eBART delayed until 2013By Rowena Coetsee
Estimates of the time and money it will take to bring a proposed light-rail system to beleaguered East Contra Costa County commuters have gone up again.
The diesel-powered trains known as eBART -- a project that ultimately might not even materialize -- is planned to be built in two phases, the first of which will take three years longer and at least $18 million more than was projected in December, according to BART officials.
The targeted completion date for the first phase now has been pushed back to 2013 instead of 2010, and its price has risen by 3 percent, to $596 million, said Walter Gonzales, a senior planner for eBART.
And even that figure is likely to change because it does not account for inflation between now and 2013. Nor does it include the millions it will cost to acquire access to Union Pacific's railroad tracks if eBART trains use that route to transport passengers between the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station and points farther east.
"The information just keeps on getting worse and worse and worse," said Antioch Mayor Donald Freitas, who serves on an advisory committee for the project.
"In the foreseeable future, a decision really needs to be made whether to continue down this path or to choose a different direction," he said. "We need to make a decision very quickly because inflation keeps on eroding the dollars that we have."
BART officials broke the news to Freitas and his colleagues earlier this month at a meeting of the eBART Partnership Policy Advisory Committee.
At the request of that group's Oakley representative, BART had added an over- or undercrossing at the station planned for the intersection of Empire Avenue and Neroly Road. That increased the project's cost by $18 million, Gonzales said.
As for why East County residents will have to wait several more years for the train service, assuming that BART approves the project, Gonzales said agency officials have been discussing more ways of designing and building the transit system than they originally conceived.
At first, they envisioned having trains run along a corridor in the Highway 4 median to Loveridge Road, then cross the lanes of traffic on a bridge to connect with Union Pacific's tracks.
BART officials now are mulling the possibility of having eBART trains remain on the Highway 4 median, Gonzales said.
He added that BART plans to calculate an approximate cost and timeline for that option so that the advisory committee can discuss it at its March 8 meeting.
The delay also is a result of BART's decision that the $130 million transfer station planned so passengers could continue their journey on BART trains simply cost too much. Engineers had to return to the drawing board to come up with a less expensive design, Gonzales said.
In addition, BART is analyzing the project's effect on the environment for two government agencies, even though only the state document is required.
BART decided to do an environmental report for the U.S. Transportation Administration in case it needs federal money down the road, Gonzales said. But submitting two documents means it will take government officials that much longer to review them, Gonzales said.
The eBART price has ballooned since the project was first conceived.
Agency officials originally pegged the cost at $377 million, but they did not factor in inflation because no one had a good idea of how long the project would take, said eBART project manager Ellen Smith.
By 2004, that figure had crept up to $390 million. And last year it skyrocketed to $1.3 billion -- excluding right-of-way costs -- because engineers had designed enough of the project to come up with a realistic number that took inflation into account for the first time, Smith said.
The compounding costs prompted advisory board members in November to divide the project into two phases, as an earlier feasibility study had recommended.
Officials expect to have a draft of the environmental documents done by the end of this year, Smith said. BART's board of directors must approve the documents and decide whether to go forward with eBART or to scrub the project. That milestone is scheduled for late 2008.
Copyright ©2007 Contra Costa Times. Published 02/24/2007.