BART's Broken Promise 

Forty years after it betrayed East Contra Costa County, BART's "solution" could be the East Bay's greatest boondoggle.

Mark Scalia should have it made. He lives in a spacious Antioch home that he picked up for a song, and his son attends a brand-new school free of crime and blight. He's got a solid union delivery gig for United Parcel Service, his wife works nearby selling real estate, and no one on his block locks their car doors. But check out what he's gotta do to make it all possible.

Scalia drags himself out of bed every weekday morning at four, about three hours before his family opens their eyes. His buddy picks him up at five, and together, under the stars, they commute via Highway 4 to 242, then I-680, Highway 24, the Bay Bridge, and on to San Francisco. "I kiss my wife when I leave so she knows it's me going out the door," Scalia says. "When my kids were younger, I joke that they'd wake up on the weekends and ask, 'Mommy, who is that man sleeping next to you?'"

Typically the drive takes just an hour at that time of day, but Scalia keeps his radio tuned to the traffic report, in case some fool rear-ends a car on Highway 4 or mucks up the Caldecott Tunnel. Unless they're forced to resort to surface streets, they usually arrive at the UPS package center in San Francisco's Mission District by about six. But their shift doesn't start for two more hours, so Scalia and his colleague tip the car seats back, pull blankets over themselves when necessary, and sleep for another two hours. They could both work a standard eight hours, but there's really no point to that either; by the time they got off work at four, the bridge would already be gridlocked, and they'd be in stop-and-go for at least two hours. So instead they each work several hours of overtime and Scalia usually gets home around nine, which leaves him with maybe two hours with his wife and kids before sack time at eleven. Five hours later, the whole process starts over again.

It's a hell of a life. And it's all thanks to Bay Area Rapid Transit.

In the early '60s, when the counties of San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa created the BART system, the taxpaying citizens of then-remote eastern Contra Costa County were promised that they would be first in line for any future extensions. After forty years of taxes and traffic jams, and one airport extension later, Antioch's still waiting for that BART line; even San Jose has jumped ahead of it on BART's list. Feeling some remorse for four decades of neglect and bad faith, two weeks ago BART's directors voted to give Antioch what they apparently regard as the next best thing to a BART line. It's dubbed "eBART," a diesel freight line designed to shunt commuters from Brentwood and points east to the Martinez BART station. But it will never work. And at a projected cost of $839 million, it could be the greatest boondoggle in the East Bay's history.

As Eastern Contra Costa County's representative on the first BART board of directors, Nello Bianco had a ringside seat to the backroom deals that stole Antioch's birthright. He spent the next 25 years trying to get the board to live up to the promise it made to his constituents. Because construction of the BART system was exclusively financed by local taxes, supervisors from each of the three counties had to put the tax measure on the ballot. In Contra Costa County, the supes were deadlocked over whether to bring the issue to the voters. Bianco claims the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland threw a bone to the lone holdout: Get this thing on the ballot and East County would be first in line for the next new BART station.

But it was a sham, Bianco claims, a formality BART planned to ignore once it broke ground on the tracks, which originally stopped at Concord. From day one, Bianco says, the big boys at BART were headed straight for San Francisco International Airport, and the hicks in the sticks would just have to wait.

"When I got on the BART board in '69, it was obvious that they had no intention of honoring that obligation," Bianco says. "In fact, they concentrated on the extension to the airport. ... It was just more dramatic and romantic to go to the airport than to go to Pittsburg and Antioch. I never opposed the airport extension, but I said over and over that we could do both the airport and Pittsburg and Antioch. ... The people of Pittsburg and Antioch own BART -- they paid for it -- not San Mateo and Santa Clara. But the clout was with the big cities."

Bianco spent the '70s telling his story to anyone who would listen -- but no one took him seriously. Sacramento politicians couldn't believe that the East County would someday be filled with thriving cities connected to the Bay Area by a host of complex social and economic links. When they looked at Pittsburg and Antioch, all they saw was a dead military base and a bump in the road for cattle ranchers.

While East County taxpayers continued to foot the bill for stations they would never see, Bianco says, the leaders of San Mateo County cynically exploited the knowledge that BART would ultimately head to the airport as a way to get four intermediary stations on the cheap. Eventually, Bianco forced BART to accept a compromise. For every station in San Mateo County, BART also had to build one in eastern Alameda or Contra Costa counties. But the lobbying and threatened lawsuits took so many years that BART missed a golden opportunity. Back in the '70s, the federal government was handing out millions of dollars in transportation subsidies, and the cost of extending the BART lines was a mere $25 million per mile. Now, the feds are nowhere in sight, and the cost of construction has swelled to at least $100 million per mile.

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