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Work on 101 Wastes Money, Duplicates SMART

When our governments spend $1.4 billion on a transportation system, we should know it's being spent well. For the Novato Narrows, that couldn't be further from true.

Last week, Systemic Failure called out the Greenbrae Interchange Project as a waste of money when we already have an under-funded rail project not far away. Why spend $143 million on a road project that won’t even add capacity?

While the Greenbrae project isn’t the best project, it’s about rearranging ramps, not adding capacity. While the Drunk Engineer is a great watchdog of Bay Area transportation policy, he’s looking at the wrong project. For that, we need to look a bit further north, to the billion-dollar freeway investment underway in Sonoma.

Let’s step way back to two things, money and problems, and restrict our potential solutions to roads and rail. Fresh on our desk is a dictate from The Man saying the transportation system between Windsor and Larkspur doesn’t have enough capacity to meet the demand for travel, and we have $1.4 billion ($1 billion from roads, $404 million from rail) available to fix it.

Adding two carpool lanes for the length of freeway that currently doesn’t have any will cost $1 billion, we know, and will add about 4,000 people per hour worth of capacity through the area. We can add about another 1,000 with a $500 million rail project*, but we can’t afford it, so we’ll truncate our line at San Rafael and Santa Rosa.

What if we pumped all $1.4 billion into the road? Lanes only have so much capacity, and that decreases as the freeways get wider. We might be able to add travel lanes at the most congested part of the road, but all the merging could just gum up the works more.

What if we flipped all $1.4 billion into rail? As it turns out, this would give us almost as much capacity.

  • Base SMART: $680 million, 650 passengers per hour, or 880 with standees (220-person capacity per train, 2 trains running in either direction per hour)
  • 7.5 minute service with three-car trains: $1.2 billion, 3,936 passengers per hour or 5,280 with standees**.

If SMART were to get a clearance from the FRA to run European trains, the cost of 7.5 minute service drops to $1 billion, leaving us with $400 million to spend on years of operations, grade separations from traffic, or a 10-mile extension to Richmond’s BART and Amtrak station. Success! Not only did we meet our goal, we added capacity much further north and south than the 101 project and have some money left over for other projects. That’s pretty damn good.

I know, I know — I'm talking about people rather than vehicles and a SMART system that has a finite number of trips it can serve. But taking people off the road who don't need to be there will free up space for those who do need to be there. Traffic isn't linear; there's a tipping point where just 1 percent more cars can turn smooth running into stop-and go. Ensuring that all the drivers in traffic are those who most need to be in traffic allows 101 to best serve its purpose as a high-speed trunk for the road system. And people would ride this maximum SMART.

The old Dowling ridership study projected that 24,000 people per day would ride SMART if it had 15-minute headways. Cut that in half and you still get more than double the currently projected ridership for less than double the cost.

Alas, this is not how we do things. Instead, we’re spending at least $200 million more than we need to for a worse transportation product. That the most efficient project, SMART, cries poverty — much of its own making, true — while local and state authorities pump hundreds of millions more into parallel capacity makes this situation even more egregious. Rather than a truly transformative investment, SMART will be relegated to only a shadow of its potential.

This is the height of what Cap’n Transit calls transportation myopia and a prime example of what happens all the time in the Bay Area. Caltrans and MTC tend to see road capacity problems as vehicle problems rather than transportation problems. When they do take transit into consideration, they just duplicate efforts in parallel to the road project. They forget that transit a means of transportation, not a goal to be achieved on its own, and functions in competition to cars. That means that nobody takes SMART seriously as transportation in its own right. Even SMART views itself as a supplement to driving.

MTC, TAM and SCTA need to cut off funding to the Highway 101 project and invest it in SMART. Caltrans is hunting for funds now, and none of these agencies should cough up the cash. Not only will the train add more capacity than the freeway, but it will also strengthen towns up and down the 101 corridor, attract employers, and knit together the North Bay in a way a wider 101 never could.

We spend so much energy in the North Bay talking about the environment. Let’s actually do something for the environment and save money in the process.

*The cost of the IOS + Windsor is about $500 million.

