Highway Widening Delayed if eBART Killed

Mayor Jim Davis warns that the widening of Highway 4, scheduled to be completed in late 2014, will be delayed if Antioch officials kill the eBART line planned in the highway median.

 By Dave Roberts

The widening of Highway 4 will be delayed if Antioch officials follow through on a threat to potentially kill the eBART project that’s designed to travel down the highway median, warned Susan Miller, project manager for the highway widening, at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“I’ve often said we are joined at the hip,” said Miller in reference to the widening and eBART projects. 

The widening of Highway 4 to eight lanes through Antioch will include preparation for the eBART line with stations at Railroad Avenue in Pittsburg and Hillcrest Avenue in Antioch. The widening is scheduled to be completed by late 2014, according to Miller. 

But that timeline could be extended if Antioch council members decide to oppose construction of a barebones eBART station in Antioch. That possibility was raised by Councilman Brian Kalinowski at the December 14 meeting if the Hillcrest Station does not include a station agent, restrooms and an escalator. Antioch’s opposition could derail the eBART project, perhaps limiting it no further than Railroad Avenue or perhaps killing it altogether. 

In any case, a significant change in the eBART project would slow down the highway widening. 

“I would hate to see a situation where we have to redo plans, we have to slow down the freeway schedule if there’s changes in decisions on the eBART project,” Miller told the council. “I personally have been involved in both these projects for a very long time. And I can understand the city’s concerns. But I have been so excited to finally see some of this come to reality, and to think that we are going to have finally some service and some transit extension so badly needed into East County, that I would really hate to see that come to a stop. I would really hope and encourage the city to be able to come to some resolutions with BART folks and come to terms with your disagreements.” 

Mayor Jim Davis, who did not comment on Kalinowski’s threat at the Dec. 14 meeting, warned at Tuesday’s meeting about the consequences of losing the $500 million eBART project. 

“It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s just pull out, let’s just stop, let’s not get involved with eBART,'” Davis said. “But I want to make sure the public is aware that there’s a close relationship between the widening of Highway 4 and eBART.” He pointed out that federal funding for transportation projects has dried up with the anti-earmarks attitude in Washington, adding, “We really need to think about all of those (anti-eBART) statements before we make them.” 

Miller agreed, saying that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s funding, which comes from Bay Area bridge toll increases, could be jeopardized. “MTC is going on the premise that we are all committed to the project,” she said. “They would have grave concerns if there was a reverse in direction after they granted us these funds and we’ve been spending the dollars now under construction. So there’s significant dollars. There’s already been a significant commitment in the corridor by all entities involved that we were headed down this road and we had a game plan and we were moving forward.” 

Kalinowski was absent from Tuesday’s meeting and none of the other council members commented on the issue. 

In other business, the council approved contracts with several employee unions that defer 3 percent pay raises until 2013 and require an increase in employee contributions to their retirement benefits. Former Councilman Ralph Hernandez told the council that it should not be making promises for pay raises in two years. The city’s current dire financial circumstances include the possibility of bankruptcy if expenses are not significantly reduced in the coming years.

“It’s too early to guarantee increases,” said Hernandez. “It’s inappropriate financially for a city to defer essentially what the city is owing these groups. I think the city owes somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million for these deferrals.” 

But City Manager Jim Jakel defended the concessions, pointing out that the unions have existing contracts that promised raises, but which some employees have not received since 2008. The latest concessions total $1.25 million, in addition to a previous $3 million in concessions, said Jakel. The council members agreed, approving the new contracts unanimously. 

The council also discussed volunteer opportunities in Antioch, including helping the police, monthly cleanups, youth sports, painting over graffiti, building homes for the poor and helping seniors. Davis said he’s begging everyone who attends the Quality of Life Forum – starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, January 26 in the Deer Valley High School auditorium – to sign up to volunteer for some program. 

For several years Quality of Life forums, in which residents get city and regional updates and voice their concerns to the council, were held about twice a year. But the council has not held a forum since April 2009, when the forum was marked by controversy created when then-Councilman Reggie Moore appeared to be making excuses for the man who had recently gunned down four Oakland police officers. 

For more information on the highway widening, go to http://www.widensr4.org.

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