BART’s Transbay Tube, the 3.6-mile tunnel that connects the East Bay and San Francisco, will undergo construction that will affect early-morning commuters starting in February.
The tunnel, which the transit system considers its “most critical asset,” remains in good condition, but BART is launching a $313 million retrofitting project to increase the safety of the tunnel in the event of a major earthquake.
Beginning Feb. 11 and lasting approximately four years, BART will no longer offer early-morning service between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Trains will also only run every 24 minutes rather than every 20 minutes after 9:30 p.m. because BART will operate trains on only one track through the tunnel. BART spokesperson Anna Duckworth said the decision to suspend morning services was made with the intent to “limit the impact on riders.”
“We did look into the possibility of tacking (construction time) onto the last hour of service, but there were a lot more riders — between five and six thousand,” Duckworth said.
According to Duckworth, this change will affect an estimated 2,900 riders daily. These early-morning commuters are disproportionately minorities — 66 percent, compared to only 56 percent of overall riders — but make up less than 1 percent of BART’s total ridership. She added, however, that the extra hour of construction time will reduce the length of the retrofitting by four months and will save at least $15 million.
Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington voiced his support for the project.
“I think it’s extremely important to do retrofits in advance before something horrible happens,” Worthington said. “So if that means that a few thousand people need to take a bus instead of BART, as long as they give people advance notice, then that’s a reasonable precaution.”
In order to mitigate the effects of the reduced morning service, BART is teaming up with eight different bus agencies to introduce 15 express bus lines during the 4 a.m. hour, including seven transbay lines. These lines will serve the stations at Fremont, Dublin/Pleasanton, Bay Fair, 19th Street Oakland, El Cerrito del Norte, Pleasant Hill, Pittsburg/Bay Point and Antioch. Riders who typically use other stations, such as Downtown Berkeley, will have to find alternative means of transportation to travel to these stops.
According to Duckworth, it is not expected that bus rides will be considerably slower for commuters. She also said fares will be equal to or less than the current BART fare.
The retrofit is mostly funded by Measure AA, a bond measure approved by voters in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties in November 2004. Measure AA provides $980 million in funding to strengthen the original BART system, according to Duckworth. Additional funding for the Transbay Tube comes from Measure RR.
Grace Kang, spokesperson for the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center at UC Berkeley, commended the foresight of BART.
“It’s good that BART is looking ahead,” Kang said. “We don’t know when the earthquake will hit, so it seems prudent that they would try to minimize the disruption from damage.”