** The maximum length of a train is limited by the size of a city block to three cars, so that’s how many we can put on a single train. The Sharryo train cars SMART will use have 82 seats with space for 28 standees, so a three-car train has space for 330 riders. The 7.5 minute headway is the minimum allowable without widening the Puerto Suello tunnel, and it means 8 trains per hour per direction. The cost of sidings to allow that much frequency is about $180 million more than the current system. Each Sharryo car costs $3.3 million, and 7.5 minute headways requires 34 trains. Add together the cost of 34 three-car trains and more sidings to the base cost of $680 million and you have about $1.2 billion.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Rico January 17, 2013 at 12:52 AM
In a matter related to this thread, does anyone know what happened to the lawsuit filed by train lobbyist/attorney David Shonbrunn back in 2008 ? David Shonbrunn filed a lawsuit against the people of the State of California to halt the improvements on highway 101 (specifically the improvements on 101 at the Novato narrows). David S. claimed the same things that David Edmondson claims now, that the improvements to 101 will hurt the development of the SMART train and the related high density housing projects. Some lawyers make a living by filing frivolus lawsuits, but this particular one invoked ire in the people of Sonoma county. So what was the disposition of this case (it's been over 4 years now), did it ever make it to a jury trial ? or is it still tied up in the courts, does anybody know ? I hope Shonbrunn lost some big bucks on this case, but the sad thing is, if it did make it to court, it also costed the California taxpayers legal fees as well, unless Shonbrunn is ordered to pay US back. David Edmonson, are you aware of this lawsuit ? If not please look into it and let us know if you find anything out. Thank you. Apperantly this lawsuit has not hindered the improvements north of Novato on 101. By the way, Shonbrunn tried to get appointed the the NCRA board of directors, but was passed over (thank goodness), Shonbrunn is too much of a hot head for politics judging how he acted caught on video spitting on Ron Ford's anti SMART sign.
Rico January 17, 2013 at 01:04 AM
typo corrections :apparently, and also, it's been 4 years but the spelling is either Shonnbrun or Shonbrunn, and maybe there is a "c" after the S, sorry, but I can't remember exactly. That case no doubt has been archived somewhere, there is no way that SMART could have had it completely deleted from the internet.
Bill McGee January 17, 2013 at 01:57 AM
Ricardo - try google. I punched in "Schonbrunn SMART rail lawsuit" (wihout the quotation marks) and a number of stories popped up including this one. Google is pretty cool that way, you don't even need the correct spelling just a little patience. his http://transdef.org/HOV/HOV_Lawsuit_assets/IJ%20Filing%20Story.pdf I don't have time to do your research for you but thought I would give you 15 seconds to show how easy info can be found if one tries. Good luck.
Stephen Nestel January 17, 2013 at 04:03 AM
David, You are kinda making my point when you say changing travel off the 101 freeway will reduce congestion. Obviously this is true IF the destination of the traveler happens to be the Civic Center from Downtown San Rafael to work in an office or the shopping Mall. If travelers don't have these two conditions- start from a close station and end destination close to a station then you are significantly impacting both the financial cost AND the time investment to travel down from Santa Rosa. I have lived near light rail in other cities. Trust me. After the novelty wears off, the average commuter is more concerned with the cost, time and hassle of travel and will chose the mode of transportation that most closely meets his needs. Buses and freeways are a flexible transit option that can provide both efficiency and flexibility needed by most commuters. Waiting around on a cold, dark train stop is not fun. Most people will travel by car or even bicycle.
Bob Ratto January 17, 2013 at 04:21 AM
Stephen, David lives in Washington DC, so he may be asleep now. He is writing a blog on how we can all be better. Watching Portlandia may give the same results.
Rico January 17, 2013 at 04:30 AM
Bill, I already know about the lawsuit, and I use Duck Duck Go. So, did you find out what happened with Schonbrunn's lawsuit ? I don't have the time right now, but obviously you do, so please DO TELL what the disposition of this lawsuit was, David E. and the rest of us would like you to do some do diligence and provide an answer, not just a put down or a question. Mahalo (Google it !)
David Edmondson January 17, 2013 at 04:15 PM
I'm not sure which point of yours I'm making. Your point, so far as I can tell, is that the freeway is needed to best move quickly through the corridor from arbitrary point A to arbitrary point B. In the absence of solid transit infrastructure, that's an accurate assessment. My point is that there is a specific subset of these trips, around 24,000 per day, which can be taken by our transit network, which is more than SMART. Accommodating those on the road is more expensive than accommodating those on transit. The aim for the 101 project is to accommodate about 4,000 more people per hour moving through about 30 miles of the corridor at peak by shifting the carpoolers into the carpool lanes. This will cost $1 billion. Shifting the same number of people - though not necessarily the same people - to a parallel transit network along 70 miles of the corridor is a cheaper way to accomplish the same end. We don't need to accommodate ALL trips on transit to make it worth the investment; we just need to accommodate ENOUGH trips on transit.
