Future Connections between Oakland & San Francisco

It’s been clear for decades that another way of crossing the Bay between Oakland and San Francisco will be needed when BART runs out of peak-period transbay carrying-capacity. It is now estimated that this capacity limit will be reached before 2030. Thankfully the “Powers” have at last begun their planning. However, given the glacial pace of Bay Area infrastructure development, the needed supplemental system won’t be up and running until 2060 or later. So how, one might ask, do Central Bay Area transit leaders plan to cope during the intervening 30 or more years? If anyone knows the answer to this rather important question, he or she is keeping mum on the subject.

Turkey’s Marmaray Underwater Tunnel
Turkey’s Marmaray Underwater Tunnel

Here are a few observations designed to speed things up:

First, get rid of the highway option. Adding to transbay highway capacity would cause even more transbay traffic and is therefore a patently terrible idea.

Second, forget a rail bridge. Since elevated trains would cause major disruption on both sides of the Bay, a second subaqueous rail tube with subways extending into San Francisco and Oakland appears to be a more practical alternative.

Next cut down on the number of passenger rail options. Rumor has it that BART, MTC and the other stakeholders are privately cogitating dozens if not hundreds of different possible “solutions”. Getting all that sorted out will take an indeterminate number of years, after which it will take additional decades to plan, environmentally-clear, design, construct and start up the new transbay connection, whatever it is. For this reason the number of transbay alternatives under consideration should be reduced to between six and ten. This will take hard intensive work and some hard decisions, but it must be done and done quickly.

Trackage:  Three alternatives appear to be under discussion; namely a BART-only crossing, a conventional passenger rail crossing and a double crossing with two sets of tracks: wide gauge for BART and standard gauge for conventional trains. It’s easy to say: “do both”, but both means billions of additional construction dollars and substantially increased annual operating costs. Our preference is for the standard gauge option because it would facilitate through-service connections to Caltrain on the west side of the Bay and the Capitol Corridor trains on the east side of the Bay, and perhaps…. someday….to high-speed trains.  Needless to add, no matter which option is chosen it must include highly-efficient transfers to existing BART lines, in both Oakland and San Francisco.

Alignment:  Assuming a connection from Oakland to San Francisco, possibly with a stop in Alameda, it appears that there are two or at most three viable subway alignments in the East Bay and three or perhaps four in the West Bay.

And in the Interim? To keep the Central Bay Area in business before the new trains are up and running will require much more attention than it has received so far.  In the next issue of this Newsletter we will deal with this problem.