The $481 million project (in 2009 dollars) is scheduled to get to Hillcrest in 2014 - about a year after the highway is widened to Hillcrest. A station at Railroad Avenue will also be built, and is expected to be in operation in late 2008 or early 2009.
After that, the plans are for eBART trains - a cheaper, light-rail version of BART - to head south to Oakley, Brentwood and Byron. But officials are not worrying about that now, instead focusing their efforts on just getting eBART from Bay Point to Hillcrest.
"We're much closer this month than we were last month" to making the project happen, said County Supervisor Mary Piepho at the May 10 meeting of the eBART Partnership Policy Advisory Committee. "We're all pleased with that, but there are some loose ends we need to pull together from all agencies. So I think we're back on track, if you pardon the pun."
East County leaders would prefer to have classic BART extended from Bay Point to Hillcrest. But the cost - an estimated $1.3 billion - is prohibitive. The good news, though, is that the eBART track in the highway median can be upgraded to accommodate classic BART in the future.
Much of the discussion at last week's committee meeting focused on the loose ends that still need to be pulled together. The biggest loose end - as it usually is concerning transportation projects - is funding.
BART General Manager Tom Margro assured the committee members, "We think we've got a funded project, and a buildable project."
But some committee members were skeptical. They have been disappointed in the past due to significant cost over-runs - or cost underestimates - and time delays. eBART was originally touted to go all the way to Byron by the end of 2010 at a cost of $369 million.
Antioch Mayor Don Freitas expressed a number of concerns, such as whether the Measure J half-cent sales tax funding of $150 million would be available in time for eBART. He was also concerned about eBART costs and construction possibly delaying the widening of Highway 4 to Hillcrest.
Piepho agreed, saying, "We don't want to impact Highway 4's widening and completion date with eBART. If we can marry the two we want to do that, but we don't want to lose focus on Highway 4."
Freitas also seemed skeptical about possibly placing an eBART station in the highway median at Hillcrest, and he was concerned whether there would be enough parking and access to it.
He's also concerned about additional disruptions to traffic during construction for both eBART and the Highway 4 widening.
"You can only disrupt traffic once," he said. "If you disrupt it a couple of times, you're in trouble."
Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor was concerned about finding the funds to acquire the land in the Hillcrest area for the station, parking and improved traffic circulation in and out of the area.
"I see that as huge if we build a line and can't get there" by car, said Taylor. "I'll be long dead when Brentwood gets BART. If we can get them to Hillcrest we'll be OK."
Ridership is expected to be about 10,000 trips per day by 2030, according to eBART Project Manager Ellen Smith. She added that that ridership level and the planned 8,600 housing units near the stations will probably meet the requirements imposed by BART and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Transportation officials were so relieved to get eBART back on track that they actually seemed to welcome a concern expressed by a Summerset resident who said he and his neighbors don't want eBART trains traveling behind their homes.
"We would like to have that problem (to deal with). We haven't come that far yet," responded Piepho, adding that the exact alignment has yet to be worked out for eBART as it heads south off of Hillcrest through Oakley, Brentwood and Byron.