The $500 million project is a light-rail version of BART using diesel-powered train cars. It's scheduled for completion in 2015, along with the widening of Highway 4 to Hillcrest Avenue.
Last month, full funding for the project was finally secured, thanks to lobbying by East County officials to get other Contra Costa cities and Bay Area governments to earmark Measure J half-cent sales tax funds along with money from the bridge toll increase for eBART.
"You all deserve a big round of thanks for all of the hard work you've done," said Joel Keller, chairman of the eBART Partnership Policy Advisory Committee at the Jan. 10 meeting. "We've been through a lot in the last few years. We've had our starts and our stops, and we finally have a project.
"We are really the only real project in the Bay Area that is a fully funded project. Of the entire nine Bay Area counties, we have a project that is real, that can be built and has its financing. You all deserve a lot of that credit. I'm confident we can get this approved by the BART board. We still have some challenges ahead of us and there's some hard work, but we will get there."
Last week's meeting was mostly an update by eBART Project Manager Ellen Smith. She reported that the planning work is nearly halfway complete. That includes an environmental impact study, preliminary engineering, negotiating for right-of-way space in the Highway 4 median and studies of ridership, the Hillcrest station location and the development planned around the Pittsburg station, to be located in the highway median.
Pittsburg has gotten a big jump on Antioch in the planning phase for its station. Pittsburg will fund its station, particularly the development of about 1,000 acres in a half-mile radius around the station. The area has been divided into 11 districts, some of which are well-established neighborhoods that will not change. But the civic center area and the southeast quadrant are planned to become a transit village.
The 50-acre southeast quadrant will include a mix of apartment/condominium complexes, streets lined with stores, office buildings and light-industrial businesses. The residential development will be high-density, comprising between 30 to 65 apartments or condos per acre, and will feature pedestrian paths, bikeways, shuttles and buses, allowing residents to get around without a car.
A draft of the development plan around the Pittsburg eBART station is expected to be made public next month. The Pittsburg City Council is scheduled to approve it later this year.
Plans for the station at Hillcrest Avenue are much further behind, but some of the initial studies are now underway. One of the big questions is whether the station will be situated in the highway median or on the vacant land north of the highway near the BART Park and Ride lot.
Another big question is how motorists will get in and out of the area. Planners believe that if it's not convenient for motorists to get to and from the Hillcrest station, they'll just keep driving, either to the Pittsburg or Bay Point stations or all the way to their destination.
As he has at previous eBART board meetings, former BART Director Bob Allen urged the board to put classic BART tracks in the median rather than eBART's narrower gauge line. That would make it easier for classic BART to eventually make its way to Antioch.
The problem is that it would cost more to put in the heavy-rail line, and there is barely enough money in the eBART account for eBART. The project could face a funding shortfall if the Hillcrest station is not placed in the highway median, and there could be a cash flow problem toward the end of the project that might result in the need for additional financing.
On the plus side, it looks like there will be enough residential development along the eBART line to gain the approval for the project of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, according to Smith.