisco, trading affordable housing for longer commute times.

What had resulted prior to the pandemic was an overcrowded, inefficient transportation system and exceedingly congested highways and bridges.

Although the pandemic has caused public transportation ridership to plummet, the report asserts it will bounce back, and, left unabated, that pre-pandemic imbalance will make the entire region less attractive to live or work as it recovers.

“Even as the COVID pandemic has resulted in a rapid transition to more remote work, the need for robust and well-connected rail and other transit services in the coming decades will remain as the economy and population expands and grows across the megaregion,” the study said.

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