Future of East Bay transit-bike-ped funds grab for roadway uncertain – project sent to Union City for rethink

With many commissioners expressing serious doubts, the Alameda County Transportation Commission handed the East West Connector roadway expansion project to Union City not just to update the costs on the current plan, but to “re-think.”

In public comment, more than a dozen speakers unanimously opposed the project in its current form as a major roadway expansion with features that could worsen safety for bicycling and walking, without provisions that would speed up express buses.  Commissioners acknowledged getting many letters from civic participants, the vast majority in opposition, including from some opponents with a history of litigation on issues relating to environmental impact and ballot measure compliance.

Rather than a direction for “deferred build”, with a presumption that the Commission will seek to divert Measure BB transit/bike/ped funding for the major roadway expansion, ACTC gave Union City $2.5 million and a deadline of June, 2020 for:

  • Design review, to update the cost and assess feasibility, including the costs of property acquisition; three railway grade separations including the first-ever BART electric third rail shoofly; and construction in a former superfund site with risks of contaminating the aquifer used for drinking water
  • Redo the over-10-year-old traffic study and assess how much of the EIR needs updating
  • Meet with transit/bike/pedestrian groups to ensure that the project supports transit, cycling and walking

This is a tall order for Union City, and a test that will be difficult to pass.

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Also, Commissioner Scott Haggerty made a suggestion to study a Decoto alignment for Dumbarton Rail, and this proposal will come back to ACTC for consideration.

For the first time, eight months after the SamTrans Dumbarton Corridor study was published last August, with robust proposals to improve carpool, bus, and rail on the Dumbarton Corridor from East to West, Mayor Dutra-Vernaci of Union City recommended that the Dumbarton Corridor study be brought to ACTC for review.

Previous to the 3/22 ACTC decision, Union City staff said that they were open to considering bike safety improvements and explicit features to speed up transit, but were unwilling to commit because that would require opening the EIR. Now the door is open to doing these things.

For advocates of transit, bicycling and walking, who want to see improvements that will address congestion by taking cars off the road, there will be opportunities to participate to increase the likelihood of a good outcome:

  • Participating in community outreach with transit, bike and pedestrian groups as directed by the commission, and encouraging up-to-date bike safety standards and explicit provisions for transit improvements such as bus lanes, queue jumps, transit signal priority and more
  • Paying attention to the update of the Environmental Impact Report, and encouraging the use of the new “Vehicle Miles Traveled” standard
  • Proposing concepts for a smaller project that would connect the street grid around the station while greatly reducing the most costly and risky segments of the project

And importantly, advocates will have an opportunity to watch closely, and speak up loudly if the project proposed in 2020 still contradicts the will of voters for the 2014 Measure BB, who voted for “better bikes, BART and buses.”

If Union City comes back in June, 2020 with a project proposal that costs more than the $57 million allotted from Measure BB for the city’s local roadway use, and the proposal continued to be different from the Measure BB funding categories, the Commission would need to invoke high-hurdle provisions, including public outreach to all jurisdictions and agencies, and a 2/3 supermajority vote to approve funding diversion from other categories. That will be an opportunity to communicate forcefully to a Commission that yesterday was skeptical about diverting funds from the direction that voters chose in 2014.

Thanks to everyone who spoke up in person and in writing.