This Wednesday, February 25, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission expects to approve its proposed allocation of the federal stimulus money that will be made available to the Bay Area for transportation purposes. The stimulus package that was ultimately approved changed since our last post on this subject, and so MTC has accordingly made changes to its plans. What follows in this post is a more complete description of the altered proposal.
According to the most recent estimates, the Bay Area will receive approximately $490 million of transportation stimulus money, which MTC has discretion to allocate within defined categories. $340 million are FTA transit formula funds pursuant to Section 5307/5309, and $150 million are FHWA/Surface Transportation Program funds.
Of the $340 million for transit, $270 million will be allocated to operators for transit rehabilitation: AC Transit ($25.7 million), BART ($65.3 million), Caltrain ($10.3 million), Golden Gate ($9.4 million), SFMTA ($67.2 million), SamTrans ($7.9 million), VTA ($47.2 million), and $36.4 million for the smaller transit operators.
|Rendering of Coliseum BART station;
courtesy of BART.
And as for the rest of the FTA funds? MTC plans to allocate the remaining $70 million to the Oakland Airport Connector. In November 2000, Alameda County voters approved by an overwhelming 81.47% Measure B, a 1/2-percent sales tax for transportation that rejuvenated 1986 Measure B. The proceeds from 2000 Measure B were to be allocated to many projects, including highways, BART to Warm Springs, ACE improvements, and the Oakland Airport Connector: a 3.2-mile automated guideway transit system that would connect Oakland International Airport to Coliseum BART, the closest BART station; this function is currently filled by AirBART shuttle buses. The people mover, which would complete the trip between BART and the Airport in under ten minutes, is expected to increase transit share to the Airport — to about 13% (13,540 daily riders), increased from 9% in 2007 — and it could accommodate any future market growth at the Airport. And yet, while it seems like it would be a good idea to improve BART access to Oakland Airport, this particular project is in a sickly state. The cost has ballooned to $529 million, and a large funding gap remains. The project was intended to be a public/private partnership, but the private partners who might have filled the funding gap are no longer interested in pursuing the project. $288 million of public funds are allocated to the project, but $241 million more are needed. Some of that additional money might eventually be obtained from other sources: including $71 million from BART and $50 million saved from seismic retrofit of the Transbay Tube. MTC would now like to apply $70 million of FTA stimulus funds to rescue the people mover and close the funding gap.
This would be an unwise allocation of the money. We literally just got through lamenting that the State of California has yanked five years of State Transit Assistance operating funds from transit agencies; these agencies must now put fare hikes, service cuts, or a combination of the two on the table to close their own deficits. To the extent that MTC can help agencies in need, it should, by allocating the money directly for agencies to use for purposes of rehabilitation and preventive maintenance. The plan to withhold $70 million of valuable stimulus money — only to insert it into the funding pot for a project that is basically a luxury item, at a time when we can scarcely afford necessities let alone luxuries — is frivolous. In any case, we have long believed that the sensible course of action would be to at least revisit the less glamorous option of a rapid bus system with signal priority on the amply wide (6-8 total lanes) Hegenberger Road and Airport Drive. This would provide a link between BART and the Airport that is quicker and more reliable than current AirBART service, at a fraction of the cost of the proposed people mover.
The next component of the stimulus funding concerns roadway improvements. Of the $150 million of STP funds, $118 million will be applied to rehabilitation of local roads, according to the following proportions per county: Alameda ($23.8 million), Contra Costa ($17.3 million), Marin ($4.6 million), Napa ($3.1 million), San Francisco ($11 million), San Mateo ($10.7 million), Santa Clara ($25.6 million), Solano ($9.4 million), and Sonoma ($12.5 million). In addition, MTC plans to allocate money directly toward other specific road projects:
- $2.75 million of stimulus funds for safety improvements in the North Bay, including $1 million for a Class I bicycle path along Highway 29 in Yountville; $750,000 for ITS on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa; and $1 million to reconstruct a segment of McGary Road in Fairfield;
- $19 million of stimulus funds to be spent on ramp meters for the Freeway Performance Initiative: $7 million in San Mateo County, and $12 million in Santa Clara County; and
- $10 million of stimulus funds for safety improvements on a collision-prone segment of Vasco Road in Contra Costa County, near Byron and the Alameda County line.
|Cross-section of the Transbay Transit Center;
courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli.
Lastly, there is further stimulus money that might be applied toward Bay Area transportation projects, but those funds do not exist at MTC discretion; rather, those monies are awarded at the discretion of state and federal governments. Caltrans might apply stimulus money to backfill Proposition 1B. This would fund freeway projects that were formerly called to a halt during the budget crisis, including the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel, and HOV lanes for the Sunol Grade, Interstate 580 in Alameda County, Interstate 80 in Solano County, and Highway 101 in Sonoma County. $100 million of funds for Doyle Drive might come from both the State (from Caltrans, via SHOPP) and the federal government (via the National Park Service). Last, but not least, is the train box in the Transbay Transit Center, which will be the northern terminus for Caltrain DTX and California High-Speed Rail. The Transit Center is planned to include a subway station with six tracks and three island platforms; the stimulus funds would allow the station box to be excavated in the first phase when the Transit Center is constructed, where it would await the future rail extension. Although this would require more money upfront, it could save $100 million in construction costs over the timeline of the whole project. MTC originally proposed that some of the transit funds from the stimulus be applied to the train box; but according to the revised proposal, we will instead seek $195-$400 million from the stimulus high-speed rail fund. This is made possible by the the infusion of $8 billion of HSR funds into the final stimulus bill, and California’s HSR project is in a good position to receive a substantial chunk of that money.