Facebook putting a face on rail transit

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

This may be a first: The San Mateo County Transit District Board of Directors recently approved entering into an agreement with a development team composed of Facebook, Inc. and Plenary Group, an infrastructure developer specializing in public-private partnerships (P3s), to explore the feasibility of advancing the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor. This could mean reopening the Dumbarton Rail Bridge for passenger service.

“During the past several years, east-west commutes have become significantly more challenging as an increasing number of workers commute from growing East Bay residential communities to jobs-rich areas on the Peninsula,” the Transit District said in announcing the partnership. “The agreement is an opportunity to address this growing traffic congestion by advancing improvements recommended in the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor Study, which was funded by Facebook in January 2016 and adopted by the Transit District Board of Directors in December 2017.”

The study’s recommendations include: establishing new rail service along a rebuilt Dumbarton Rail Bridge with connections to existing commuter and intercity rail services; enhancing and expanding bus and shared-ride commute options on the Dumbarton Highway Bridge; and further exploration of complementary bicycle and pedestrian connections.

In approving the agreement, the Board also outlined a set of goals they expect will be accomplished through any future P3:

  • Enhance mobility and alleviate congestion.
  • Facilitate cost-effective improvements with a return on investment.
  • Minimize environmental impacts and maximize safety.
  • Ensure that local communities benefit and are protected from adverse impacts.

The agreement closely followed June 5 voter approval of Regional Measure 3, a bridge toll increase that provides $130 million toward Dumbarton Corridor improvements.

Background: In February 2016, the Transit District initiated the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor Study with the purpose of identifying improvements to enhance mobility in the Dumbarton Corridor between Alameda, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties. Working collaboratively with project partners, including Facebook, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (TA), Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC), and AC Transit, the study evaluated a variety of transportation alternatives on the Dumbarton Bridge (Highway 84) and its approaches, as well as examined how to rehabilitate and repurpose the Dumbarton rail bridge for transit purposes.

“The District has been exploring the concept of a potential P3 for several months since the adoption of the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor Study,” said Charles Stone, Chair of the Transit District Board of Directors. “The agreement is the product of those discussions and facilitates a path for Facebook and Plenary Group to invest resources in a full evaluation of the potential for a P3 that could deliver transportation improvements to relieve congestion along the corridor, by providing more transportation commute options. As the local economy continues to boom, the unfortunate side effect is that traffic congestion has become one of the top issues facing our residents. We are very fortunate to have private sector partners like these that are actively engaged in developing solutions and are also willing to explore investing directly in those solutions.”

“This is one of many projects we are looking at to ease congestion in the Bay Area,” said John Tenanes, Vice President, Global Facilities and Real Estate at Facebook. “Being able to get around easily is important for quality of life and the local economy. We’re excited to be working with SamTrans and Plenary Group.

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