Jul 29, 2016

By Zakhary Mallett (BART Director, District 7),

My effort to revitalize the idea of extending BART’s Richmond leg of service to the northern communities of West Contra Costa County has taken some big steps forward since I was first elected in 2012.  This leg is the only leg of BART to never be extended since its opening despite the corridor it serves (Interstate 80) having the long-standing distinction of being the most-congested in the entire region.  Most recently the West Contra Costa High Capacity Transit Study that I spearheaded reached approximately the three-quater mark in its completion.  Once the study is completed, it will allow additional big steps to be taken as early as next year in bringing much-needed relief to the Interstate 80 corridor.

But these milestones are not without continued alignment politics in West Contra Costa County that are at the root of why an extension in West Contra Costa County has never been realized.  As local news reporter, Tom Lochner, recently reported, as part of the study, the West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee (WCCTAC) Board axed a key BART alternative from further study (an extension via Interstate 80 from El Cerrito del Norte), even after I secured from BART the necessary funds to further study that option at no cost to WCCTAC or local cities.

While this undermines the current study offering a thoroughly competitive review of all options, the good news is that this study is not a BART alternatives analysis study, which is both practically and legally necessary before an extension is realized.  What the current study has done, though, is underscore that a BART extension to Hercules is sorely needed, which will allow BART to pursue a comprehensive and BART-specific alternatives analysis that can hopefully lead to the selection and implementation of an optimal extension in the corridor.

My Concern and the Politics

My concern as your BART Director and as a Transportation Planner is that we axed alternatives too soon by not giving legitimate alternatives a thorough review.  Assuming all alternatives are feasible and competitive in other ways, the arguably most important element of a transit alternatives study is figuring out which option will get the most people and cars off the road.  While many of the now-axed alternatives were shown to be infeasible or significantly inferior, neither of the two BART alternatives was shown to be; they remained competitive, but funding forced us to eliminate one of them (at least before I removed that constraint).

The current study began with eight alternatives that varied from expanded express bus services to BART extension alternatives and, due to funding limitations, was designed to be reduced down to just four alternatives that would be more thoroughly examined.  In May, when the decision to axe certain alternatives was made, the study’s main fulfillments included engineering cost estimating, preliminary environmental impact review of the different alternatives, and how consistent the different alternatives were with local land-use and development plans.

Here are some of the pros and cons of these BART alternatives based on the study and some basic qualitative considerations:

Rumrill/I-80 Alignment


The Rumrill/I-80 alignment would result in both BART routes (Fremont and San Francisco/Millbrae) being extended to communities north, providing on-going combined frequency as low as 7.5 minutes when both routes are in operation.  This option also has the potential to directly serve the densest community in the corridor, Central San Pablo, and is the only option that is consistent with Richmond’s General Plan that explicitly refers to both of BART’s Richmond-based routes serving the Downtown area.

At the same time, this alignment results in a circuitous route that would add 5 minutes and 2.8 miles (a fare impact) to any customer traveling to/from locations north of Richmond when compared to to the I-80 alignment.  The alternative would also either be an aerial structure through the City of San Pablo, posing noise and visual impacts on the local community, or would have increased construction costs for mitigating them (e.g., tunneling).

I-80 Alignment


The I-80 alignment is the most direct alignment through the corridor, more centrally serves the corridor and its development patterns overall, and is the most accessible for attracting automobile traffic on the highway.

However, this alternative would split service north of the El Cerrito del Norte Station with either BART’s Fremont route or San Francisco/Millbrae route going to Richmond and the other going to Hercules, thereby reducing service into Downtown Richmond in half.  It also means that neither leg would experience the combined frequency of having both BART routes.  On the flip side, because this option would require service between West Contra Costa County and San Francisco/Millbrae to become a fulltime service, all locations between El Cerrito del Norte and 12th Street/Oakland City Center Stations would experience frequency improvements with combined frequency from these two routes during all BART operating hours.


So, which is better?  The answer is we really don’t know.  But we will find out once we perform a BART alternatives analysis that will not only assess these alignment choices, but many others that were not included in the current study.  That effort should hopefully begin sometime next year, once the current study wraps up.

This article originally appeared in BART Director Mallett’s e-newsletter.


  1. I think it would be best if you made the Bart extension to Hercules to Millbrae the first one so people coming from Millbrae can go all the way to Hercules to their homes.

