With a plan to run Caltrain service between the Peninsula and the East Bay over the Dumbarton rail bridge stuck in limbo, $5.5 million originally dedicated to the rail project could go to expanded bus operations in the area instead.
In the works for decades, the Dumbarton rail bridge has been repeatedly stalled due to funding shortfalls. About $300 million has been identified for the project, but it still remains well short of its $700 million to $800 million price tag.
The Dumbarton rail bridge, which lies south of the Dumbarton car bridge, was formerly owned by Southern Pacific but hasn’t been used by trains since the 1980s.
An environmental study on the Dumbarton Rail Project is scheduled to be completed in 2013, but with the plan going nowhere fast, regional transportation officials are recommending halting $5.5 million in bridge toll funding that was supposed to go toward the undertaking this year.
Instead, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s lead transportation planning agency, has proposed that the money be allocated to AC Transit for expanded bus service on the Dumbarton Bridge.
Currently, AC Transit’s services connect commuters to BART, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Union City Transit stops. Increasing the service on the bridge would bring more commuters to transit, according to the MTC. SamTrans does not run service across the bridge.
On Wednesday, an MTC committee approved a measure to hold a hearing on the funding reallocation. The San Mateo County Transportation Authority, which controls funding for Caltrain, still needs to vote on the reallocation at its Jan. 5 meeting. If the authority approves the measure, then a hearing date will be set, at which time the funding transfer could be finalized.
If the funding is stripped from the project, it won’t be the first time. In 2009, $91 million was redirected from Dumbarton rail to BART for its Warm Springs Extension project.
Jerry Cauthen, a Bay Area transit advocate, said the MTC is playing a dangerous game by not investing in the Dumbarton rail project.
With the regional population projected to boom in the next 25 years, BART alone will not be able to handle the cross-Bay travel expected for the Bay Area, said Cauthen. Train service on the Dumbarton rail bridge could prove vital to easing traffic congestion on Bay Area highways and overcrowding on BART trains, said Cauthen.
"The problem with the MTC is they only think of things one year at a time and not for the future," Cauthen said.
This story was corrected on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011. It originally said the MTC committee approved the funding reallocation. It has been corrected to say the MTC committee approved a measure to hold a hearing on the funding reallocation.