This past year BART has been working its way through the environmental review process for the planned extension to Livermore. The goals of this process were to select a preferred alignment alternative from among the many considered and to preserve necessary right-of-way. A draft Program Environmental Impact Report was released last fall, which provided preliminary discussion about a slew of potential alternatives for extending BART east of its Dublin/Pleasanton terminus. An additional alignment, Alternative 2B, emerged from the public comment that was provided on the draft document. This spring, the Livermore Planning Commission, Livermore City Council, and Tri-Valley Regional Rail Policy Working Group unanimously endorsed Alignment 2B, which is a hybrid of other alternatives included in the document. In particular, it combines the two station sites from Alternative 2A with Alternative 3’s Portola Avenue subway.
This morning, the BART Board of Directors unanimously supported Alternative 2B as the preferred alignment and certified the the Program EIR. Although BART to Livermore has been discussed as a possibility for decades, today’s vote puts the project closer than ever to being a reality. Still, a great deal of difficult work remains, not the least of which is funding.
Alternative 2B is an 11.3-mile extension, projected to attract (for whatever the number is worth) 31,900 riders. Not surprisingly, then, it is also identified as the “environmentally superior” alternative in terms of air quality and reducing vehicle miles traveled, particularly in the congested Interstate 580 corridor. It includes two stations: one in downtown Livermore, and another at Vasco Road. Here is a map of the alignment (click here for a larger PDF):
Under Alternative 2B, tracks would be extended east of BART’s current Dublin/Pleasanton terminus along the median of Interstate 580, and then would go into a trench at the Isabel interchange. There would be a cut-and-cover subway under Portola Avenue and Junction Avenue, with a new subway station in downtown Livermore, as in Alternative 3. East of downtown, the tracks would resurface and basically follow the Alternative 2A alignment parallel to the Union Pacific right-of-way, heading toward a surface Vasco Road station to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Both the downtown and Vasco Road stations connect to existing ACE stations, and could facilitate an intermodal transfer with upgraded intercity rail in the Altamont corridor. A yard and shop would also be constructed east of Vasco Road.
This alignment is notable for breaking the historic pattern of confining the BART right-of-way to freeway medians. Although Alternative 2B does include several miles of running in the freeway median, the decision to turn the tracks south of the freeway towards downtown demonstrates an evolving understanding of the role BART could and should play in the region. Rather than simply choosing the path of least resistance along the freeway to shorten suburban commutes, Alternative 2B strives to extract more long-term value from an expensive project. Alternative 2B could more satisfactorily accommodate transit-oriented development — including the 11,550 housing units that would have to be planned near extension station areas — without disturbing Livermore’s urban growth boundary. Station sitings near downtown and the laboratory are perhaps the most natural choices, in that they give riders easy access to local destinations and convenient transfer points to intercity rail.
Of course, none of that comes cheaply, and Alternative 2B would be the most expensive of the bunch. Preliminary estimates peg the cost at $3.83 billion. It is a hefty chunk of change to extend heavy rail to a suburb with less than 100,000 people — although the Altamont connection would also put Central Valley riders within one transfer of many Bay Area destinations. It will take a lot of time and effort to secure the diverse portfolio of funding needed to construct the extension. $95 million is available to preserve right-of-way in this corridor, but many other sources will also have to be considered — including federal New Starts, potential revenue from high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 580, and future re-authorization of Alameda County’s Measure B sales tax.