By Alex Eisenhart | @AlexOnTransit
2018 was a year of positive and substantial change for the San Mateo County Transit District. In the face of an ever-changing transportation landscape in the San Francisco Bay Area, the District advanced projects that are modernizing and improving the services we provide to the public. We need to adapt now more than ever, and the people we serve expect us to – a solemn mandate we take seriously and strive to achieve every day in our work. In addition to seeing projects that have been years in the making come to fruition, we’re proud that our many planning and construction efforts have made great progress in 2018. We celebrate the milestones of this past year and look forward to the continued advancement of our core mission: to provide safe, reliable and sustainable public transportation for the communities we serve.
Continued Progress on Electrification
Construction for the much-anticipated electrification of Caltrain continues with the retrofit of four San Francisco tunnels to install the overhead contact system for the new electric trains. This involved expanding the interior size of the tunnel (a process known as “notching”) to provide enough clearance for the new electric trains and corresponding power system. Weekend construction is expected to last through late spring. Manufacturing of the new, high-performance electric trains made significant progress, with the first cab car shell ready for interior equipment and furnishing installation at the Stadler US facility in Salt Lake City, Utah. Three trainsets are now under production and the vehicles continue to take shape.
The year kicked off with some exciting investments in new vehicles, including the much anticipated all-electric buses. The District received the first two of its 10 all-electric buses from Proterra, Inc. in November, with service expected to begin early 2019. The SamTrans Board also approved the purchase of 55 new diesel articulated buses to replace older buses from 2002 that have exceeded their useful life cycle under Federal Transit Administration policy. The new 60 ft. diesel buses are expected to begin entering service in early summer 2019. Both the diesel and all-electric buses will offer Wi-Fi and USB charging stations.
SB-1 Grant Awards
Following the passage of California Senate Bill SB-1 in 2017, a landmark statewide transportation funding legislation, Caltrain, SamTrans and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority have collectively been awarded more than $400 million. In April, Caltrain was awarded $164 million to fund additional electric rail cars, wayside bike parking improvements at Caltrain stations as well as broadband communications. These projects will increase capacity, improve operational efficiency and enhance customer experience. The Transportation Authority was awarded over $221 million to fund the US-101 Managed Lanes Project, which will construct new high occupancy toll lanes in San Mateo County between the Santa Clara County line and Interstate 380 in San Bruno. The project is scheduled to be completed by 2022. SamTrans was also awarded a $15 million grant to help fund an all-electric Express Bus Pilot Program on US-101 in conjunction with the Managed Lanes project.
25th Avenue Grade Separation
More than one year after construction began on the 25th Avenue Grade Separation project, crews have made significant progress, including completion of the Beresford Creek Bridge, with four more vehicle/pedestrian crossing structures well under way. Utility line relocation is ongoing and retaining wall construction has also commenced. This critical $180 million project, supported by District, State and Municipal funds, will improve safety and reduce traffic congestion for San Mateo drivers and pedestrians.
I-92 & El Camino Real Interchange Completion
September 1 marked the opening of the newly rebuilt Interstate 92 & El Camino Real interchange. The $26 million, 16-month construction project converted the roadways to realign and widen on/off-ramps with newly signalized intersections. The project also included widening of sidewalks and new bike lanes on El Camino Real. Early feedback from the City of San Mateo indicated that traffic congestion has gone down thanks to the new signals at the on/off ramps, addressing initial concerns that they would restrict traffic flow. Bike and pedestrian traffic flow has also reportedly increased as a result of the construction.
SamTrans Goes Mobile
On September 4, the District launched SamTrans Mobile, the agency’s first official mobile application. The app has provided riders with easier access to fare purchasing, trip planning, real-time bus location information, and up-to-date route schedules. SamTrans Mobile also includes scheduling information for other transit services that SamTrans connects to, including Caltrain, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI), Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), and Alameda County Transit. The trip planning feature allows riders to enter a starting point and destination to see all available transit options for their trip. As of November, the mobile app has been downloaded by 3,715 users.
SamTrans Business Plan Adoption
September 5 marked the District’s first adoption of a SamTrans Business Plan. The plan identifies three core principles of focus over the next 5-10 years: 1) sustaining and enhancing services for the transit-dependent; 2) expanding and innovating mobility services; and 3) promoting programs that relieve traffic congestion. The adopted business plan identifies immediate, near-term and long-term actions to affirm the District’s position as a mobility leader and ensure the organization meets current and future transportation needs. Within the three core principles, the Plan identifies 16 initiatives in various stages of implementation or planning, including the youth and older adult mobility plans, bus stop improvements, website modernization and a countywide shuttle study.
Passage of Measure W
After a closely watched election with incredibly high voter turnout, San Mateo County voters approved the Transit District’s half-cent sales tax known as Measure W. The new tax will create approximately $80 million per year in new investment to relieve traffic congestion and provide expanded transportation options for people in San Mateo County. The distribution of Measure W funds will be shaped by the Congestion Relief Plan, which was a product of this community feedback and was developed to reflect how residents think transportation funding should be invested. Part of the next steps for this newly enacted legislation will be the establishment of a new citizen oversight committee that would monitor decision-making while also ensuring accountability and transparency. The tax is scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2019.
Alex Eisenhart is a public affairs specialist in the San Mateo County Transit District’s Communications Department.