Published March 21,  2017
Volume 1, Number 3

Transportation Improvement Plans for the Tri-Valley

By Tina Hansen
Pulse Writer

Almost every aspect of life is impacted by transportation problems in the region, and the interwoven web of bridges, tunnels, freeways, roads, disparate array of travel origins and destinations, as well as the number of people only complicates the problem. Addressing these transportation challenges directly is important as they impact everything from the economy, to public health, to the environment and, not the least of which, the quality of life residents in the region can enjoy.

Nationally, the Bay Area trails only Los Angeles in terms of overall congestion, measured by the length of time highway traffic dips below 35 mph.  According to a new survey conducted by Inrix, a Seattle company that provides traffic information worldwide, the Bay Area is the fourth-most-congested metropolitan area in the world, and third worst in the United States; an impact every business, employee and resident in Hacienda experiences on a regular basis.

In Hacienda, the priority has always been to make life, and moving through it, easier. In fact, Hacienda's contributions to local and regional mobility trace back to when the project began with its participation in the North Pleasanton Improvement District. This privately funded public works project, among other things, improved numerous streets and roads, built four freeway interchanges and contributed significantly to the mobility infrastructure in the region to more than mitigate for the impacts of the development. Hacienda's share of this work was over $160 million dollars at the time and over $293M in today's dollars.

In addition, Hacienda has been at the forefront of programs that support the use of alternatives to driving alone. Its nationally recognized program has already produced well over five million trips on the local bus system alone.

Even with these efforts, both historic and ongoing, more is needed to keep the free flow of people and goods moving throughout the area and region. For its part, Pleasanton continues to make regular investments in mobility.

Local Pleasanton initiatives, like offering discounted rider passes or rideshare programs, installing traffic lights at Amador Valley High and completing the Bernal Interchange project make transportation easier in Hacienda and keeps local streets and arterials flowing well. However, larger programs and solutions are ultimately needed to achieve more substantive relief in the region.  This is crucial as the failure to address transportation and congestion issues affecting the region will impede growth and slow the economy if both immediate and long-term plans are not implemented.

“Congestion is having a dramatic impact on the quality of life in the Bay Area,” said Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council, a business lobbying group active in transportation issues. “We can see it beginning to take its toll on the economy.”

Fortunately, as anyone who has noticed all of the improvements that have recently been on display in the region will note, work is being done on several fronts to improve mobility. Solving transportation and traffic issues requires a regional, as well as state approach and a number of such projects are either under way or have recently been completed. The Interstate 580 Express Lanes, which opened this past summer, improved travel time and successfully removed the interstate as one of the worst Bay Area commutes.

Bay Area transportation agencies are planning a 550-mile network of managed lanes, the majority of which are HOT “express” lanes that will be completed in 2035. Express lanes are already open on Highway 580 in the Tri-Valley area and on Highway 680 from Pleasanton to Milpitas.

The Tri-Valley's elected officials take these issues seriously and have worked collectively toward addressing regional problems. Pleasanton's Mayor Thorne, along with other elected officials, recently met with Senator Dianne Feinstein to discuss federal funding for local transportation projects and the urgent need for solutions.

"Solving our transportation and traffic issues requires a regional approach and a long-term view,” acknowledged Mayor Thorne. Fortunately, this regional consensus building and regional advocacy is seeing results.

An environmental review will soon begin to complete the widening to Highway 84 and its junction with I-680, making the highway an expressway between the two freeways by 2023, substantially reducing cut-through traffic on Pleasanton streets.

BART, the areas key regional rail service and a critical point of connection with the greater Bay Area, is also due to see some improvement in the Tri-Valley.  A funding commitment of $533 million has been made to an extension east of the station found in Hacienda; currently the end of this branch of BART service.

BART estimates a Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR) will be available for public review in Spring 2017. The Draft EIR will evaluate the project’s potential environmental impacts and identify ways to reduce those impacts to less-than-significant levels.

At that time, BART will seek public input on selecting the recommended alternative to extending BART to the east. BART anticipates making this decision at the end of 2017.

Examination of the expansion of services along this corridor is key as the travel time savings provided by transit services help support the region’s major economic centers by connecting businesses with the workers they need.

As frustration continues to escalate, no proposal or idea is off the table when discussing solutions to the transportation problem. The region is quickly becoming the leading edge when it comes to shared and unshared autonomous vehicles, or driverless technology, to solve the ever growing transportation problem.

It was recently announced that the Department of Motor Vehicles will allow testing of driverless cars on state roads later this year. Until now, California has only allowed testing of autonomous vehicles with a driver ready to take over if something goes wrong.

The proposed change would allow testing of vehicles with no steering wheel or pedal controls. However, any driverless vehicle being tested must be remotely controllable and able to stop itself in an emergency.

A hearing will be held next month to get public comments on the issue before the change can take effect. Officials say they hope the new rules can receive final approval by December.

If this does pass, officials said this would open the path for self-driving cars to be widely sold and used throughout the state.  The cars must also meet all federal safety requirements to be allowed on California roads. Truly driverless vehicles could be available for sale in California as early as 2018.

While there is no quick fix or answer to the region’s transportation problem, the commitment to mobility in the Tri-Valley and the work being done to make sure that continuous improvements are made to the transportation network is essential. The good news for Hacienda is that, by virtue of its location and through its own current and historic investments, it will continue to see the benefits of being strategically connected with a premier mobility system.