BART Applying Lessons From 2013 Strike to Upcoming Transbay Closures

An interlocking mechanism near West Oakland Station that allows BART trains to switch tracks before entering and after emerging from the Transbay Tube. (Courtesy of BART)

An interlocking mechanism near West Oakland Station that allows BART trains to switch tracks before entering and after emerging from the Transbay Tube. (Courtesy of BART)

By Alex Emslie
KQED

No matter how they’re distributed, shifting some 100,000 BART riders to other transit systems is going to cause some headaches, delays and traffic.

So BART and other transit system authorities are encouraging commuters to stay home on the first weekends of August and September (Labor Day weekend) when, for the first time ever, train service between San Francisco and the East Bay will be halted for repairs.

“This is a unique opportunity,” BART spokesman Jim Allison said of the closure to replace 932 track ties and close to half a mile of rail between West Oakland Station and the Transbay Tube. “They’re going to use every second that they have, and they’re going to make sure that they get out of the way in time for the morning commute when that weekday rolls around again.”

For those who can’t abort travel plans, BART is contracting with AC Transit, Muni in San Francisco, SamTrans and Golden Gate Transit for 94 buses to carry a typical Labor Day’s worth of BART riders over the Bay Bridge.

“We assembled a public transit dream team of bus operators,” said Bob Franklin, the BART department manager in charge of organizing the tangle of agreements with other transit agencies to form the “bus bridge.”

Bay Area public transit veterans, and really anyone who tried to get around here during two strikes in 2013 that shut down the system for days, will remember it’s not the first time BART has tried to set up a bus bridge across the bay.

A map showing BART's "bus bridge" planned between 19th Street Oakland Station and the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco during Aug. 1 and 2 and Sept. 5-7 repairs that will close will the Transbay Tube. (Courtesy of BART)

A map showing BART’s bus bridge planned between 19th Street Oakland Station and the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco during Aug. 1 and 2 and Sept. 5-7 repairs that will close will the Transbay Tube. (Courtesy of BART)

Bus capacity lined up for Aug. 1-2 and Sept. 5-7 is more than eight times what BART put together during the most recent strike, according to Franklin.

But that doesn’t mean the commute will be smooth. The buses, plus an anticipated 15,000 to 20,000 more vehicles crossing the Bay Bridge, are expected to snarl traffic.

“With 100,000 transbay BART riders being displaced, there will be traffic,” Franklin said. “We encourage people to stay on their side of the bay.”

Caltrans is pitching in with more toll takers and facilitating exclusive on- and off-ramps for the buses.

Sean Nozzari, Caltrans deputy director of traffic operations, said typical Bay Bridge weekend delays of 15 to 20 minutes could “easily double to about 30 to 60 minutes.”

“What we need motorists to do is to help avoid any nonessential trips across the bridge,” he said. “If they do have to travel, we ask that they allow additional time during their travel and use alternate routes.”

Allison said crossover tracks between West Oakland Station and the Transbay Tube haven’t been used since January, when track inspectors noted many of the ties anchoring them had started to work loose.

“Should we have a major service disruption, say in the Transbay Tube or anywhere between West Oakland Station and Montgomery Street Station, the people who dispatch our trains and move train traffic around have no flexibility,” Allison said.

The crossover tracks allow trains to switch sides before dropping beneath the bay.

“This is something that we can only do in an intense, very quick period of time,” Allison said.

The repairs, which will also include rail replacements in the Transbay Tube, are expected to cost $2 million.

The final cost of bus bridge and support staff for the closures isn’t finalized, but the BART Board of Directors is scheduled to vote Thursday on authorizing expenditures of $500,000 per day for each bus operator during the closure, plus $1 million for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which coordinates regional transportation and is deploying Caltrans and CHP for the closures, and $200,000 for city permits and other municipal-level expenses.

Franklin said he’s requesting about double what he hopes the bus bridge will cost, but BART staff need the authority to spend the extra money if something goes wrong.

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