By Jeb Bing
BARTís new station celebration could be its last for quite a whileUploaded: Feb 17, 2011
At last, the costly, wrongly-built overhead steel pedestrian walkways have been carted away from the I-580 freeway shoulders at the new BART-West station, just in time for the opening celebration of this $100-million-plus project. Time will tell how necessary this new station was, located as it is just 1.6 miles from the Pleasanton/Dublin station that serves commuters well and has become a major transit hub for buses to all parts of the Tri-Valley. Except for the new multi-million-dollar "Express" bus that will serve BART-West commuters, it seems unlikely all the transit services at what's now-to-be called the BART-East station will move or duplicate their services at BART-West.
More parking will be welcome, however. Two large parking structures, one on each side of the freeway, will serve commuters long frustrated by the limited parking at the older station. And given the new station's location close to the I-580/I-680 interchange, BART-West may attract commuters from San Ramon and Danville, and possibly even Fremont to the south, who now drive to their jobs on these freeways or travel up to Walnut Creek's BART station.
Still, the new station pretty much stands alone at the center of long-planned commercial and residential developments that crashed in the recession. The pre-formed steel walkways to connect to Dublin and Pleasanton that sat along the freeway for the last two years were only part of BART's financial problems. Because of welding defects, the walkways had to be re-built at an additional cost of $2.5 million to BART, which also delayed the station's completion by more than a year.
Even more costly is that the private funding for the pricey station has largely gone away. The project was developed as a public-private partnership, with $57.5 million stemming from bonds BART sold, $14 million in grants and $15 million in land-generated revenues. The city of Pleasanton entered into a funding agreement in 2006 along with the city of Dublin and the Alameda County Surplus Property Authority that allowed BART to draw from a reserve fund at the time the transit agency was selling construction bonds. Since the station didn't open on time, BART has already drawn down $1.5 million from those reserves.
As part of the station project, a new transit village was planned on the Dublin side to include a 150-room hotel, a 210-unit apartment complex and retail/office space. On the Pleasanton side, a 350-unit apartment complex described as a transit-oriented development to reduce freeway congestion was approved with its completion to coincide with the opening of the station. Part of that development also included 14,000 square feet of retail space, where developers had hoped to house a grocery store. But last year, the developer of those projects, San Diego-based Windstar Communities, said those projects would be pushed back due to the economic downturn.
Now Windstar Vice President Eric Heffner says the hotel may not be a viable option anymore. Bob Russell, a principal for Oakland-based Ampelon Development Group, which acted as the master developer on the project, said a portion of land in Dublin that was slated for the apartments has now gone back to a lender, but the parcel's status is unclear. Windstar still controls the other portions of the project including the hotel and retail space in Dublin and the residential development in Pleasanton. But Windstar's own financial status is unclear and none of the projects is actively being pursued.
With these millions of dollars for BART-West still in play, it's no wonder that BART Director John McPartland told a Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce meeting the other day that it could be a while before BART can extend rail service to Livermore, as the agency has promised to do. That's billions of dollars and many years away, McPartland said.
In the meantime, those at the opening day festivities for the new BART-West station might want to take some videos of the honor guards, bagpipers, and federal, state and city officials when they crowd onto the station platform. It could be a long time before the Tri-Valley sees another BART station opening celebration like this.