The $1.8 billion Valley Link project faces a tough road ahead to get enough financing.
As envisioned, Valley Link would connect the East Dublin/Pleasanton BART station to a future Isabel Avenue station in Livermore, to an Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) station off Greenville Road, and, eventually, to stations in San Joaquin County.
Part of the Alameda County portion is located in the Tri-Valley. It’s the costliest segment because so much work has to be done on Interstate 580 to accommodate the tracks. That portion will cost $1.2 billion. Adding in more than $300 million to take the tracks over to Greenville Road in the Alameda County portion of the project, the total swells to $1.53 to $1.58 billion.
That figure is expected to grow annually by 3.2%, according to Valley Link documents. The San Joaquin County portion is priced at about $300 million to $350 million.
In lining up the dollars that will pay for the Alameda County portion of Valley Link, Executive Director Michael Tree counts the $400 million that BART was going to use as in the “highly likely” category to go to Valley Link as part of the $1.58 billion. Valley Link already has applied to the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC), for the $400 million, and will explain details soon to ACTC so the regional agency can make its decision.
Money earmarked for BART from Alameda County Measure BB is no longer available to BART, since its board in 2017 voted against building the extension. Since it won’t do the project, it won’t get the money.
A couple of other pots of money are in the “highly likely” category, Tree said. There is a request to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) for $188 million of bridge toll revenue from Regional Measures 1, 2, and 3. And Livermore promised $40 million for the Isabel station under the old BART extension plan, which could be reallocated to Valley Link.
“I’m sure Livermore would like to spend money on station improvements for Valley Link,” said Tree.
If Valley Link gets approval on all of the “highly likely” amounts, it then will have seed money — $628 million — to work with federal and state agencies to try to get more, Tree said. But it will still be hard to close the funding gap.
One proposal, called Faster Bay Area, is trying to raise $100 billion through a new 40-year sales tax to fund transportation corridor projects throughout the Bay Area. The Faster Bay Area coalition is made up of the Silicon Valley Leadership Council, the Bay Area Council, and SPUR, a longtime San Francisco planning agency.
Faster Bay Area’s goal is to put the sales tax on the November 2020 ballot in as many of the nine Bay Area counties as possible.
Tree said he is supportive of the sales tax, but it still has a long way to go.
There might have to be special legislation connected to it, because some local taxing jurisdictions have already maxed out their legally-permitted ceilings on taxation. Any special legislation would have to pass both houses by a two-thirds vote, before it could go to the ballot. There are 45 days left for it to get the Legislature’s approval in time to put it on next November’s ballot, Tree said.
Faster Bay Area got the idea of a big ticket sales tax from Los Angeles, which is planning 28 projects by 2028, in time for hosting the summer Olympics. Seattle has also had several regional taxes, which have been well-supported.
Tax control organizations are aware of the regional tax proposal. Although there no longer is an Alameda County Taxpayers Association, Jack Weir, who heads the Contra Costa County Taxpayers Association, says the organization keeps an eye out for all Alameda County taxpayers.
The Contra Costa group opposes the 1% tax raise “because there is no real cogent transportation plan. They seem to want to fund kitchen sink projects,” Weir said.
It’s a problem especially for Contra Costa and the North Bay, because most of the commuters come from those areas, he added.
“MTC was created by the Legislature, and they do a good job of raising money, but they don’t do a good job supporting effective transportation,” Weir said. “They have raised billions in taxes, and the traffic congestion is worse.
“Transit use is less than 10%. You have to look at where people live and work. People look for affordable housing, and have to lengthen their commutes.”
Silicon Valley and San Francisco expect the East Bay to bear the brunt of their housing needs. They get the property tax advantages from building highly-assessed office buildings, while the East Bay has to make do with low assessments from residential units that consume tax dollars instead of generating more money to pay for services, Weir said.
John Goodwin, public information officer at MTC, said that “the push now is from the West Bay to the East Bay, because there is less room (in the West Bay). But other areas of the state are also going through this. Taxation is part of it. Cities want high revenue development, and residential doesn’t bring that.”
About the job MTC is doing in promoting better corridors, Goodwin said that the money is not so abundant, if one takes into account MTC obligations to maintain what already is here. Some of the historical corridors are 150 years old, such as El Camino Real (Highway 101) and the Cal Train corridor from San Francisco to San Jose.
Another objection to Valley Link is that it is encouraging more sprawl by perpetuating the pattern of creating longer commutes from the Bay Area, which environmentalist opponents say will contribute to creation of more, not less, greenhouse gasses. Valley Link would extend commuting as a stimulus for more urban development in San Joaquin County, according to a letter to Valley Link from two Sierra Club officials.
Instead, more housing should be built closer to where people work, said the letter writers, Eric Parfrey, a retired planner who lives in Stockton, which is in San Joaquin County, and Matt Williams, who was a member of the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency.
To strike a better balance between jobs and housing, corporations should move to areas with affordable housing, they said.
Parfrey and Williams contend that extending Valley Link to San Joaquin County could violate a 2006 state law preserving open space, both in communities and in agriculture.
Tree said that the congestion problem is already here and needs to be remedied. He noted that if nothing is done, by 2040, there will be 75% more traffic, including 58% more trucks on Interstate 580. “The comment I hear most is that we should have done this years ago,” he said.
Tree praised Supervisor Scott Haggerty, President of the Valley Link board, for his energetic leadership helping to create the agency as a way of linking to BART. “Scott has been extremely active with MTC to fill the funding gap. He wants to make sure MTC includes it in the Faster Bay Area (sales tax proposal” said Tree.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that Faster Bay Area will move, and be successful, but Scott is taking nothing for granted. I’ve witnessed him being engaged on this,” Tree said.