SamTrans may enter an exclusive negotiation process with Facebook to try to accelerate the development of the Dumbarton corridor project, Menlo Park City Manager Alex McIntyre informed the Menlo Park City Council at its meeting Jan. 16.
SamTrans spokesman Dan Lieberman confirmed the agency is "exploring a public-private partnership to expedite Dumbarton corridor improvements."
"This caught us somewhat by surprise," Mr. McIntyre told the council. "We may or may not have anything to do with it, because it's not our jurisdiction specifically, but it is in our town. I will make it clear we have an interest in this as it progresses."
When asked what that means, Mr. McIntyre responded, "I think it means they're going to build out the train system and operate it, or somehow be the funding source for the construction and operation of the rail solution."
The topic was raised at a Jan. 4 meeting in remarks by SamTrans CEO Jim Hartnett to the SamTrans board. He was not forthcoming with details, but told the board to prepare to discuss the matter at its upcoming February meeting.
Facebook previously funded a $1.2 million study by SamTrans, the San Mateo Transit District, exploring a range of actions that could ease transbay traffic congestion along the Dumbarton corridor, both along the vehicle bridge and the now-defunct rail bridge. SamTrans adopted the findings of that study in December.
"In adopting the Dumbarton corridor plan," Mr. Hartnett told the board, "I think there was an implicit recognition that in order to bring this project forward, something different might have to occur – that we might not approach it in the typical delivery method."
"We recognized and hoped we'd attract partners or a partner to help us implement the vision laid out in the plan. And we have," he said. "Facebook came to us to have a discussion about how we might together as partners move forward with the rail corridor side of the study."
So far, he said, talks with the company have been "preliminary yet substantive."
“As you know, in January 2016 Facebook contributed $1 million toward a study to explore transportation improvements along the Dumbarton corridor,” said Facebook Corporate Communications Director, Anthony Harrison. “Since we are committed to helping reduce traffic congestion, we continue to partner with SamTrans to explore ways of improving traffic and transit options on the Dumbarton corridor.”
According to Mr. Hartnett, the next steps to move forward with the project are to complete environmental work and detailed studies of the corridor, and analyze what it would cost to improve the bridge and make transbay rail service happen.
The study recommended running buses and a rail line along the Dumbarton corridor, but at the insistence of the city of Menlo Park and possibly other stakeholders, SamTrans is also exploring the feasibility of adding a bike and pedestrian-friendly path linking the Redwood City Caltrain station to the Dumbarton Bridge.
Mr. Hartnett said that the three principles he hopes to use in his negotiations with the company are that SamTrans should prioritize "the public benefit and the public good" in building the project; that the project should be done at no risk to the district; and that the project enable the district to "maximize the value" of its assets namely, create a revenue stream for the district.
The partnership could be first of its kind in the country, he said.