Guest opinion: Relieve traffic congestion by reviving a rail line | March 20, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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Viewpoint - March 20, 2019

Guest opinion: Relieve traffic congestion by reviving a rail line

by local mayors and supervisors

As elected leaders representing the cities of Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Redwood City, and unincorporated North Fair Oaks, we are keenly focused on reducing the terrible traffic congestion we encounter every day, protecting our quality of life, and supporting a strong local economy.

This is why we are united in support of the San Mateo County Transit District's (Transit District) effort to collaborate with private-sector partners and the community to explore rebuilding the Dumbarton Rail Bridge and connecting Redwood City and Newark and the East Bay with new passenger rail service.

The Dumbarton Highway Bridge was completed in 1982. It connects Newark, Union City, Fremont, and the I-880 corridor on the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay to Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Redwood City, and the 101 corridor on the western side. Traffic congestion has grown rapidly along this corridor, and today over 60,000 vehicles travel across the bridge between Alameda and San Mateo counties each day.

The now-defunct Dumbarton Rail Bridge lies just to the south of the Dumbarton Highway Bridge. Built in 1910, the rail bridge was the first structure to span San Francisco Bay. The last freight train traveled over the bridge in 1982, and the bridge was damaged by a fire in 1992.

In 1994, the Transit District purchased the entire Dumbarton Corridor right-of-way from Redwood City to Newark, with the goal of eventually reactivating passenger train service connecting Caltrain on the Peninsula with ACE, BART and the Capitol Corridor in the East Bay to relieve regional traffic congestion.

For several decades elected officials, transportation agencies, community leaders and business interests on both sides of the bridge have studied and evaluated the feasibility and cost of creating this new rail connection in order to reduce traffic congestion and connect these growing communities and employment centers. The cost estimates always proved too high.

In August 2017, the Transit District took steps to refocus the region's attention on the burgeoning traffic problems plaguing the Dumbarton Corridor when it completed the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor Study. The study recommends implementing improvements on the Dumbarton Highway Bridge and its approaches, and also recommends moving forward with Dumbarton Rail on the unused rail bridge right-of-way.

Following the study, local and regional voters approved new funding to address traffic congestion along the Dumbarton Corridor, making the prospect of a new rail connection more viable.

Building on this momentum, the Transit District entered into a public-private partnership focused on creation of this new rail connection. The partnership allows Cross Bay Transit Partners LLC, a joint venture between the Plenary Group and Facebook, to accelerate the evaluation of the environmental, technical and financial feasibility of creating new Dumbarton Corridor rail service between downtown Redwood City and Newark through private sector investment.

If we had to wait for the traditional project development process and funding cycles, work like this could take decades. Instead, the public-private partnership will explore accelerated delivery of the rail project with the private sector.

Despite the innovative approach of this partnership model, we can assure the community that this process will follow all of the required legal and environmental requirements mandated by state and federal agencies. The Transit District will continue to serve as the lead agency, and the process will include a robust schedule of public meetings and opportunities for public comment. As the lead agency, the Transit District also ensures ongoing input from the cities and public agencies along the entire Dumbarton Corridor.

We are well aware of the community concerns and expectations associated with any future passenger train service on the Dumbarton Rail Corridor — including the need to evaluate bicycle and pedestrian access and address issues related to noise, vibration, and grade separations.

The Transit District and Cross Bay Transit Partners just completed four well-attended informational community meetings which took place in Menlo Park, Redwood City, Newark and Fremont. Future community meetings are planned, including scoping meetings at the initiation of the formal state and federal environmental analysis process that will be scheduled later in the year. We encourage everyone who is interested in this project to stay engaged in the process.

The time is now to explore how to leverage the potential of a public-private partnership in order to determine if we can accelerate the possibility of launching passenger train service on the Dumbarton Rail Corridor. Learn more by visiting crossbaytransit.com and the SamTrans web page at tinyurl.com/DumbartonCorridor.

Signed by East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier, Redwood City Mayor Ian Bain, Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller, and San Mateo County supervisors Warren Slocum and Don Horsley.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Adina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 24, 2019 at 6:35 pm

It is great to see support and leadership for the project to restore rail service on the Dumbarton corridor across the Bay!

The horrible congestion is painful for people who commute, and for people who live in the area and have to drive through the commute traffic.

Giving people convenient, competitive options to avoid driving can help alleviate the pain of congestion, for people who are commuting, and for local people impacted by the traffic.

Thanks so much to Mayors Mueller, Gauthier, and Bain, Supervisors Warren Slocum and Don Horsley, as well as SamTrans and Facebook for moving this forward.


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