Article from Moving People, Nov., 1996. Index.

Room for Growth on Bay Bridge


The Regional Alliance for Transit, (RAFT)the Bay Area group organized to save San Francisco's Transbay Terminal, has developed the following position paper on Caltrans' proposal to rebuild the Bay Bridge. MTS, which is reactivating its East Bay Chapter (see below), has published this paper as a service to Bay Area members.

Position Paper Summary

The Bay Bridge is one of several structures that provide access between the East Bay and San Francisco in the Bay Bridge Corridor. Other facilities include BART, bus and ferry facilities. All of the structures in the corridor require seismic retrofitting; therefore the region requires a Corridor Seismic Project. RAFT proposes the following program to seismically retrofit the works and structures in the Bay Bridge Corridor:

* Rebuilding of the eastern end of the Bay Bridge, provided the environmental impacts would be less than a retrofit of the existing structure. (This project alone is estimated at about $1.2 billion).

* Provision for dedicated bus lanes, which could later be converted to rail service, on the rebuilt bridge.

* $50 million for BART to retrofit the most crucial, central East Bay portions of its aerial structures to ensure service after an earthquake.

* $35 million for new ferries and ferry terminal facilities, including new services for Berkeley and Martinez; $15 million for new Transbay buses.

* $100 million for rebuilding of the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco should an independent analysis conclude that the structure is seismically deficient.

* Operating support of about $20 million annually, from bridge tolls, equally divided among BART, Transbay buses and Ferries.

These projects would be integral parts of the total Bay Bridge rebuilding effort and would be funded as one integrated project, largely from increased bridge tolls. The transit components combined would cost only about 15 to 20 percent of the cost of the bridge rebuild, quite economical considering that more than one third of total passenger traffic in the Bay Bridge corridor uses transit.

RAFT further believes that bridge tolls should be based on market demand, and therefore congestion pricing is the most appropriate and most progressive method to raise revenues necessary for this project. A four dollar peak period toll and a two dollar off-peak toll would be reasonable tariffs.

Finally, RAFT believes that Caltrans calls for wide shoulders and a new toll plaza are overkill and would add tens of millions of dollars to the project unnecessarily. These concepts should be rejected.

Full text of the Position Paper on the Rebuilding of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge by the Regional Alliance for Transit, March 1997 follows:

Overview and Introduction

The Regional Alliance for Transit (RAFT) fully supports the seismic upgrading of the Bay Bridge. RAFT conditionally supports the replacement of the bridge with a new structure provided the environmental consequences of the construction of a new bridge are less than would be experienced with seismic retrofit of the existing structure.

RAFT believes that any seismic rehabilitation project for the Bay Bridge should be a seismic project for the entire multi-modal corridor, and not just for the Bridge. Therefore, we would insist that the project encompass the following elements:

Rebuilding/retrofitting of the Bay Bridge, with the inclusion of bus/rail lanes.

Adequate capital facilities and seismic upgrades for transit including exclusive bus- only lanes on the new structure, rebuilding the Transbay Terminal ($100 million), BART seismic work in Oakland/Berkeley ($50 million), ferry terminals ($10 million), and vessels and vehicles ($40 million), for a total of about $200 million, or about 14 percent of the currently anticipated cost of rebuilding the Bridge.

Adequate Operating Support for Transbay Bus, Rail, and Ferry Service ($7 million annually, each, for bus, BART, and Ferries).


Most Bay Area residents agree that the seismic retrofitting of the Bay Bridge is an important priority and should be funded. Most Bay Area residents also agree it is reasonable to assume that even with an equitable gas tax contribution, tolls will still have to be increased to fund the project.

The current legislative proposals to rebuild the Bridge focus on limiting the toll increase, both in amount and in duration, above all else. This desire cannot be allowed to break 60 years of toll policy for the Bridge. The Bay Bridge has always been a multi-modal facility, and its tolls have always provided for multi-modal projects. The original tolls paid for the Bridge, the tracks on the lower deck, and the Transbay Terminal. Subsequent tolls paid for other bridges, for the BART tube, and for transit capital improvements (such as BART and AC Transit vehicles) increasing capacity in the Bridge Corridor.

