At an eBART committee meeting last week, BART General Manager Tom Margro said the estimated $500 million (in 2009 dollars) eBART project begins showing a funding deficit in 2012.
By 2015, the year that both a widened Highway 4 and the eBART line are supposed to reach Hillcrest Avenue, the deficit is projected to reach $77 million.
Several members of the eBART Partnership Policy Advisory Committee at the June 14 meeting were concerned that Margro's remarks meant that the widening of Highway 4 might be delayed to defer to or accommodate the eBART line.
"We want to support eBART," said Supervisor Mary Piepho, "but we are responsible for widening Highway 4."
Margro said that the two projects could be worked on and completed simultaneously, "but we have to find the money. We don't know how or who can finance that deficit. I know BART is not in a position to fund $77 million."
A frustrated BART Director Joel Keller, whose district includes East County, declared the deficit a potential "deal breaker." He said that BART had never done anything to affect Highway 4's priority, adding, however, that BART officials thought rail had an equal priority.
"In order to deal with congestion, we need a comprehensive, integrated solution," Keller said. "The project won't go forward if there is no relief. BART simply cannot finance it. This is an important policy position."
Several times he reminded his colleagues that he had been elected to get a transit rail line into East County.
"If all you do is build roads without transit, you're going to get gridlock," he said. "Is that the model you want to build out here?"
Antioch Mayor Don Freitas called for cooperation and consensus in the eBART/highway dispute, and said more information is needed.
"The figures never have been consistent," said Freitas. "But before we accuse anyone, we decision makers need to get all the data."
The committee members agreed to jointly rework the rail and road plans with the goal of eliminating the projected deficit.
Robert Allen, a former BART director from Livermore, briefly addressed the committee, suggesting that it defer 10-car platforms and use cannibalized or surplus cars from the existing BART fleet as ways to economize.
Plans to run eBART along the Union Pacific rail lines were switched to the Highway 4 median earlier this year after Union Pacific declined eBART's most recent offer to buy the right-of-way for its 32 miles of track stretching from Loveridge Road in Pittsburg to Tracy.