Valley Link Political Juggernaut

Valley Link seems to be advancing quickly, once again proving that political push seldom relates to validity and cost-effectiveness.

Valley Link is a train project and….provided they make sense….BATWG normally supports train projects. In this case a new, partially single-tracked passenger rail line would extend from BART’s existing East Dublin Station eastward through the Altamont Pass to Lathrop in San Joaquin County, a distance of 40 miles. The line would be diesel-operated, cost upwards of $2 billion and require a projected $26.7 million a year to operate. Its promoters forecast that as a result of Valley Link, BART’s ridership would increase by 13,800 riders a day by 2040. Given the already jammed peak-period conditions in the central part of the BART system, even this tiny increase would not be not good news for BART riders.

          More Mobility for Everyone?

Nor would Valley Link be of much use to the unhappy auto-commuters habitually bogged down in I-580 traffic which, according to Caltrans was, as of 2016, already burdened with a staggering 214,000 trips a day through much of Livermore. That number has significantly increased since 2017 and is projected to reach at least 350,000 trips a day by 2040!

                     Managed Flow

The Valley Link promoters say their rail project would attract 28,100 riders a day by 2040. The very small number of commuters who would switch from auto to rail would have little if any discernible effect on I-580 traffic.  Given the Bay Area’s current approach to its regional transportation problems, I-580 users can look forward to increasingly oppressive I-580 backups far into the future. 

Ten miles of this proposed new rail line would require a that I-580 be widened to make room for one-track Valley Link service in the center of the freeway, a very expensive undertaking that works only if train ridership remains anemic.  

The original reason for extending the train service eastward from the Dublin BART Station was to provide better access to BART for the residents of Livermore. But Valley Link does not reduce the time it currently takes most Livermore residents to reach BART. That’s because Valley Link was conceived to serve a different constituency and meet other objectives. Those who would benefit from Valley Link appear to be primarily the residents of San Joaquin County who have never paid into BART, and the owners of certain strategically-located properties at the northeast end of Livermore.

And all that would be ok, if the people promoting the project were willing to pay for it. But that’s not at all what seems to be the plan. Despite the fact that Valley Link wouldn’t do much for the Tri-Valley area its promoters are gearing up to raise most or all of the necessary funding from the nine Bay Area Counties, which do not include San Joaquin County. As presented to the BART Board on September 26, 2019 the Valley Link Group wants to:

Divert $400 million in Alameda County Measure BB funds set aside to improve Livermore’s access to BART

Divert $100 million of MTC’s RM3 money

Divert $15 million of MTC’s RM1 money

Divert $73 million in MTC’s AB1171 money

Secure a $600 million allocation from the proposed $100 billion Faster Bay Area plan.

This emphasis on inner Bay Area funding sources is inappropriate and needs to change.

And while they’re at it, the promoters of Valley Link should take a second look at both the transportation benefits that would be derived from their $2 billion expenditure and at alternative ways of effectively addressing the dwindling mobility of Alameda County.

One possibility would be to gradually speed up and streamline the now slow- moving ACE trains that travel between Stockton and the South Bay…thereby giving freeway users an attractive alternative for getting between the Tri-Valley and northern part of the San Joaquin Valley to Silicon Valley. Another would be to phase in well-appointed buses traveling in bus-only lanes during peak commute hours that could move people comfortably between points not accessible by rail. Trains can’t go everywhere.