As the East Bay enters a new chapter of growth, the needs for better transportation infrastructure and more transit-oriented development are becoming increasingly evident. The inner East Bay is filled with significant untapped land resources that can help address the region’s housing shortage, but a handful of key barriers and constraints limit their potential. To address these limitations, discussions around three related mega-projects have recently gained traction: a teardown of I-980, a second Transbay Tube, and a new crossing of the Oakland Estuary. Together, these projects could fundamentally reshape not only Oakland and Alameda, but the entire East Bay.
Recently, the idea of tearing down I-980 has gained traction: the concept is being explored in Oakland’s Downtown Plan, and a local advocacy group, Connect Oakland, has laid out a vision for its replacement. Replacing I-980 with a multimodal boulevard would reconnect West Oakland and Downtown Oakland while unlocking nearly two dozen blocks for development. Moreover, it offers a blank slate for the East Bay portion of a new Transbay Tube (more on that in a moment). With or without the Transbay Tube, though, replacing I-980 with a new neighborhood is a promising idea that could yield significant social, economic, and environmental value.
Second Transbay Tube
The Transbay commute is incredibly congested, but its capacity still has room to grow: new BART cars, train control, and expanded Transbay buses present opportunities for relief. Nevertheless, the need for a second Transbay Tube seems inevitable for the Bay Area’s future even with a multi-billion dollar price tag. Yet, a second tube introduces a Pandora’s box of questions: does it include BART, standard-gauge rail (Caltrain, Capitol Corridor, and High Speed Rail), or both? Where does it connect on either side of the Bay? How does it interface with the existing BART system and regional rail network?
There’s many details to iron out, but Connect Oakland has articulated a few intriguing possibilities. It proposes building an intermodal train station in Oakland as an East Bay hub for High Speed Rail, BART, Caltrain, and Capitol Corridor, routing the second tube to San Francisco via Alameda Point. This idea isn’t without its issues and challenges, but it’s a sample of what’s possible.
New Estuary Crossing
After years of inactivity, Alameda may revive discussion around a new Estuary crossing to relieve the bottleneck at the Webster/Posey Tube. A new Estuary crossing would offer faster, more reliable transit service and close a major bicycle and pedestrian gap. Moreover, although Alameda is rich in housing opportunity sites such as Alameda Point, housing production has been limited by the transportation constraints of the Webster and Posey Tubes.
While past attempts to bridge the Estuary have been futile (the City last studied several options including a bicycle, pedestrian, and transit bridge in 2009), considering the Estuary crossing in the context of the I-980 teardown and the second Transbay Tube is intriguing. Could a (much nicer) bicycle and pedestrian connection adjoin the Transbay Tube between Oakland and Alameda? Should the I-980 boulevard be extended to Alameda Point to relieve traffic pressures through the Webster and Posey Tubes and associated traffic sewers around Chinatown and the Broadway-Jackson interchange? Would it be feasible to toll such a roadway during commute hours to help pay for the project?
While these three projects may seem far off, planning has already started. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has commenced a Core Capacity Study to examine Transbay Tube opportunities, while the Alameda County Transportation Commission has listed the I-980 replacement and Estuary crossing projects on its priority planning list (page 19) for upcoming grants. Together, these projects could change the entire East Bay by opening the door for a more urban future centered around abundant transit and housing options.
Perhaps we’ll even get a new A’s stadium? Actually, let’s not get too outlandish.