It's looking like the future Hillcrest Avenue eBART station will be located in the Highway 4 median, but just where in the median has yet to be decided. The Antioch City Council was presented with two station options at an Oct. 28 study session:
A station in the highway median about 1,200 feet east of Hillcrest Avenue. This option has the advantage of being fully funded. The disadvantage is that it's close to the PG&E power station and not well suited for a neighboring development of townhouses, stores, restaurants and offices.
A station in the highway median about a half-mile east of Hillcrest Avenue with the possibility of an additional station in a mixed-use village on the north side of the highway about a mile and a half east of Hillcrest Avenue. This option allows for transit-oriented development (TOD) around the station. Its disadvantage is that it would cost $29 million extra just for the median station. The additional station would be built by the landowner/developer.
Those were the only options presented by city staff. An option discussed at a previous workshop to build one station on the north side of the highway was not included due to the extra $60 million it would cost to tunnel under the highway and extend the line.
Council members generally favored the second median option, although Mayor Don Freitas and Councilman Reggie Moore said their preferred location would be on the north side of the highway about a mile and a half east of Hillcrest Avenue the site with the greatest potential for a mixed-use village development.
Personally, I feel that we should be out of the median, said Freitas. I think it's time for us to sit down with the developer and talk about the (funding) shortfall, and truly have a public-private partnership where the developer will have advantages but we will also have advantages as well as eastern Contra Costa County.
Is it more difficult? Yes. I'm going to be the first one to tell you it is more difficult because of the grades and terrain and the existing structures that we have out on Highway 4. But I personally think that the eastern portion of the property is much better for TOD development. You can do residential, commercial and retail.
Councilman Arne Simonsen said the city should go for the best project possible, but added that development around a future eBART station is not his top priority for the area.
I'm not going to settle for second place, as East County has had to settle for 40 years of broken promises, he said. I think we have to look for what the mayor calls raising the bar,' something that is going to be good for our community.
The highway widening is number one. Number two: the Hillcrest intersection has to be in place before eBART gets there. Third is getting the eBART in. We are already being saddled with a low-rate system compared to full BART that I'm not happy with to begin with.
Simonsen said he doesn't support the two-station option: That seems kind of silly. You don't see BART stations that close.
Councilman Brian Kalinowski agreed that planning for future TOD development is a lower priority for him. The (top) priority (is) for the (eBART) service first to the existing residents and commuters, he said. Potential development is nice, but the service has to be the primary focus.
Kalinowski and the other council members agreed that they don't want the focus of the transit village to be on apartment and townhouse complexes. I'm not interested in something that maximizes development intensity from residential units, said Kalinowski. Residential shouldn't be driving the development plan in that corridor. It should be jobs and the retail.
The two-station option has the potential of providing about 2,500 housing units, 1.2 million square feet of office space, 1 million square feet of retail space and a hotel. It could provide as many as 5,600 jobs, along with 20 acres of open space.
The one-station option in the median near Hillcrest Avenue could provide 650 housing units, 630,000 square feet of office space, 370,000 square feet of retail space and no hotel. It could provide about 2,300 jobs and 8 acres of open space.
Regardless of which option is chosen, 1,000 parking spaces costing around $10-$20 million will needed to accommodate eBART riders. And the Hillcrest Avenue interchange with Highway 4 will need to be improved, costing about $40 million.
Funding has not been found for the parking spaces and interchange improvement. But in the current slow economy, the Highway 4 widening project might come in under bid, freeing up money for one or both projects. Both the highway widening and eBART are scheduled to be finished in 2015.
A draft eBART station plan is scheduled to be released this month, followed by a draft environmental impact report in early December. A community workshop is scheduled for Dec. 3, probably at 7:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers, to gain more input from residents.
A decision on the station location must be made by March to prevent delaying the eBART and highway widening projects.