Can the Bay Area keep up with Seattle and Los Angeles transit network growth

This November, Seattle and Los Angeles both passed ambitious, long-term ballot measures to fund major transit improvements in the coming decades, while the Bay Area won some and lost some piecemeal measures.  Looking forward, can the Bay Area set its sights higher to envision and fund a more ambitious regional transportation network?

Seattle’s successful ST3 provides $53Billion over 25 years for 62 new miles of light rail, expanding the network by a factor of 5 (see map), plus Bus Rapid Transit and express bus services and major station access improvements.   Similarly Los Angeles’ Measure M will raise $120Billion over 40 years, including $80 billion for transit, and 8% toward bicycle and pedestrian improvements.


Meanwhile, the Bay Area won some and lost some at the ballot, at a much smaller scale.  We passed Santa Clara County’s Measure B, with $6.5Billion in sales tax over 30 years for a potpourri of transportation projects, BART Measure RR bond measure raising $3.5B over 30 years for system maintenance, and AC Transit’s Measure C1 raising $600M for bus operations over 20 years, and failed to pass a few – San Francisco Measures J & K, and Contra Costa Measure X.Looking forward, California anticipates forging ahead alone on climate, with chilly federal support as the globe warms.

For the Bay Area region, the latest PlanBayArea scenario for land use and transportation through 2040 heads steeply in the wrong direction on housing and transportation affordability, and on commute access to jobs, and moves the needle only modestly on shifting from solo driving to more space-efficient and carbon-light modes.Can the Bay Area set its sights higher? Discussions are just getting started. One idea explored in a recent MTC workshop is raising bridge tolls from $5 today to up to $8.  A toll increase would need a simple majority to pass across the 9-county Bay Area.

A toll increase of $1 would raise $127 million per year for transportation, a $2 increase would raise $254 million a year, and a $3 increase would raise $381 million annually, or $15Billion over 40 years. This would be the region’s third bridge toll measure. The first, Regional Measure 1, set a $1 toll in 1988. The tolls were raised in 2004 with the passage of RM2, and the current discussion is about a potential RM3.

This is a substantial amount of money, but substantially smaller than the Seattle and LA measures, which work out to about  $600 and $300 per person per year respectively (using today’s population). A similarly-sized measure in the Bay Area would need to raise $50 to $100 Million over 25 years given our population.

Most importantly, what would we want to do with a major, regional funding measure to upgrade our transportation system?
* San Francisco’s Subway vision, with corridors under Geary and Van Ness
* a second Transbay tube to carry more passengers across the bay?
* the Downtown Extension connecting Caltrain and High Speed Rail to the Transbay Terminal
* grade separations enabling Caltrain to run more frequently?
* a Dumbarton rail crossing?
* Additional Silicon Valley Rapid Transit connections, and where?
* Improvements to the ACE and Capitol Corridor regional lines?
* Improvements to major intermodal stations – Diridon, Great America, where else?
* More frequent and faster bus service
* Funding to backstop regional transit fare integration, to protect agencies against the fear that they’ll lose money with integrated fares?
* Highway expansions, in the ever-renewed hope that they will relieve congestion?
* Funding for comprehensive networks of protected bicycle lanes and paths?

What major steps would you take with $50-$100Billion to improve Bay Area transportation, and why?