Bill McGee January 17, 2013 at 04:20 PM
Ricardo - sorry, not my issue so you are going to have to do your own research. You could have found this in less time that it took you to write your last post pleading for David to investigate for you. Most of the time these lawsuits are leverage to gain a concession and dropped so I doubt the lawsuit is still pending.
David Edmondson January 17, 2013 at 04:38 PM
If your point is that people would rather drive than take transit and so we should accommodate that preference, I beg to differ. SOME want to drive, others don't. The 72 and 72X buses are packed every morning. Ferry ridership is up dramatically, and GGT is considering buying a new ferry. Elsewhere, Caltrain ridership is at record levels, and ACE is going strong. Even the Capitol Corridor has been breaking ridership records, and it's not exactly frequent. BART wants to double capacity. Beyond the Bay, Dallas wants to expand its light rail (current ridership: 70,000 per day) and Salt Lake City has been expanding like gangbusters. The debate over the system in Norfolk, VA, faced the same arguments we have about SMART and didn't extend to Virginia Beach as a result. After it opened, ridership hit its 30-year mark and has stayed there. Suddenly, Virginia Beach wants in. These are all highly drivable areas but each one is efficient, connects with a bus system, and goes through areas with a high density of origins and destinations. SMART will do that, too, and even this damaged project could attract far higher ridership if the investment were made. Again, a more robust system will provide more bang for the buck than the highway project, and certainly more than the highway + IOS.
John Murphy January 17, 2013 at 04:50 PM
Bob - had 101 been widened 30 years ago, the charts of Sonoma County's population growth would look much different - the growth would be much steeper. The allure of a faster commute from the less expensive areas would attract more development and *surprise* - the road would be just as congested as before.
mikesonn January 17, 2013 at 04:59 PM
People are sitting in their cars in line to get onto bumper-to-bumper traffic on 101.
Stephen Nestel January 17, 2013 at 05:44 PM
I guess you can't be convinced that most people like to get to their destination, quickly with minimal hassle. I respect your choice of public transit or bicycle. I wish you and ABAG planners will recognize that most of us prefer the convenience of automobile transportation. The arguments that SMART pollutes less or is cost efficient is easily proven to be false. Caltrain may be having record ridership but they still are losing money and have recently threatened to cut service. Ridership does not mean it is cost efficient. If riders had to pay true cost of service, I'd expect they would choose buses or cars. Why I am concerned about SMART supporters is they totally ignore objective evidence that light rail systems never are financially self supporting and drain resources from highway construction and buses which actually ARE less polluting and less costly. Some buses are more luxurious than trains. Such is life.
John Ferguson January 17, 2013 at 06:02 PM
Perhaps it depends on the demographic you're targeting, but I doubt that cost is the primary reason why more people don't take the bus from Marin to San Francisco. Lowering the cost of transit alone will not make the system work better for those who use it, in fact it will probably make it work worse as evidenced by the experience one has riding transit on 'Spare the Air' days when access to the system is free. As to cost, if someone is driving in to downtown San Francisco from Marin and staying there all day, the lowest total daily cost of that behavior (including gas, tolls and parking only, not capital depreciation of the vehicle) is about $30 and likely quite a bit higher. The bus is already priced significantly above that, so no further cost reductions are really necessary to attract people from their cars. What's required is an increase in 'convenience', meaning you get to your destination more quickly and more predictably than if you drove. We have a chicken/egg problem where we have transportation modalities running at or over capacity, but to make things better we have to build a system with a decent amount of faith that people will change their behavior once that system is implemented. We can do studies, create user polls, etc. but there will always be doubt as to how the system will be used. I'm in favor of an 'all of the above' approach as long as we can afford it. I think we can.
John Ferguson January 17, 2013 at 06:06 PM
Sorry, meant to say the bus is priced significantly *below* the costs of driving to SF.. The proofreader is still asleep..
Rico January 17, 2013 at 06:11 PM
