Here is the text of a letter by Richmond Planning and Building Services Director Richard Mitchell, who also sits on the Hercules Planning Commission, to Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, advocating a northward extension of BART from downtown Richmond instead of El Cerrito Del Norte

Interdepartmental Correspondence -- Draft

Date: April 5, 2013

To: John Gioia, Supervisor, Contra Costa County

From: Richard Mitchell, Director Planning and Building Services

Subject: Proposed study to consider extending BART from Del Norte Station

Statement of the Issue:

BART Director Zakhary Mallett is proposing to commission a study to explore the feasibility of extending BART north along I-80, effectively isolating and downgrading the downtown Richmond station. This is an old concept that was evaluated and discarded during the mid-1980s and should not be revisited.

Background:

The content of the following West County Times article summarizes the views of BART's District #7 Director, Zakhary Mallett, who advocates extending BART north from the Del Norte station instead of the Richmond Station. This would be a very poor option for Richmond that is based upon outdated assumptions about development trends and population growth and ignores the unique significance of the Richmond station, which is the only one on the system that supports across-platform transfer to Capitol Corridor trains.


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"BART's new District 7 Director (Zakhary Mallett) says it's high time to revive an idea that has been kicking around for decades: Bringing BART north along the Interstate 80 corridor -- to San Pablo, Richmond Hilltop and Pinole, and perhaps Hercules and beyond. ... How to extend BART farther north had been a matter of debate. One proposed alignment would have run north from the present Richmond BART station along the Union Pacific Railroad corridor on the San Pablo Bay shore. ... Mallett says that for West Contra Costa, an alignment along I-80 is the only one that makes sense.

"In today's 21st century, the development in suburban communities follows freeways, not railroads," he said. "The freeway is where everyone goes to get in and out of town. If we want to competitively capture that market of travelers, we must be in the near vicinity of the freeway. Commuters will not inconvenience themselves by traveling an extra length (to the railroad) to access transit." ...

He said El Cerrito Del Norte is the most congested regional transfer station in the BART system. Another statistic he likes to cite: Nearly 60 percent of the ridership at El Cerrito Del Norte consists of commuters who reside north of El Cerrito and Richmond.

Analysis:

Under Mr. Mallet's plan, Richmond's modern multimodal station (BART, Amtrak, Bus and Taxi), along with its newly constructed parking structure would be downgraded to a minor 'branch line' status that would lose half of its current service. The BART system would be redirected to serve the so called "60 (percent) of Ridership that originates north of El Cerrito and Richmond." This statistic implies that commuters are coming from Contra Costa County cities and fails to account for riders who begin their commutes in Vallejo, Fairfield and Vacaville in Solano County (many of whom arrive by bus to board BART at the Del Norte station).

Surprisingly, Mr. Mallet's comments fail to acknowledge dramatic changes that have occurred in development patterns and transit use since the freeway system began reaching peak capacity (20) years ago. Mr. Mallet correctly states that " ... Development in suburban communities followed freeways, not railroads" however; he ignores the current trend toward urbanization in which new higher density development is occurring around rail transit systems, in historic downtowns and along traditional main streets.

Growth during the next (30) years will take place in urban centers located on current and future transit routes, not in low-density suburbs located along freeways. Richmond's general plan projects that 65 (percent) of the City's growth will occur as high density 'in fill' development along existing transit corridors. Richmond's multimodal downtown station is perfectly positioned to support this growth and will require a steady increase in service as this development pattern gains momentum.

Mr. Mallett is seeking support to study his proposal to reduce service at the downtown Richmond station (perhaps eliminating direct service to San Francisco or Fremont) in exchange for a promise to study construction of a new BART station at Hilltop. While it is unlikely that funds could materialize for a northern extension of BART until after tracks reach San Jose in 2020, and then allowing time for planning, environmental review, right of way acquisition, construction and testing, a northern extension is not likely to appear until after 2040, Mr. Mallett's proposal could result in the creation of a policy document that would have an adverse impact on long term resource allocation to the existing Richmond station. This is not an acceptable option for Richmond.

Projected population growth in West Contra Costa County cities beyond Richmond may not be sufficient to justify extension of the system without a significant 'buy in' from cities located in Solano County. In the interim, it would not be in Richmond's best long term interest to provide BART planners with a resolution that would support marginalizing the city's unique, high quality station.

The cumulative projected population for all of the cities and unincorporated areas located along I-80 north of Richmond will still total less than 100,000 by 2040. The cumulative population of Cities located in Solano County on I-80 will grow to 400,000 (Vallejo, Fairfield, Vacaville, American Canyon) during the same period. Projected population growth in Richmond will be equal to or greater than total growth in all of the remaining cities in West Contra Costa County.

Richmond is and will continue to be the largest city in West Contra Costa County. It is also the city that will experience the highest rate of growth between now and 2040. Any proposal to reduce service to Richmond in order to serve West County Cities located to the north is impractical because the cost to extend the line cannot be justified by projected population growth without financial support from the cities in Solano County.

City

Population -- 2010

Estimated Population -- 2030

Richmond

105,000

140,000

Pinole

18,700

22,000

Hercules

24,500

35,000

Rodeo

8,680

10,000

Tara Hills

5,500

5,500

El Sobrante

13,300

15,000

Solano County

Vallejo

117,000

150,000

Fairfield

106,100

110,000

Vacaville

93,100

105,000

American Canyon

20,000

35,000

A study is a good idea as long as it focuses on critical issues such as:

a) Identifying right of way costs, routes and engineering solutions that will connect the existing Richmond station to Contra Costa College, Hilltop Mall and beyond

b) Exploring the feasibility of diverting many of the buses that are currently dropping passengers at the Del Norte station to the Richmond station (which also offers the option of boarding Capitol Corridor trains)

c) Exploring the feasibility and cost of extending the line to Solano County, where much of the congestion on I-80 originates.

Recommended Action

Please contact representatives at BART and express opposition to any discussion that would look at reducing the downtown Richmond station to a secondary status. We support extension of BART from the Richmond station only.