Bridge Corridor Seismic Project

"There is nothing we can do to make it earthquake proof" James van Loben Sels on the Bay Bridge Rebuilding, February 13, 1997.

We agree. RAFT is pleased that Caltrans Director van Loben Sels pointed out the obvious -- man has only limited ability to control nature. The Bay Bridge project is quite simply, hedging our bets. The objective of the project is to protect the users of the bridge from a collapse, but the project cannot guarantee against some structural failure.

Four times in the last 100 years Californians have endured substantial earthquakes -- in the Great Earthquake of 1906, and more recently in the 1971 San Fernando (Sylmar) earthquake, in the 1989 Loma Prieta event and then three years ago with the Northridge earthquake. While the '89 and '94 quakes were large, they were not the largest seismic events possible or predicted. And yet in both of these events the affected areas experienced substantial destruction, especially to state highway facilities. We should expect that the Bay Bridge, sandwiched between two major and powerful faults, will fail, even if rebuilt. We should also plan for this failure.

In both the '89 and the '94 earthquakes, transit services provided lifeline services in corridors where highway facilities were damaged: BART and ferry services in the Bay Bridge corridor in 1989 and commuter rail services in the I-5 corridor in southern California. Without these back-up transit facilities, the economic devastation of the earthquakes would have been much greater. Without BART's Transbay rail service, how would downtown San Francisco have functioned for October and November, 1989? What would have been the fallout in Santa Clarita if a two lane road was the only link to Los Angeles for 150,000 people?

And yet, the current Bay Bridge rebuilding project makes no consideration for strengthening Transbay transit works and facilities. It must. Even if the rebuilt bridge were to survive a large earthquake, bridge approaches could still fail, especially the toll plaza and I-80 in Emeryville and Berkeley, which are both subject to liquefaction. The region needs to be prepared. We propose the following list of ancillary Transbay transit projects that must be included at a minimum with any Bay Bridge reconstruction project:

1. As an integral part of this project, provide BART with $50 million to seismically reinforce structures in the following priority:

1. The Transbay Tube.

2. BART aerial structures between 12th Street Station and the east portal of the Transbay Tube.

3. BART aerial structures between MacArthur Station and Ashby Station.

4. BART aerial structures between Lake Merritt Station and Coliseum Station.

5. Any other BART aerial structures.

Justification: BART's current aerial structures are not built to meet modern seismic standards. Public policy must regard these structures as vital -- should the bridge or bridge approaches fail, BART will be a crucial link across the bay. In October 1989, when the Bay Bridge was closed and its 250,000 vehicle trips were diverted elsewhere, BART's Transbay patronage ballooned to 225,000 on some days, 120,000 more than normal. The system must be available again.

2. Provide funding to rebuild Transbay Terminal under these conditions:

1. An independent engineering evaluation concludes that the terminal and its approaches are seismically deficient.

2. The same evaluation determines that it is less expensive to build a new terminal than to retrofit the existing facility.

3. The independent engineering evaluation shall be conducted by either a University of California entity or by a private engineering firm that has not contracted with a state or California local agency in the past five years.

4. Any new terminal shall be built, at a minimum, to the same load, stress factors, grades, radii and capacity as the existing terminal.

5. Funding from tolls shall not exceed $100 million.

Justification: The Transbay Terminal is a vital piece of the Bay Bridge and always has been. RAFT believes that should an engineering study conclude it needs to be rebuilt, the appropriate funding source is bridge tolls.