Speaking of the Sir Francis Drake Blvd. interchange and 101 viaduct, I had to go through there yesterday. Coming from the south going north on 101 I had to exit at S.F.D. Blvd to go east. There was a row of new white pylons installed at the gore to keep motorists entering at Greenbrea from cutting across to enter 101, it works ! But I admit it is a little bit tense having to wait until the row of pylons ended to merge over to exit on S.F.D. Blvd E. I have a feeling that there will be more accidents there now. People need to adjust to this change, and should learn to be more considerate of other motorists entering and exiting freways at all locations, especially at that location. As always at that location, motorists need to be cognizant and slow down. Like if one is driving in the far right lane and sees another vehicle approching to enter the freeway, move over to the next lane, slow down or speed up to let them blend with traffic. And yes, when driving past the Ferry Terminal at Larkspur Landing at 11:00 am, the lot was packed and cars were also parked on both sides of S.F.D.Blvd. So, the Ferries are very popular. And David E., comparing 101 improvements to the SMART train makes no sense at all. 101 goes the length of California and serves all businesses, travelers, tourists, commuters and recreational users. 101 has hundreds of exits that enable motorists to go door to door. The SMART train is an extremely limited, expensive and time wasting form of transportation.
Rico January 17, 2013 at 06:25 PM
The proposed SMART train only serves a small amout of the people that need to travel from the north bay to central Marin, mainly commuters. So, saying that the money being spent on 101 improvements would be better spent on the SMART train seems a bit selfish to me. In these tough economic times, I think it would be wise to focus on funding transportation projects that would benefit the most people in California of all classes, not just a select few commuters from Sonoma County. If the economy improves, then we can think about helping our commuting neighbors up in Sonoma County build special their train project (SMART).
Kevin Moore January 17, 2013 at 07:00 PM
My comments in the IJ last November. Hey, does CalTrans read the comment section? LOL. They probably had it in the works for adding the cones. http://www.marinij.com/larkspurcortemadera/ci_22195263/long-awaited-greenbrae-interchange-project-moves-forward-work?IADID=Search-www.marinij.com-www.marinij.com This looks like a $143 million being spent for marginal improvement. That money would be better spent adding lanes on 101 between Novato and Petaluma. Northbound: Lots of money to keep people from going directly on the freeway at the San Quentin exit. Bolt down some rubber cones on the solid white line. Problem fixed. (for most drivers) Where do bike riders and pedestrians cross 101?
Kevin Moore January 17, 2013 at 07:16 PM
Steve Martin has a joke, "How to make a million dollars and not pay any taxes". The crowd goes quiet. Steve then says, "OK. Go out and make a million dollars. Then don't send any money to the IRS. If they ask, just say 'Oooh, I forgot'." His joke is the really hard part is being skipped. This is how I view ABAG's and MTC's approach to preparing the Bay Area. Housing is easy. Making those jobs that make the money is the hard part. I don't see any planing about business or water. The population of Marin and Sonoma have been nearly flat since 2001. See this chart. http://goo.gl/ZJOND The idea that 101 needs more lanes. Then more lane. Then more lanes. Isn't true. CalTrans needs to add another set of lanes for the existing traffic. When was 101 expanded from 2 to 4 lanes between Novato and Santa Rosa? The 60's? Sonoma grew a lot between 1960 and 2000, then went flat. Even in the "housing boom". Here is what happened when SMART didn't play by the environmental rules when replacing the tracks in San Rafael. To get SMART down to 7.5 minutes per train, I think more double track will be needed south of Novato. The problem is most of the land next to SMART is protected wetlands. Expansion into wetlands is going to be very difficult. There are a lot of people just waiting to file an EIR lawsuit. http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_21848417/editorial-smart-train-needs-get-rolling-but-by?IADID=Search-www.marinij.com-www.marinij.com
David Edmondson January 17, 2013 at 07:17 PM
You didn't need to convince me that people want to get to their destination quickly with minimal hassle. The reason ridership increases on SMART with increased frequency of service is precisely because of this. Regarding ongoing costs to transit: Agreed again, light rail doesn't make a profit, but it's erroneous to assume that any mode of transportation makes a profit, nor to assume that that is the purpose of a particular transit mode or even a sign of success. Car taxes and fees, for example, don't cover the cost of road maintenance, let alone construction. Nor do they cover the cost of free parking, obesity, pollution, vehicle disposal, preventable injuries, or preventable deaths. Add it all up and you have a far higher cost than simply the various "fares" paid for by drivers and car owners. Buses don't cover their full costs, either. GGT has a farebox recovery ratio of around 20%. The ferries are around 50%, if memory serves. Light rail tends to have a fare box recovery rate of around 50%, and urban metro systems in the US can go as high as 80%. And in this particular example, do you think Sonoma drivers are paying the full $1 billion for a wider freeway? They can't even scrape together enough money to maintain the roads they already have. Yet if they really need another 4,000 people per hour through that corridor, they can do it for far less money.
Kevin Moore January 17, 2013 at 07:23 PM
