SamTrans board support for Dumbarton regional integration

At last week’s SamTrans board meeting, in an update on the Dumbarton Rail project, agency staff and board members reiterated the importance of the Dumbarton rail crossing making effective connections, not only for trips directly across the Bay between Redwood City and Newark, but longer regional trips via connections to BART, ACE to the Central Valley, and Capitol Corridor to Sacramento.

In the presentation, Assistant General Manager Carter Mau reiterated that the project team, with SamTrans partnering with Facebook and transportation developer Plenary Group, had not made a decision about the type of technology to be used, and were still considering commuter rail (compatible with Caltrain and long-distance services), street-running light rail and group rapid transit (which would be slower and not directly compatible with the regional services).

Risks to state funding

The Dumbarton project update included a report that SamTrans was applying for a state TIRCP (Transit and InterCity Rail Program) grant for the project (a program that uses funds from Cap and Trade and gas tax revenues), but the staff report did not mention the amount of the grant, nor specifics of what was being applied for. This seems unusual – board presentations for this grant source that we’ve seen are typically clearer about the amount and the project. In response to questions, staff confirmed that the application was for $50Million, that the TIRCP application asks about the type of project, and the application form specifies “commuter rail.” However, the funding would be usable regardless of the sort of technology.

The potential for state and federal funding is at risk because the first-draft scoring from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s PlanBayArea analysis showed poor cost/benefit performance.  In order to qualify for state and federal funding that flows through the MTC, a project needs to be selected for the PlanBayArea regional transportation plan, which will be complete by summer. We’ve heard that one of the reasons might be that the project submission from SamTrans and C/CAG (the San Mateo County City/County Association of Governments) used the early SamTrans Dumbarton Corridor study, which was itself based on some older modeling, because the most recent studies being done in partnership with Facebook were not yet ready to share. If so, we hope that new data is available in time for the Spring revisions of the MTC’s recommendations.

Public responsibility for regional and megaregional connections

Given the likely value of the regional and megaregional connections, we would hope that SamTrans and the public agency boards that are the stewards of the public funding and public right of way are actively supporting project options that enable and don’t hamper the longer-distance connections.

And, in the interest of a well-coordinated regional transit network, we’d love to see these sorts of connectivity goals supported by a higher level of regional network planning, over and above today’s efforts to piece together a regional network from a set of locally submitted projects.