Connecting the Bay Area-San Joaquin Valley mega-region

  • by Susan Talamantes Eggman
  • Wednesday December 13, 2017
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"A 2:15 alarm, two trains, and a bus get her to work by 7 a.m." This was the August headline in a New York Times story about Stockton resident (and one of my constituents) Sheila James and her daily commute from Stockton to San Francisco, where she works as a public health adviser. James is not alone. More than 50,000 San Joaquin county residents commute daily to the Bay Area for work.

Sky-high Bay Area housing prices have contributed significantly to growth in San Joaquin County for years, particularly in the cities of Tracy and Stockton and the newer community of Mountain House. And while Bay Area transplants have found affordable homes, they must endure - what can be charitably called - difficult commutes.

The vast majority of commuters travel by car, which means making the long, slow trek through the Altamont Corridor. The corridor is strained beyond capacity, which means excessively long commutes, delays in goods movement, and increased vehicle emissions. The problem will only become more acute - as estimates project traffic will increase on this corridor by up to 60 percent by 2040.

While the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) provides an alternative mode of travel, only about 2,500 passengers take advantage of the train service. ACE ultimately hopes to increase its service to nine trains daily over the current four, which would help reduce some of the congestion, but more action is needed.

The commute challenges of San Joaquin County residents and the accelerating evolution of the Bay Area region and San Joaquin Valley region into one mega-region is what motivated me to introduce Assembly Bill 758 earlier this year along with my colleague, Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-Dublin). AB 758, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in October, establishes the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Regional Rail Authority for the purpose of planning and delivering improved transit connectivity between the San Joaquin Valley and Tri-Valley communities. Specifically, the legislation requires the authority to identify and adopt a project for linking ACE with the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, system.

Re-upping an old idea

The idea of linking ACE with BART is not a new one. Notably, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission - which consists of the nine Bay Area counties - recommended, as part of its 2007 Regional Rail Plan, that BART connect with ACE. The passage of AB 758 takes this objective from the idea stage to the project formation stage and ultimately to project delivery. Under AB 758, the authority is required to produce a feasibility report by July 1, 2019 that, among other things, provides recommendations for expediting the development of cost-effective transit connectivity between ACE and BART, proposes a schedule for completion of the project, and adopts a preliminary design for the project. The authority itself will be comprised of 15 representatives from local agencies in the San Joaquin Valley and the Tri-Valley.

One potential project outcome is the development of a stand-alone rail line from Stockton (or Tracy) to the Dublin-Pleasanton BART station. Such an approach would seem to optimize the number of trips and increase the convenience of travel throughout the mega-region. Whatever project the authority ultimately settles on, the effort to pass AB 758 has bolstered opportunities for partnership between the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley.

AB 758 enjoyed support from, among others, the Bay Area Council, the San Joaquin Valley Partnership, San Joaquin County, Alameda County, the cities of: Stockton, Tracy, Dublin, and Livermore. This type of cooperation is essential to tackling regional issues in an increasingly complex world.

Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D) represents the 13th Assembly District, which includes most of San Joaquin County, including the cities of Stockton and Tracy. She is also a member of the Legislative LGBT Caucus.