Construction on the much-anticipated first segment of the East Bay Greenway has stalled due to delays from unexpected levels of soil contamination. The 0.5 mile, $3.56 million project was expected to open this summer, but will now be delayed until the end of the year, according to a Memorandum from the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) [PDF]. $300,000 in additional costs are anticipated for soil removal and disposal.

Photo of the East Bay Greenway Initial Segment Right-of-Way, July 2014

Photo of the East Bay Greenway Initial Segment Right-of-Way, July 2014

The initial segment of the East Bay Greenway was funded as a part of a $10 Million TIGER Grant to the East Bay Regional Parks District in 2010. The half-mile segment will extend from Coliseum BART to 85th Avenue [PDF], part of a broader effort under 12 miles of elevated BART tracks.

Rendering of Initial Segment (Source: ACTC)

Rendering of Initial Segment (Source: ACTC)

Initial Segment Map (Source: ACTC)

Initial Segment Map (Source: ACTC)

The East Bay Greenway is among the Bay Area’s most exciting active transportation and open space projects. Conceived by the now-defunct nonprofit Urban Ecology in the 2008 East Bay Greenway Concept Plan, the project seeks to reinvent the vacant right of way beneath the elevated BART tracks in Oakland, San Leandro, and Hayward into a bicycle and pedestrian greenway. In an area often lacking quality bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, the greenway would create a continuous corridor to walk and bike to BART, one of the dozens of schools or businesses in the area, or simply for exercise.

Project Map (Source: Urban Ecology)

Project Map (Source: Urban Ecology)

The East Bay Greenway is rooted in environmental justice, serving some of the lowest income, park-deficient communities of the East Bay which are plagued by poor health. Obesity, diabetes, and coronary heart disease are common for residents along the corridor, while few safe spaces are present to move and exercise on foot or on a bike.

(Source: Urban Ecology)

(Source: Urban Ecology)

With such a strong need and available right of way, it’s surprising this project has taken so long to become reality. Multi-use trails have already been constructed on other BART segments: the Ohlone Greenway along BART in El Cerrito and Berkeley was built shortly after BART was constructed, while the Richmond Greenway was constructed in 2007 (though it’s still not finished).

(Source: Urban Ecology)

(Source: Urban Ecology)

In spite of the project’s clear need and benefits, its implementation has proven difficult. While the total project cost was initially anticipated to be in the range of $35 million, it appears the actual cost could be much higher if the costs of the initial segment — $3.86 million for 0.5 miles with minimal landscaping or programming – are any indication of the project’s total costs. A per-mile cost of $7-8 million suggests the project could cost upwards of $84-96 million.

Meanwhile, funding for the full project has not yet materialized. The Greenway would have received funding from the 2012 Alameda County transportaiton sales tax measure, but the measure “lost” with 66.52 percent of the vote. However, the funding outlook is improving: another county ballot measure will likely follow in November 2014, while Cap & Trade funds offer a new source for active transportation projects.

Despite the possibly higher pricetag, few projects rival the East Bay Greenway in terms of breadth of project benefits. The Greenway will improve access to BART – promoting transit ridership, reducing driving, and alleviating parking constraints at stations. It will expand active transportation options for trips related to work, school, errands and recreation, thereby improving sustainability, mobility, and public health. It will enhance community safety by activating vacant spaces currently used for illegal dumping and perhaps even illicit activities. And it will promote economic development, following examples of trail-oriented development nationwide [PDF].

The initial 0.5 mile segment might not seem like a big deal, but it’s the first step toward implementing one of the Bay Area’s largest active transportation projects. We’ll check in on the project later this year as its opening approaches.