3. Fully fund MTC's Regional Ferry Plan.

In 1992, MTC adopted a Regional Ferry Plan. While much of the plan has been implemented, crucial elements have not been funded. Essentially, MTC has used all of the Prop 116 monies available to implement some of the recommendations, but once the money ran out, MTC went on to other projects. RAFT proposes the following funding for ferry projects:

1. $10 million for: Berkeley (Gilman Street) and Martinez ferry terminals (first priority), San Francisco ferry terminal improvements (second priority), Oakland, Alameda and Vallejo ferry terminal improvements (third priority)

2. $25 million for:Ferry vessels for Berkeley and Martinez (first priority), Alameda (second priority), and Vallejo (third priority).

Justification: Ferry service was a vital link in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and will again be vital in the event of a major seismic event and must be funded from this project. MTC-adopted policy clearly states that ferry terminals must be built in Berkeley and Martinez and should be upgraded in San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda and Vallejo to be available in the event of another bridge failure. During the 1989 bridge closure, East Bay ferries carried more than 4,000 daily peak period trips -- the equivalent of about one bridge lane -- and 40,000 passengers daily. This service must be available again -- the most logical source of funding for the program is through bridge tolls.

Bridge Corridor Transport Needs

This position paper argues for an overall approach to the seismic work required in the Bay Bridge Corridor. RAFT believes that a seismic project would not be complete without adequate funding of the seismic work required for other modes -- BART, ferries and Transbay buses.

Another aspect of the project is the overall transportation efficiency of the corridor. Already, Caltrans, to its great credit, has discussed aesthetic issues and the options for a bicycle lane. We believe the issues should be broadened from bikes and views to autos and buses -- what mix of vehicles do we want crossing the bay?

The Bay Bridge Corridor is in crisis. The total number of transit trips is almost exactly the same as in 1939, yet travel has grown significantly. Clearly transit mode share, especially during off-peak periods, has fallen significantly. Transit is not effectively competing. In addition, funds are limited, making every transit investment decision crucial.

The current operation of the Bay Bridge meters traffic onto the bridge to best use the bridge's capacity -- but that also means that all traffic is slow across the span, especially in peak periods. While the carpool and transit by-pass lanes encourage some transit use, once past the queue, transit is subjected to the same speed as all other vehicles.

RAFT has historically supported the reestablishment of interurban rail service on the Bay Bridge. We continue to do so. We expect that a new structure will be built to accommodate a dedicated rail line in each direction; RAFT would support the use of such a facility as a bus-only lane (consistent with state law) as a temporary measure until full rail service is reestablished. Operation of such a lane would greatly increase bus speeds across the eastern span, which are typically slowest in the morning.

It would not take a lane away, but would add to the system already in place.

Even with the time advantage of a dedicated bus lane, there is still no funding source for Transbay transit service that falls onto those people who benefit most -- bridge users. Transbay bus service is chronically underfunded, and both BART and ferry service need more money. As part of the bridge toll increase, during the life of the project Transbay bus service, BART and ferries should all be provided with adequate operating funding. During the construction of a new eastern span, there will be lane closures and disruptions at times (especially when the ends of the new bridge are tied in with the existing structures and systems). While transit alternatives will be especially useful at those times, they will nevertheless be required during the entire life of the project. The public is also aware that an adequate Transbay bus fleet serves as an important back-up to BART -- BART's December 1996 tube breakdown being only the most recent example.

In addition, buses should be purchased that will be available both during and after the project -- they should be attractive, high capacity vehicles. About 35 vehicles would represent an initial order.

Finally, Caltrans staff proposes eight-foot shoulders on the new bridge and has suggested a new toll plaza. While RAFT understands the state's desire to ensure a high level of operation and reliability, this is overkill. Four-foot shoulders should be adequate, and would be a great improvement over the current bridge, which has no shoulders. And we see no valid reason to construct a new toll plaza when the existing facility was recently rebuilt, especially considering the environmental degradation that could occur with new bay-fill.

RAFT proposes the following Transpor-tation Corridor Program for the Bay Bridge:

1. $7 million each annually to BART, Transbay buses, and ferries ($21 million total) for continuing operation. This money would be used to improve Transbay transit services.