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, then expecting the results to change. If you want to get people on buses, change buses! SMART is going to have a bar. Maybe if buses were nicer, there would be more commuters. I commuted to San Francisco for a year. Since the ferry goes directly to downtown, I often took the ferry. If I worked out at the Presido, I probably would have taken the bus. When carpools were free, the most cost effective transportation was my 45 mpg motorcycle. Round trip commuting was 1 gallon of gas and street parking was $0.25 an hour. Plus, it was 20 minutes faster to downtown and more flexible as I could come and go at any time.
David Edmondson January 17, 2013 at 09:55 PM
Regarding the sidings required: almost all of SMART's right-of-way is wide enough for sidings, including the wetlands. The only place that isn't wide enough is the Puerto Suello tunnel, which is the limiting physical factor on any frequency increases. Getting the approval to construct additional sidings in the wetlands may be difficult, but it's SMART land, ultimately.
Kevin Moore January 17, 2013 at 10:23 PM
Try telling that to George Lucas. He got shut down due to issues about the creek on his land. His neighbors were just whistle blowers using the laws to their purpose. It's been a while, but I used Google Earth to review the rail line from Larkspur to Santa Rosa. As I recall, there are some sections that are already "two track", but not much south of Novato. Along Gallinas Creek, the rail right of way is very narrow and filling in that area would be a battle, unless the bike path was removed. FYI: This is the same creek at Grady Ranch. Same people watching over it too. You were right in a previous article about building the bike path far enough from the rail line to put in a second track, when the right of way was wide enough. Common sense, in this "rip it up and do it twice" world.
Rico January 18, 2013 at 02:31 AM
About the Puerto Suello tunnel, since the devastating fire in 1963 which killed a firefighter, will any agency ever have enough money to rebuild it, its only been 50 years since the collapse. I do wonder how much it would cost today to rebuild that tunnel, $60 million ?, $100 million ?. Oh, I forgot, it's SMART land, and the public's money is endless. Bueno Suarte on Puerto Suello David !
Tina McMillan January 18, 2013 at 08:34 AM
Dave If you want to get people off the roads convince employers that telecommuting is the wave of the future. The technology is there to do the work and to have employers monitor your productivity. SMART will not serve the majority of commuters because it wont take you into the city and it wont take you into nearby towns. You still need vehicles to go into places and the time it would take to use a bus to get where you need to go is more than most people want to spend. SMART is not the feel good panacea you make it out to be.
Kevin Moore January 18, 2013 at 06:32 PM
Ricardo, you know how this will play out. SMART will put in most of the rail between San Rafael and Novato before ever announcing the revised costs of fixing the Puerto Suello tunnel. Then we will be told, "It would be a shame to waste all of the money that was spent so far, we just need an extra $xx million to complete the project. Don't throw it all away. Spend just a few XX million more." MTC and TAM will suck the money out of all other projects or we will be asked to fund more bonds. For the SMART train system, it made no sense to rebuild the tunnel between Larkspur and San Rafael before rebuilding the tunnel between San Rafael and Terra Linda. It makes a nice bicycle tunnel, but that is $27 million that could have been used to complete the SMART train between SR and SR. Want to start a betting pool on how much higher the next announced cost will be?
Rico January 18, 2013 at 06:51 PM
Hi Kevin Moore, You sure got that right ! I have known this for years, and the Cal Park tunnel was a classic example of the games that SMART plays. The whole SMART package was a money sucking scam from day one. And I'll bet SMART will never get the funding to rebuild the Puerto Suello tunnel in our lifetimes, maybe never. I would not be suprised at all if the SMART train (if it ever gets built) will terminate at the Civic Center. And all that money spent by us to condemn the houses near Lincoln Ave. for the track relocation, and everything else after the Civic Center done by us for SMART will have been completely wasted money. SMART is already salivating to build TOD's next to the freeway in downtown San Rafael, but they never mention the Puerto Suello tunnel problem. The people of Marin have been hoodwinked by SMART !
Mark Schoenbaum January 18, 2013 at 07:28 PM
@JC Peters - Multiple personality disorder - it causes trolls to create multiple anonymous accounts to flame legitimate posters,
Bob Hunter January 22, 2013 at 11:41 PM
Here's a vision: This could be the last widening of 101, leading to a more efficient bus/ hov lane. GGT expands theri fleet of nat gas/hybrid smaller buses. SMART leads to retail and residential infill around the stops and our kids choose to stay in Marin because they like taking the train and smaller footprint lifestyles. Ferry service expands to central Marin and, all of a sudden, we're almost 21st century.
Bob Hunter January 22, 2013 at 11:44 PM
Here's another vision; Imagine what a 10% ($70 billion) reduction in annual military spending directed at transit issues nationwide could do.
Kevin Moore January 23, 2013 at 09:56 PM
I want the USA to invade California. Build schools, fix bridges, and improve roads. Then leave to let us govern ourselves.

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