Trouble Along the Caltrain Corridor

One of the world’s most robust economic engines is in danger of overheating.

From San Francisco to Silicon Valley, business is booming and innovation is flourishing, but the transportation corridor that links it all together is straining mightily from all that activity. Getting up and down the Peninsula is becoming a nightmare, due to a combination of job growth, land use patterns, under-funded transit, and infrastructure problems.

So says the nonprofit planning organization SPUR, which just released a proposal to fix this vexing situation. Entitled “The Caltrain Corridor Vision Plan: How to keep the Bay Area’s innovation economy moving,” the 61-page, 10-chapter document was produced in partnership with the Silicon Valley Leadership GroupSan Mateo County Economic Development Association, and Stanford University.

The vision plan offers specific strategies for improving the corridor, with five general goals in mind: make travel convenient, enhance connections between transportation modes, move more people, integrate transit harmoniously into communities, and reduce climate impacts. Most of this focuses on the Caltrain system for which the corridor is named, but the vision plan also considers Highway 101, ferry service, and the eventual arrival of high-speed rail.

None of this will be easy — or cheap. The vision plan estimates the implementation would cost between $16 and $21 billion, and suggests paying for it with several revenue streams, including transit fares, highway tolls, taxes (parcel and sales), and public-private partnerships, among other sources.

The vision plan comes at a critical juncture for Caltrain itself, which last Friday received notice that it might not get $647 million in expected funding that would help pay for system electrification. The Federal Transit Administration is deferring a decision on the matter in anticipation of the development of the forthcoming presidential budget, an outline of which will be released in mid-March. Caltrain Chief Communications Officer Seamus Murphy discussed the situation this morning on KQED Radio’s Forum, along with vision plan primary author Ratna Amin, as well as Randy Rentschler of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Meanwhile, supporters of the agency have begun to rally to Caltrain’s aid, but the future remains murky.

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