Last week, the Bay Area’s transportation planners – those with the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) and San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) – unveiled Link21, a project they call a “transformational rail improvement program that would connect BART and regional rail systems to employment opportunities and affordable housing throughout the 21-county Northern California Megaregion.”
Link21, which includes Alameda County, was once known as the New Transbay Rail Crossing. Proponents say it will include projects to “provide more services, faster connections and better access to jobs for people traveling in the Megaregion – the greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Monterey Bay area, the Sacramento area, and the northern San Joaquin Valley.
Among the projects envisioned is a New Transbay Rail Crossing from Oakland to San Francisco. The existing corridor, planners say, is one of the most congested in the country; BART trains before the COVID-19 pandemic often were overcrowded. A new crossing project would include a path for regional rail, another BART crossing or both.
Transportation planners tout the project as necessary to relieve traffic congestion in a region where the population is expected to grow to 16 million by 2050. Funding would come from BART’s Measure RR, a $3.5 billion bond measure passed by voters in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties in 2016; and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Regional Measure 3, passed by voters in Alameda and eight other counties in 2018 to finance transit improvements with an increase on tolls on seven state-owned bridges.
The plan seems ambitious and a solution to the traffic congestion in a region where commuters travel long distances to get to work from affordable communities to jobs in Silicon Valley. As planners say, getting people out of their cars and into trains will reduce pollution and shorten commutes.
Although that might be helpful for the children and grandchildren in generations to come, the proposed project is in its infancy and could takes years to develop. It will do little to ease problems now.
In the short run, it would behoove Silicon Valley and its giant tech companies to invest in building affordable housing closer to the worksites, so employees can live and work without lengthy commutes. And if that doesn’t happen naturally, the state should mandate that certain businesses be required to build housing.
In October, the Tri-Valley Anti-Poverty Collaborative held a webinar that called for more affordable housing, addressing how scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were forced to live far from their workplaces, unable to pay the costs to buy or rent housing nearby.
"That's really sad when your parents are here, and you can't even live nearby," stated the Rev. Jennifer Nelson, an Episcopal deacon, who also works as a laboratory scientist. "Something has got to be done. Please, I beg you. We cannot continue like this.”
The region also should explore whether remote working and education is a better alternative to building transportation projects that will take decades and likely be outdated by the time they are completed. Perhaps the state should invest in improving internet speeds and connections, in addition to making internet and computer equipment accessible to people of all incomes.
One thing the pandemic has shown: Working from home not only relieves congestion, but also helps clean the air, eliminates commutes and allows parents to spend more time with their children.