(Or, Everything You Wanted to Know About eBART, but Were Afraid to Ask.)
Your friends here at Pittsburg Voice want you to know just what we’re all in for when the new Pittsburg Center eBART station opens at the end of 2017. So we’ve written a handy eBART primer based on information from BART, the City of Pittsburg, and articles from our very own talented journalists here at Pittsburg Voice.
Let’s begin, shall we?
What is BART?
Back in the 1970’s the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) formed a plan to blanket the San Francisco Bay Area with a rail system to shuttle people around, with big dreams and promises for generations to come that this system would make lives easier for everyone.
Plans were drawn up, contracts made, and building began on a “future-proof”, long-lasting rail system that would be able to transport thousands of people every day.
For East Contra Costa County promises were made to bring BART to these far reaches in the near future and, as residents, we gladly paid taxes for this project. For many, many years.
Expansion came slowly, and the people of East County were patient, but vocal. We wanted the BART that was promised in the grand plan of the 1970’s. And our patience paid off when, in 1996, the miracle finally happened and the aptly named Pittsburg/Bay Point station was opened in the City of Pittsburg on the border with Bay Point.
Of course, this new station proved very popular with commuters and it wasn’t long before it was utterly overwhelmed. In fact, within a few years the parking lot was routinely jammed with cars and the trains were packed with standing room only passengers unable to claim a seat.
From the early days, BART had grandiose plans for expanding the rail system to all corners of the six Bay Area counties, covering hundreds of miles with tracks. But the financial strain saw Santa Clara, San Mateo and Marin counties dropping out of the BART plan, leaving only San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties paying for continued development.
And pay, they have. Since the 1970’s the residents of, and visitors to, these counties have contributed billions of property and sales tax dollars to ensure that BART would eventually cross through their territory. Indeed, there are some who say that far more money has been raised by these taxes than is actually required for the expansion.
What’s more, BART is about to ask voters in these same three counties to approve a $3.5 billion bond (tax) measure on the 2016 November ballot. This would be in addition to a possible Contra Costa tax increase planned for “road and transit” improvements.
So, overall, as residents of East Contra Costa County we have been paying to get BART built out to our county for 45 years. And now we’re being asked to spend even more to repair, maintain, and expand it across other parts of the Bay Area. And that’s on top of the Pittsburg Measure M sales tax recently extended until 2030…
Open your wallets wider, Pittsburg residents! Open up and say ‘Aaaaarrrggghhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!’
For the past 50 years, BART’s dream was to create a one-of-a-kind rail service that would include tunnels, over-land-, subterranean-, and overhead-railways, a network that would bring throngs of riders from the suburbs to the big cities of Oakland and San Francisco, linking the far-reaches of the Bay Area to its central core cities. But BART was ultimately unable to keep its promise and for twenty years failed to expand, leaving suburban residents sweltering in their cars on the freeways during gridlocked rush hour.
Fast-forward to the early 1990’s and BART began a creeping expansion into the far East Bay, prompting residents to hope we were finally getting the BART service we’d been promised (and had been paying for) more than four decades. With much ado, BART opened the North Concord/Martinez station and the Pittsburg/Bay Point stations in 1995 and 1996, respectively.
Local residents were ecstatic. BART proudly announced that they had achieved Phase One of their long-promised East Contra Costa expansion. But like a train on the tracks at rush hour, that’s where it came to a grinding halt…
Making the Most of BART…or Not
Let’s fast-forward again by fifteen years to 2011 when the City of Pittsburg published the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART Master Plan, a 188 page document with plans to build a thriving live-work-shop Transit Village surrounding Pittsburg’s BART station. The plans included mixed-use commercial/residential buildings, medium and high density apartments, condominiums and townhouse living, parking structures, parks, and an “Urban Plaza” community gathering space.
This extremely detailed plan was grand but achievable and designed to take advantage of Pittsburg’s BART station by capitalizing on the nearby available open space. On October 17, 2011, City Councilmen Ben Johnson and Pete Longmire approved the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART Master Plan, to be overseen by then City Manager Marc Grisham. Champagne corks were popped and the celebrations began.
And then, before the bubbly had even gone flat, the grand and achievable plan was quietly but completely abandoned.
Three short months later, on January 17, 2012, Pittsburg City Council authorized a payment of $1,300,000 to BART to build an “eBART” station at Railroad Avenue. This new version of the project was to be overseen by freshly appointed City Manager Joseph Sbranti, on a motion by City Councilmen Will Casey and Pete Longmire, and sounded the death knell for the grand but achievable Pittsburg/Bay Point BART Master Plan. Without warning or explanation, the focus now shifted to building a transit village on arguably the most congested road and most difficult intersection in the whole of Pittsburg.
Sheer genius! But wait… there’s more!
Be sure to check out Part 2 of this story! There’s so much more to tell, including some surprising facts about the new eBART system that you won’t have seen coming. Stay tuned for a view of what Pittsburg has to look forward to in the coming years…
~ K. S.