2. $15 million for the purchase of 35 high capacity buses to be used in the Transbay Corridor.

Financing and Tolls

The rebuilding of the Bay Bridge is a massive project. It clearly dwarfs the modest transit proposals that RAFT proposes in this paper. And it clearly requires sources of revenue that outstrip traditional taxes and grants. The Bay Bridge Corridor Project requires increased tolls.

It should be noted that when the Bridge first opened in 1936 the round trip toll was $1.30 -- equal to almost $14 at today's income level. The current toll is a mere seven percent of its original value. If the original toll had been set at a level comparable to today's (about ten cents) there would have been severe congestion when the bridge opened in 1936. High tolls controlled congestion, and a higher toll can do the same today. The triumph of capitalism occurred because our economic system rations limited resources through market means -- except in the socialized transportation arena. Here there is no rationing mechanism and therefore no limits to demand.

Tolls must be increased to pay for the seismic improvements necessary in the Bay Bridge Corridor, but they should also reflect the wisdom of the market. People traveling at peak hours should pay more for that capacity, just as peak period telephone users do. The alternative, a flat increase in tolls spread across all time periods, essentially subsidizes the most wealthy individuals who drive at the peak times at the expense of the poorer citizens who tend to use the corridor in the off-peak periods. Single occupant commuters using the Bay Bridge during commute hours earn an average of almost $70,000 annually. Charging them more to use the bridge is not only sound economic policy (since it rations a limited resource -- bridge capacity -- through market means) it is also good social policy (since transit users and off-peak drivers, who earn far less, would be the main beneficiaries). RAFT believes that a $4 peak period toll combined with a $2 non-peak toll is an equitable and viable method of shortening the payback period for these necessary projects.

A Package for the Public

Bay Area residents understand that the Bay Bridge Corridor must be seismically strengthened. But the corridor is more than just the bridge -- while the bridge carries 280,000 vehicles daily, BART carries about 130,000 passengers daily Transbay, Transbay buses carry 10,000 passengers daily, and ferries carry about 2,000 passengers daily. Transit users of the corridor represent about one third of the total market daily, and half of the peak period market.

This is a multi-modal corridor and requires a multi-modal approach to seismic upgrades. It therefore requires a significant contribution to transit, a financial contribution that should approximate transit's share of the market. RAFT proposes the following projects, a combination of the two principles outlined in this position paper: Corridor Seismic Upgrades and Corridor Transportation Projects. The program includes:

* Rebuilding of the Bay Bridge, including dedicated bus/rail lanes.

* Adequate Operating Support for Transbay Bus, Rail, and Ferry Service ($7 million annually, each, for bus, BART, and Ferries).

* Adequate capital facilities and seismic upgradings for transit including rebuilding the Transbay Terminal ($100 million), BART seismic work in Oakland/Berkeley ($50 million), ferry terminals ($10 million), and vessels and vehicles ($40 million), for a total of about $200 million, or about 14 percent of the currently anticipated cost of rebuilding the Bridge.

This is a modest program -- it takes the currently conceived Bay Bridge reconstruction from a 100 percent highway project to an 80/20 highway/transit project -- still significantly less than the 33 percent transit should rightfully receive. It is reasonable, especially considering that during peak hours transit carries about half the people crossing the Bay at this point. More importantly, this proposal continues the historic multi-modal tradition of the Bay Bridge corridor. It also provides a continuing funding source for Transbay bus, BART and ferry operations from the parties who benefit most from reduced congestion on the bridge -- bridge users.

The Bay Area would be well-served by adopting the RAFT program for rebuilding the Bay Bridge Corridor. This program would ensure mobility, economic growth, and survival during both normal times and during disasters. It is reasoned, reasonable and doable. Any legislation or funding scheme that fails to fulfill the multi-modal tradition of the Bay Bridge Corridor is, quite simply, on shaky ground.

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