MTC’s Bay Crossings Study: More Than Just Talk

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened to traffic on November 12, 1936 and had its first traffic jam the very same day. It’s hard to tell whether hopeful talk of a new “Southern Crossing” began that day, but it wasn’t long before Frank Lloyd Wright had unveiled his design for a butterfly-wing bridge that would span San Francisco Bay.

By John Goodwin 
Published: July, 2002

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened to traffic on November 12, 1936 and had its first traffic jam the very same day. It’s hard to tell whether hopeful talk of a new “Southern Crossing” began that day, but it wasn’t long before Frank Lloyd Wright had unveiled his design for a butterfly-wing bridge that would span San Francisco Bay.

While Wright’s proposal never went beyond the drafting table, the search for a better way to cross the bay continues to be a major topic of conversation. For the past 18 months, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) has been leading the discussion and conducting a study into ways to improve transbay travel from the Bay Bridge corridor all the way south to Silicon Valley. The policy committee advising MTC’s San Francisco Bay Crossings Study is scheduled to deliver its final report to the Commission later this month. (note to editor: assuming this month is July)
“It’s no secret that the existing transbay corridors are filled to capacity much of the time,” observed Alameda Mayor and MTC Commissioner Ralph Appezzato, who serves as co-chair of the policy committee. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that transbay travel is expected to increase 40 percent between now and 2025. So things are only going to get worse if we don’t take action.”
MTC launched the San Francisco Bay Crossings Study in late 2000 after U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein requested that a 1991 study be updated. The draft of the final report suggests focusing on lower-cost improvements in the San Francisco-Oakland, San Mateo-Hayward and Dumbarton Bridge corridors that could begin going into operation within months and could be paid for with existing funds or a possible $1 increase in bridge tolls.

“We’re going after the low-hanging fruit right now,” commented Larry Magid, MTC’s project director for the Bay Crossings Study. “These improvements should make carpooling and transit more attractive in all three corridors.” With existing funds, the region could afford to:

»  Re-establish express bus service on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge
»  Extend the carpool lane on the northbound Interstate 880 approach to the Bay Bridge to Adeline Street in West Oakland
»  Speed carpool traffic through the Bay Bridge metering lights by using pop-up cones to isolate the carpool lane on the left side of the toll plaza
»  Create more loading and unloading zones for casual carpools in San Francisco’s South of Market district
»  Extend the carpool lane on San Francisco’s Second Street approach to the lower deck of the Bay Bridge
»  Extend the FasTrak lanes on approaches to the San Mateo-Hayward and Dumbarton bridges

Bay Area voters could hold the key to other near-term improvements. “I expect Senator Don Perata to introduce legislation next year to authorize a vote on raising tolls to $3,” explained Appezzato. “We think the best ways to spend that money include creating reversible lanes on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, expanding express bus service across all three bridges, rehabbing the Dumbarton rail bridge for commuter rail service, making further improvements to the carpool lane system, and putting faster-loading, higher-capacity BART cars into service.”

San Mateo Mayor Sue Lempert, an MTC commissioner who serves as the other co-chair for the Bay Crossings Study’s policy committee, echoed Appezzato’s endorsement of these recommendations, with particular enthusiasm for reversible lanes on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. “Any plan for a new highway bridge would stir up so much controversy in San Mateo County that it might never get built,” she said. “But using movable barriers to make the existing bridge more efficient is certainly doable.”
While the Bay Crossings Study’s draft final report does not address new ferry services, the San Francisco Bay Area Water Transit Authority is studying several options that could improve mobility for waterborne commuters. The WTA’s effort, which will complement the Bay Crossings Study, is due to wrap up by the end of this year.

“We looked at everything in phase one,” recalled Lempert. “We considered ferries, BART, commuter rail, express bus services, new bridges and tunnels, and additional carpool lanes on existing highway bridges and bridge approaches. Once we narrowed the list to six different alternatives, we began zeroing in on costs, travel impacts and environmental issues. We ended up recommending an approach that includes elements of three of the six options.”

Members of the public will have a chance to weigh in on the study team’s recommendations at a pair of public meetings to be held this month in San Francisco and Oakland. These meetings are a follow-up to outreach efforts this spring, when MTC conducted a telephone poll, convened several focus groups and held a series of public meetings. “I was impressed by the public’s understanding of the issues,” said Lempert. “People are really able to weigh the costs and benefits of various plans.”
“Major construction projects — like a new highway bridge or a new rail tunnel — would cost well over $5 billion each and take many years to complete,” said Appezzato. “We want to start dealing with the problems sooner rather than later.”

The study team made a point to keep the door open for larger projects by recommending further study of several other proposed improvements. “Our short-term recommendations will help ease some existing problems,” noted Magid. “But they won’t solve all of them, now or in the future.”
“We don’t have either the money or the consensus for a new highway bridge or rail tunnel right now,” said Appezzato. “But the picture could change. So it doesn’t make sense to throw away the work we’ve already done. The High Speed Rail Authority is moving ahead with plans for a statewide network of 200 mile per hour trains, and that could have a big impact on transbay travel as plans for serving the Bay Area and Sacramento begin coming into focus.”

Lempert agrees that big-ticket projects eventually may be called for, but stressed MTC’s regional smart growth efforts as a way to hold down projected increases in transbay travel. “The higher-priced alternatives will be put on the shelf or delayed until future funding is identified,” she said. “In the meantime, building consensus for a new land use pattern could mean that transbay travel volumes won’t be quite as high as we’re now predicting.”

Don’t expect that to stop the talk about new bay crossings, however. Join the conversation by speaking up at MTC’s July outreach meetings. The first will be held at 6:00 pm on Wednesday, July 10 at the California Public Utilities Commission Auditorium at 505 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. The second will be at 1:30 pm on Wednesday, July 17 in the City Council Chamber of the Oakland City Hall.

John Goodwin works in the Public Information Office of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. The San Francisco Bay Crossings Study’s policy committee is expected to take action following the public meeting in Oakland on July 17; final action by the full Metropolitan Transportation Commission is scheduled for Wednesday, July 24. For more information about the San Francisco Bay Crossings Study, visit the MTC Web page at