    Shante Stallins | Jul 29th, 2016
  2. I see a third alternative that might provide the best or both alternatives. Extend the Richmond line up 23rd street, along/near Church Lane and El Portal, connecting to I-80 at El Portal. Then follow the I-80 corridor to Hercules. Maximizing use of the I-80 corridor better serves those that drive the corridor. It also has the potential of requiring less right-of way, assuming an elevated track in the median is utilized. The frosting in the cake is that the air space above the I-80 could be used for BART stations and BART parking structures. This would keep to a minimum the amount of right-of-way acquisition needed and minimize the disruption of neighborhood social and physical structures.

    Maurice Abraham | Jul 29th, 2016
  3. I think the Rumrill route seems the least obstructive to current traffic patterns and would be a great tie in to Contra Costa College allowing more people access to higher education.

    Gretchen Borg-Hillstead | Jul 30th, 2016
  4. I think there is definitely a need for a BART line that runs to Hercules.

    Deidra Dingman | Jul 30th, 2016
  5. Following the I80 route makes the most sense to me. It is more direct, and would probably involve less construction costs. There is no need to have two lines going to Hercules, but one line would solve a major problem for those of us in the Hercules/Pinole area. I now have to take I80 to El Cerrito, a risky proposition in terms of traffic jams, or the Dam Road to Orinda and Rockridge Station, a fair amount of driving that is getting increasingly congested. We need BART!

    Larry Hicok | Jul 31st, 2016
  6. I think everyone agrees that a BART extension serving Hercules is necessary. However, cutting off the Richmond station as a spur line is unacceptable. Richmond and San Pablo are the only affordable places to live in the core Bay Area and Richmond in particular is poised to provide a significant amount of new workforce housing in the coming decade. We need to anticipate that and provide robust sevices to that corridor, not marginalize downtwn Richmond (as has happened in the past).

    John Knox | Jul 31st, 2016
  7. I think everyone agrees that an extension north to Hecules is necessary. However, one that marginalize so downtown Richmond and San Pablo is unacceptable. Richmond and Sn Pablo are among the very few affordable places for housing left in the core Bay Area, and Richmond in particular is poised to add a significant amount of new housing in the coming decade. Isolating these areas with a spur line would be a huge mistake.

    John Knox | Jul 31st, 2016
  8. As a daily BART rider to SF and a Hercules resident, I can tell you something NEEDS to happen. 80 is getting worse every year and the BART trains are at crush load capacity during commute hours. I’m glad Zakhary Mallett continues to push the issue, even though its politically incorrect in West County. Also….I just dont get the thinking that an I80 alignment is “cutting off Richmond”. The Richmond station would still be there and fully operational…As would the Richmond BART yard. Anyway…..Good job Zakhary!! You’ll continue to get my vote.

    Chris Tallerico | Jul 31st, 2016
  9. I agree that Richmond needs an extension, though I don’t think it should be first priority. I’d much rather have new BART lines through SF and Oakland, so that when I get to those cities, I don’t have to transfer and take long rides through out them. I’m usually opposed to BART suburban expansion, since it’s almost always low-ridership and ignores where density is. Nevertheless, this project should be eBART. BART trains are subway technology, and should not be used for long suburban routes. If they do use standard BART that’s fine, but when the expansion to Vallejo happens, it should definitely be eBART. The logical option is to go for the Del Norte-Hercules, Alternative. I don’t want to stub Richmond, but frankly, the Richmond stop has always been out of the way, and Richmond has the lowest ridership on the Richmond-line, while Del Norte and Berkeley have some of the highest. It should be with aerial structures, unless locals are willing to subway it, like Berkeley did. Frankly, it’s not dense enough to warrant subways, so it shouldn’t be considered. The current aerials work fine for El Cerrito and Albany.
    Again, the last thing BART needs are more suburban lines, taxpayers in dense cities like Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco could use more BART routes, and the ridership would be far higher, but if we must extend the Richmond-line, have it be to Hercules from Del Norte, do not use Richmond station, you’re skipping prime areas in San Pablo. The only people who lose from the lack of a Richmond station extension are the few people who commute from Richmond to places like Hilltop or Pinole–a very small minority. Early in the morning, Richmond-bound platform at Del Norte is entirely empty, save one or two people, and the Fremont/SF platform is full to the brim. And that BART route could use more stops as well, perhaps BART could learn to shrink the size of their concourse and not build massive parking lots everywhere, to keep station costs down.

    Hopper | Aug 8th, 2016
  10. It’s unbelievable that BART hasn’t been extended out past Richmond, depriving cities north of Richmond of an important alternative to road transport.

    The original BART system took the line all the way up to Vallejo – that is where the terminus should be, giving Hercules, Crockett and Vallejo a decent alternative in the daily commute, especially given the economic destruction wrought on the area when the naval shipyard closed in the 90s

    Rob | Aug 19th, 2016