Bay Area's Transbay Dilemma: Second BART Tube or Second Bay Bridge?

In December, Sen. Dianne Feinstein reactivated her call for a southern crossing over the Bay while the BART Board last week began studying a second Transbay tube. The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board opines on which is preferable.

3 minute read

February 25, 2018, 11:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


San Francisco

Pikadream / Shutterstock

California's senior U.S. senator, Dianne Feinstein, and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, (D-Concord) have asked the San Francisco Bay Area's transportation agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, to consider a bridge option to provide relief for transbay travelers between the East Bay and West Bay, which includes San Francisco. Meanwhile, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District board began planning for a second transbay tube which could possibly include standard gauge tracks to carry commuter and intercity trains.

It boils down to a modal competition, as one would accommodate primarily motorists, and the other BART passengers and potentially passengers on other rail lines.

"One makes sense and the other should be tossed," opines the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle on Feb. 22.

BART is facing crush load capacity limits and its leaders are giving serious thought to a second Transbay Tube. It’s an enormous undertaking — likely the biggest infrastructure project ever in the region — but it could bring benefits in a variety of ways, not just a quicker commute ride. 

Another, older idea is making a modest comeback, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense. A long-discussed “second crossing” that calls for another car-carrying bridge connecting the east and west sides of the bay ... But it’s the wrong answer, given scarce money and changing travel needs. [Feinstein's] request for a battle plan on building such a span should be respectfully shelved.

The dream of the "southern crossing" even predates Feinstein's term as mayor of San Francisco. "In 1972, the state of California placed a proposal to build the Southern Crossing before voters in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and San Mateo counties," reported Dennis Evanosky last June for the Oakland Conduit. "Voters said 'no' by more than a three-to-one margin."

The issue takes on some political importance as voters in all nine Bay Area counties go to the polls in a just over four months to vote on Regional Measure 3, a modest toll increase of $3 on all seven state-owned toll Bridges in the Bay Area over six years. The measure "would provide $50 million for planning and preliminary engineering of a second rail tube connecting the East Bay and San Francisco," according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Feinstein and DeSaulnier want a bridge study included.

A rail tunnel(s) could also provide standard gauge rail tracks to accommodate Capitol CorridorCaltrain, or Amtrak trains. Michael Cabanatuan describes that option in his piece (posted here) in the San Francisco Chronicle last week. BART trains operate on a wide gauge track used by few, if any, other rail systems.

What was omitted in the editorial was the effect of what a second transbay crossing would have on growth and land use. It's a classic case of choosing to invest in highways or public transit. The former promotes sprawl while the latter facilitates compact growth.

Related in Planetizen: 

"Consensus is brewing that a new transbay rail line is needed to solve the problem. A big-picture vision for a second transbay BART tube (which SPUR called for in a 2009 Report), has gained traction in recent months. A second transbay rail tube — be it for BART, standard rail like Caltrain or Amtrak, high-speed rail or a combination of the three — is essential to solving the Bay Area’s transit capacity crunch."

Thursday, February 22, 2018 in San Francisco Chronicle

Aerial view of homes on green hillsides in Daly City, California.

Depopulation Patterns Get Weird

A recent ranking of “declining” cities heavily features some of the most expensive cities in the country — including New York City and a half-dozen in the San Francisco Bay Area.

April 10, 2024 - California Planning & Development Report

Aerial view of Oakland, California with bay in background

California Exodus: Population Drops Below 39 Million

Never mind the 40 million that demographers predicted the Golden State would reach by 2018. The state's population dipped below 39 million to 38.965 million last July, according to Census data released in March, the lowest since 2015.

April 11, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

A view straight down LaSalle Street, lined by high-rise buildings with an El line running horizontally over the street.

Chicago to Turn High-Rise Offices into Housing

Four commercial buildings in the Chicago Loop have been approved for redevelopment into housing in a bid to revitalize the city’s downtown post-pandemic.

April 10, 2024 - Chicago Construction News

Woman with long hair wearing Covid mask sitting on underground train station bench looking at her watch as subway train approaches in background at Hollywood/Western station in Los Angeles, California.

How California Transit Agencies are Addressing Rider Harassment

Safety and harassment are commonly cited reasons passengers, particularly women and girls, avoid public transit.

April 17 - The American Prospect

Nighttime view of wildfire in Los Angeles hills.

Significant Investments Needed to Protect LA County Residents From Climate Hazards

A new study estimates that LA County must invest billions of dollars before 2040 to protect residents from extreme heat, increasing precipitation, worsening wildfires, rising sea levels, and climate-induced public health threats.

April 17 - Los Angeles Times

Bird's eye view of oil field in New Mexico desert.

Federal Rule Raises Cost for Oil and Gas Extraction on Public Lands

An update to federal regulations raises minimum bonding to limit orphaned wells and ensure cleanup costs are covered — but it still may not be enough to mitigate the damages caused by oil and gas drilling.

April 17 - High Country News

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.