Rail companies comment on Howard Terminal

Overhead closeup of recent Howard Terminal ballpark rendering
I love this rendering the most because it gets rid of the train entirely

The other day I was looking at the comments Union Pacific sent in regarding Howard Terminal. UPRR’s comments are bundled with comments from RailPros, a rail services consultancy that would probably engineer any modifications to the Embarcadero corridor that is used by UPRR and Amtrak. As you might expect, both sets of comments deem the HT transportation study and the mitigations identified as insufficient. UPRR calls for full grade separation if the ballpark is built, a consistent stance from the beginning. Given what’s at stake from a safety standpoint, I agree. Unfortunately, the A’s continue not to address this issue to the fullest. Robert Bylsma, UPRR’s Senior Environmental Counsel, ends his comments by quoting the Draft EIR and providing a response.

DEIR:

“Provision of a grade-separated crossing prior to commencement of Project construction was deemed infeasible given the length of time it would take to design, get approval for, and construct a new grade-separated crossing and the stated Project objective to complete construction of the new ballpark, together with any infrastructure required within a desirable timeframe and to maintain the Oakland Athletics’ competitive position within MLB.”

UPRR (Bylsma):

So, apparently it was the Oakland A’s who made the decision to reject grade separation — the only safe and effective means of protecting Oakland A’s fans, as well as families residing in the Project area and other Oakland citizens, using Project facilities — as infeasible because of the “length of time it would take” to design and build, and would affect negatively “the Oakland Athletics’ competitive position within MLB.” However, the DEIR’s evaluation of this alternative is deficient because it does not indicate how long it would take to permit and build the needed grade separation, and whether the A’s decision to “maintain [its] competitive position within MLB” in exchange for the lives and well-being of those who will use Project amenities, truly makes grade separation “infeasible” as a matter of law.

Perhaps rail safety isn’t deemed a showstopper for the A’s. What can’t be argued is that this is a bad look. It reeks of potential negligence from the A’s in search of a quick buck. If the A’s truly want this to work, they’re gonna need to step up. Not stepping up because it will jeopardize the ability to “maintain the Oakland Athletics’ competitive position within MLB” is a pretty lame excuse. If you’re going to build something as transformative as a $12 Billion neighborhood-cum-ballpark, you need buy-in from all your neighbors. This ain’t it.

5 thoughts on “Rail companies comment on Howard Terminal

  1. Another reason to use the existing Coliseum site.

  2. ML,
    Thanks for bringing this topic up. Pedestrian and vehicular safety is important. However, I have some questions.

    1. Pedestrians and vehicles have been crossing this rail line for decades to reach Jack London Square. Has their been a large number of accidents? (Even without a new ballpark, rail safety needs to be addressed.)
    2. The Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres have been moving their fans across railroad tracks to access their respective ballparks. Has their been a large number of vehicle and pedestrian accidents? How have these two cities mitigated potential hazards with crossing rail road tracks?
    3. The A’s are proposing a new pedestrian overpass, an eventual vehicular overpass, and improved grade level crossing gates at four additional intersections. What additional steps should be taken? (i.e.)
    1) additional pedestrian overpasses?
    2) additional vehicular overpasses?
    3) a gondola from City Center Oakland to Howard Terminal (HT)?
    4) A bike/pedestrian bridge from Alameda to downtown Oakland?
    5) A new High speed rail/Bart (four tracks total) tube with a station at HT?
    4. The Jack London Square Amtrak station already has a passenger overpass. Are there additional steps that need to be made so that pedestrian and vehicular crossing is more safe along the entire Sacramento to San Jose Capitol Corridor route?
    5. When the Coliseum Bart station first opened in 1972, there was no passenger bridge. (I think the bridge was added in1973) While it has its design faults and probably needs to be replaced regardless of what development occurs at the Coliseum, the Coliseum Bart bridge has served a purpose for almost 50 years. Could some of the steps referenced in #3 (1-5) be added after the new ballpark opens?

    Just some thoughts. Thanks for keeping all of us up to date on this important topic.

    • Dan –
      1. The EIR lists a recent history of accidents along the Embarcadero, though UPRR points out that it isn’t complete because it leaves out vehicle-vehicle accidents which seems like an oversight given how confusing the street is laid out.
      2. Both San Diego and Seattle redesigned their street grid and installed barriers to limit vehicle/train interactions. In San Diego there is one crossing at grade near the ballpark. In Seattle there’s also one, but most of the traffic is routed to overpasses instead.
      3. The preferred solution would be to cover or submerge the tracks to minimize interaction. Obviously that’s extremely expensive so it was ruled out – not by the agencies or the City, by the A’s. Additional bridges would be helpful, but the project is designed that fans would disperse to the north and east along multiple intersections, making it hard to choose where to build. A better way would be to funnel fans to the north and east. The current design doesn’t do that.
      – The gondola runs from the ballpark to the convention center, 2 blocks shy of City Center and BART.
      – A bridge across the Estuary has been in discussion for decades. Besides the issue of how much Oakland or Alameda would foot the cost, there are some technical issues in that the bridge would have to be pretty high to allow ship and boat traffic to continue underneath. Then they have to build approaches.
      – A new HSR/BART station which perhaps utilizes a decommissioned 980 is so far off in the distance it doesn’t really merit discussion. The first thing the Bay Area needs to solve is the Southern Crossing problem, then it can figure out if West/Downtown Oakland fits into its plan.
      – I’ve used the JLS Amtrak bridge. It’s useful and is a good model for future crossings.
      – As loved as it is, the Coliseum BART bridge has been targeted for replacement multiple times and will be replaced whenever any redevelopment occurs at the Coliseum. This may be due to an unclear ownership and liability situation with the bridge. Better sooner than when the Big One hits.

      • ML,

        Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed response.

        Apparently the traffic flow at the Jack London Waterfront was something that should have been addressed decades ago.

        Perhaps there are federal grants (transportation or stimulus) available. However, I don’t see the state, county, city, or the A’s financing multiple UPRR overpasses.

        How financially feasible would it be to divert traffic north and east and build additional pedestrian overpasses?

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