“Despite modestly higher ridership, we find that implementing the Median-East Station alternative may not be cost-effective for ridership development,” concludes the study by Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates.
City officials have been pushing for that station location, which is 700 feet east of the Median Station option, because it would allow for more transit-oriented development near the station, including 54 percent more residential units, 130 percent more retail space and 32 percent more office space.
However, the big advantage of the Median Station location, which is about 1,200 feet east of the Hillcrest Avenue interchange with Highway 4, is that it’s fully paid for. Funds have been secured for the $462 million cost of constructing a 10-mile eBART line from the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART Station in the median of Highway 4, including stations in the median at Railroad Avenue and Hillcrest.
Both Hillcrest station options would accommodate nearby development, but the difference might not be enough to justify the cost difference.
“There is not likely to be a significant difference in the general economic development potential of these two station site alternatives,” the consultant’s report states. Although nearly 400 additional daily eBART trips would be generated at the Median-East station site, they “may not be worth the additional costs, which amount to approximately $130,000 for each additional daily trip.”
That station is more expensive because it would include more track and relocation of eBART parking and maintenance facilities and extension of Slatten Ranch Road to a below-grade intersection with the planned Viera Avenue extension. But cost-saving alternatives could reduce the additional cost for the Median-East Station to $22 million, equating to about $57,000 for each additional daily eBART trip.
The report recommends seeking construction bids on both station alternatives, however, because of the current low-bidding environment. Due to companies seeking work during the recession, construction costs have been averaging 30 to 40 percent less in the past year for major projects.
Antioch Councilwoman Martha Parsons is encouraged by that, and is not ready to pull the plug on the Median-East Station.
“I believe that the Eastern station should be a bid alternate because it is the preferred station location,” she said via e-mail. “And until we see the actual bids in the current economic environment no one can accurately determine the incremental cost. If the bid turns out to be substantially less than $50 million, which is what many interested people including myself believe, then it still makes sense to have the Eastern station be the one built … assuming funding can be found.
“It brings the benefits of transit-oriented development and retail options for local jobs that would not be feasible with the current proposed station closer to the Hillcrest overpass.”
Leaving aside the station location issue, the good news for East County residents is that eBART construction will start next year. A $30 million construction contract is expected to be advertised in February and awarded in March to build the eBART transfer station at the eastern end of the Bay Point BART Station and to realign the BART tail track to accommodate the narrower gauge eBART line. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for June, and the project is expected to take two years to complete.
Next summer eBART planners will also seek bids for eight eBART diesel-powered cars, which are expected to cost in the $60 to $80 million range, according to Ellen Smith, eBART project planner. Three groups of two cars will be in service at any one time. Riders will cross a covered, 28-foot wide platform to go between the eBART and BART trains, similar to the MacArthur BART Station.
Many East County residents have criticized the eBART project, saying they deserve real or classic BART after having paid into the BART system for 40 years. Local officials agreed on eBART, however, due to the significantly lower costs for the smaller, lighter trains. The eBART line has the potential to be upgraded to classic BART in the future should additional funding become available.
BART Board Member Joel Keller accentuated the positive in a report to the Antioch City Council last week.
“eBART is all good news this evening,” he said. “We are headed in the right direction, fully funded, coming to East County in 2015 we hope. It will take about 5,000 cars off of Highway 4, which is the equivalent of an extra lane (of traffic), and remove particulates from the environment, improving air quality. We are very hopeful that we can have a groundbreaking in June – all are invited. This is a very exciting milestone in Contra Costa County.”