Regional Measure 3 Good for the Caltrain Network, better coordination needed in future

The June ballot includes Regional Measure 3, a bridge toll increase that would fund a set of valuable improvements for the Caltrain Network with connections, including (see charts below).

  • Downtown Extension to Transbay Terminal.  Extending the Caltrain tracks to Transbay would connect Caltrain to a site with 3x as many jobs nearby as the rest of the line combined, with rich transit connections.  This connection would greatly increase the value of Caltrain and the ridership of the line.
  • Design for Second Transbay Tube. A second tube could have BART, conventional rail (Caltrain/HSR) or both. Through-running Caltrain across the bay would greatly increase the capacity of the system.
  • San Jose Diridon Station improvements, adapting to serve many more passengers with Caltrain, BART, HSR, VTA, ACE, Capital Corridor
  • BART to San Jose, connecting to Caltrain at Diridon
  • Dumbarton corridor transit improvements (Bus and Rail).  SamTrans is currently studying major transit improvements, which would be critically important for the expansion of Facebook, and housing near Facebook at the base of the Dumbarton bridge. This could provide valuable regional connections to BART as well as ACE and Capitol Corridor.Downtown Extension connecting Caltrain to downtown SF

Plus, good improvements to sustainable transportation, including

  • New BART and Muni rail cars
  • Safe (Bike/Pedestrian) Routes to Transit and Bay Trail gap closures
  • Contribution to Clipper 2.0 which could be used to facilitate seamless multi-county transit connections

Thanks to everyone who advocated for these projects. The funding isn’t enough to finish any of the projects, but will help to move them along.

For these reasons, Friends of Caltrain (and our allies at San Francisco Transit Riders and TransForm) support Regional Measure 3, and your blogger plans to vote YES.

That said, the process that assembled the package of projects in the ballot measure was much less strategic than it might have been, and much less strategic than the Bay Area needs to in order to move toward a high-performing, high-ridership network of sustainable, climate-friendly transportation.

Partial connection to Transbay travel improvements

The original premise of earlier bridge toll measures was to pay for projects that would improve Bay Crossing transportation, directly benefiting the people who pay the tolls.  This measure includes good projects to improve Bay crossings, such as Transbay crossing planning, and Dumbarton Corridor funding, but also investments with tenuous, if any connection to Bay crossing, or for that matter, to a clear set of regional transportation goals and metrics.

Gaps in local input process

The process to assemble the package of investments happened very quickly, largely in Sacramento, and the process of gathering local feedback was very rushed and took into account minimal community feedback (unlike recent county ballot measures in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, and before that in Alameda County, which had more robust public and stakeholder input).

North Santa Clara County will benefit substantially from projects to improve the Dumbarton Corridor (a plurality of commuters cross Dumbarton to North County); and also will benefit from the suite of Caltrain corridor improvements and connections that will make the line more useful.   But North Santa Clara County political leaders weren’t asked for their input, and some are refraining from support due to the lack of feedback.

More menu coordination for the potluck

A community potluck needs to have enough coordination so that the menu creates a nutritious meal that is satisfying for enough of the crowd.  Everybody isn’t going to like everything, and there might be a dish like Aunt Helen’s jello salad that only she likes, but gets her participation.  

The RM3 expenditure plan provides a good enough meal for the Caltrain network that we’re supporting it. But the Bay Are will need much better coordination to craft a regional “megameasure” that could provide a major step forward toward a high-performing, high-ridership, lower-driving-miles, lower-pollution regional transportation system.

Watching the expenditures (Dumbarton and overall)

Supporters of transit and sustainable transportation on the Peninsula may observe that the $130 Million in Dumbarton Corridor funding comes after $90 million in earlier Dumbarton Corridor funding was “loaned” to the BART-San Jose project, and that loan was then forgiven by MTC despite the concerns of corridor residents, when it appeared as though the Dumbarton program was indefinitely stalled. So the proposed expenditure represents only $40 million in new funding above the earlier $90 million.

More recently, a coalition of transit, active transportation and environmental advocates banded together to prevent the repurposing of Alameda County’s Measure BB Dumbarton Corridor transit and active transportation funds, to use for a roadway expansion instead.  In response to the advocacy, Alameda County Transportation Commission sent the roadway proponents to the drawing board to craft a proposal that would align with voter intent.

With these experiences, advocates and voters who support RM3 will need to remain vigilant, if the measure passes to ensure that funds are spent as voters intend. We’ll be watching.