On September 24, 2020 the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) diverted $400,000,000 in Alameda County sales tax funds to the hasty, politically-inspired, Valley Link Project (VLP.)
During and before the meeting BATWG strongly urged that the proposed Valley Link Line which mostly duplicates the existing ACE line be treated with caution. For the following reasons it is much too early to be allocating $400 million in Alameda County funds to a commuter rail line benefitting primarily San Joaquin County:
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- As recently as 9.9.20, the VLP’s projected capital costs*, operating costs, ridership projections, track alignment, station locations, length of tunneling, means of propulsion (DMU versus EMU), Segment boundaries, effect of being partly on a freight rail line, degree of double-tracking and location of the temporary rail storage yard, were all very much up in the air. None of the presenters appeared very certain on any of these matters. Yet these fundamental questions were still unanswered on 9.24.20 three months after numerous Alameda County and agency officials were cajoled into submitting statements in support of the project. Even today the VLP still lacks a clear, well-organized and well-defined Conceptual Cost Estimate, a credible 2040 ridership projection, a bonafide Alternative Analysis, an Environmental Impact Statement, or even a precise location of the line.
*Two years ago BART put the cost of sending DMU’s 11.5 miles to Greenville Road at $3.1 billion. On 9.9.20, the presentation made to the Valley Link Rail Organization (VLRO) Board shows the cost of sending them all the way to North Lathrop, a distance of 41 miles as being just $2.92 billion. That would be neat trick. This alarming discrepancy casts serious doubt as to the quality of the VLP’s cost estimating process and underscores the need for a carefully-prepared Conceptual Cost Estimate before capital funds are committed (which ACTC saw fit to do on 9.24.20.) Given the scale of the VLP and its rocky start, it is essential that the project be subject to a conceptual peer review conducted by a completely independent group of construction and cost estimating experts as soon as possible.
- The VLP needs to be a collaborative effort between Alameda and San Joaquin Counties. Before the ACTC committed its County sales tax funds to the project, it should have required San Joaquin County to make the degree of its financial commitment known.
- According to the BART/Livermore EIR and Caltrans, the total amount of auto traffic on I-580 is projected to rise from the 2016 level of 200,000 vehicle trips per day by 140,000 trips a day to 340,000 vehicle trips a day by 2040. If the 41-mile Valley Link system gets all the way to North Lathrop by 2040, it is projected to attract just 33,000 boardings a day. With or without Valley Link, unless something bold and creative is done, I-580 will continue to get more congested not less congested.
- The high degree of uncertainty over the projected ridership constitutes a potentially fatal flaw that puts the rationale for the project in serious jeopardy. The transportation value and economic merit of the VLP hinges on the actual number of future train riders. Thanks to the pandemic there are likely to be major changes in commute travel patterns, many of which could be permanent. Yet the VLP ridership estimating model did not consider long-term coronavirus effects, which will include economic impacts, business location decisions, increase in work-at-home practices and permanent shifts in travel behavior. These future impacts are being intensively studied throughout the country and results are expected soon. But given the current uncertainties, now is no time to be pushing ahead based upon the results of what is almost certain to be an outdated ridership forecasting process applied to a commuter rail concept that was formulated long before COVID-19 hit.
- At least three potentially superior alternatives to VLP alternative have yet to be seriously considered, any one of which could better serve the travel needs of Livermore and the rest of the Tri-Valley than the VLP.
“There is nothing so useless
as doing efficiently that which
should not be done at all.”
- In 2018 BART was going to locate its permanent east-end storage and maintenance yard 1.9-miles north east of the east-end BART terminal. The current plan seems to be to shift the yard to a site 25 miles east of the western VLP terminal at the East Dublin BART Station, a change that would inevitably drive up future train operating and maintenance costs.
- The Alameda County Transportation Commission should have refrained from jumping at this politically-motivated pet project. For one thing there are potentially better alternatives to consider. For another, critically important facts and information are missing. For another San Joaquin County has yet to demonstrate any financial support for a project of which it would be the principle beneficiary. The ACTC should have kept its options open until all the salient facts were on the table.
References (Partial List):
Valley Link Feasibility Study
Videotaped record of the 9.9.20 VLRO Board meeting
Data from the eBART DMU operation
ACTC Memorandum dated 9.17.20
ACE’s Altamont Corridor Vision statement