In November 1997, work began on the construction of an 8-mile extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The total cost of the project was $1.5 billion, and was funded in part by the federal New Starts program, which contributed over half the amount, as well as funding from SFO, BART, San Mateo County Transit (SamTrans), and various other state and local sources.
Project Type:Line Extension Project Mode:Heavy Rail Average Weekday Riders:40,385 Length (mi):8.70
Project Flags:Intermodal Economic Distress:0.80 Population Density (ppl/sq mi):1755 Population Growth Rate (%):0.86
Employment Growth Rate (%):2.20 Market Size:2,668,106 Airport Travel Distance:13 Topography:16
Region:Rocky Mountain / Far West State:CA County:San Mateo
City:San Bruno Urban/Class Level:Mixed Local Area:94014, 94030, 94066, 94080 & 94128 (SF Metro - North San Mateo Co)
Impact Area:Within 3/4 mile of station(s) Transportation System:Transit GIS Lat/Long:37.684506 / -122.466815
Initial Study Date:1997 Post Constr. Study Date:2012
Constr. Start Date:1997 Constr. End Date:2003
Project Year of Expenditure (YOE): 2000 Planned Cost (YOE $):1,052,000,000
Actual Cost (YOE $):1,552,230,000 Actual Cost (curr $):2,142,077,400
Intermodal Actual Cost (YOE $): 1,552,230,000Intermodal Actual Cost (curr $): N/A
Highway Road Access Improvement Cost (YOE $): 2,142,077,400Highway Road Access Improvement Cost (curr $): N/A
Average Annual Daily Traffic: N/ANumber of Parking Spaces: N/A
NOTE: All pre/post dollar values are in 2013$
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NOTE: All impact dollar values are in 2013$
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Opened during summer 2003, BART’s extension through San Mateo County to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has successfully served transit-dependent workers commuting to the airport or downtown San Francisco, but has not reached its potential in terms of spurring long-term economic development. This case study documents how an operational reconfiguration of South Bay’s transportation network could enhance the impact the BART-SFO extension has on market access, travel times, and real estate development. The federal New Starts program funded half of the $1.5 billion project, with other funders including BART, SFO, and San Mateo County Transit (SamTrans).
2.1 Location & Transportation Connections
In November 1997, work began on the construction of an 8-mile extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The extension, which opened in June 2003, connects the Colma BART station, located in northern San Mateo County with SFO, after which it extends south to the Milbrae station. By extending to the Milbrae station, which is located less than one mile from SFO, BART provides an intermodal connection to the Caltrain commuter rail service. Both intermediate stations (South San Francisco and San Bruno) provide bus connections, and at SFO, a new airport station is located within walking distance of the international terminal—a feature that required constructing a designated spur from the primary BART rail line. Using BART, the travel time from SFO to downtown San Francisco is approximately 30 minutes. In addition, for connections to Oakland and the East Bay, travelers originating at or destined for SFO can use BART’s Pittsburg/Bay Point line.
2.2 Community Character & Project Context
Until July 1996, when BART was extended to the Town of Colma, the system terminated in Daly City, which is located in San Mateo County just south of the San Francisco border. When work began on the extension, SFO could be accessed only by driving or taking a bus. BART not only provided a connection to SFO, but also to South San Francisco, San Bruno, and Millbrae—largely residential, auto-oriented communities in San Mateo County. In Millbrae travelers can transfer to Caltrain. From 2000 to 2012, the surrounding area’s (ZIP-code-based) population grew by 4.3 percent, from 168,000 to 175,000. From 1998 to 2012, the employment in this area grew by 11 percent, from approximately 78,600 to 87,300.
Planners first proposed the idea of extending BART to SFO in 1970, when the agency received a federal grant to study the feasibility of doing so. After working for two decades to identify sources of funding and reach an agreement with San Mateo County regarding its financial contribution, BART and SamTrans decided to complete the extension in two phases: an extension from Daly City to Colma, and a subsequent extension from Colma to SFO. BART developed seven build scenarios and two no-build scenarios, and in 1994, ballot measures informed the decision of where to locate the SFO station. Proposition H directed the City of San Francisco to select a site on the side of Highway 101 opposite of the airport, requiring travelers to transfer to an airport shuttle in order to reach the terminals. A majority of voters supported Proposition I, which would involve tunneling under Highway 101 and the airport in order to provide a station within SFO, an alternative that would have cost $300 million more (in 1994 dollars). Despite public support for the extension and a designated airport station, some opponents suggested that BART implement a more cost-effective solution, such as providing free bus service from the Colma station to SFO.
In April 1995, BART approved the alternative including a station at SFO (east of Highway 101), although the design was modified in order to prevent having to tunnel under the highway and part of the airport. The approved design involved building a spur from the main rail line that crossed over Highway 101 on its approach from northern stations and then back again to extend south, along the west side of the highway, to the Milbrae station. Today, while the extension drops travelers within walking distance of SFO’s international terminal, the project has led to scheduling complications that affect the entire line. Because BART runs southbound trains that go to either SFO or Milbrae, service frequency at both stops is limited.
In addition, because there is no direct service between SFO and Milbrae before 7:00 PM on weekdays, Caltrain travelers destined for SFO from points south must transfer to BART at Milbrae and continue north past SFO to the San Bruno station, where they cross the platform and board a train traveling in the opposite direction to SFO. While the BART-Caltrain connection is currently cumbersome, one person interviewed for this case study believes that if plans to electrify the commuter rail and provide more frequent service are implemented, the “network effect” could be significantly enhanced.
4.1 Transportation Impacts
During July 2003, the first full month after the BART-SFO extension opened, 3,545 riders boarded at SFO and 3,384 exited. During September 2015, the latest month for which data are available, a weekday average of 7,661 BART riders boarded at SFO and 7,313 riders exited. This figure shows a 116 percent increase in both entries and exits since its inception. Milbrae is the next busiest station followed by San Bruno and South San Francisco (ranked by both entries and exits). Total exits at the four extension stations totals 21,000 per day. The South San Francisco, San Bruno, and Milbrae stations have all experienced greater relative increases in traffic than SFO.
Most travelers to the airport are boarding in the City of San Francisco (stations north of the extension). At downtown San Francisco’s Powell Street station, BART’s third-busiest in September 2015, a weekday average of 1,291 riders who boarded at the station exited at SFO. Conversely, during the same month, an average of 1,676 riders boarded at SFO and exited at Powell Street—the most popular station of exit for travelers leaving the airport.
4.2 Demographic, Economic & Land Use Impacts
One person interviewed has observed that transit-oriented development (TOD) has so far failed to take hold along the BART extension, especially compared with the East Bay’s success in leveraging stations to attract development. This person cites successful TOD surrounding BART’s West Oakland and Fruitvale stations, in particular, attributing it in part to a larger [transit-using] commute shed [than in the South Bay] (i.e., more travelers entering and exiting stations). This is a “current phenomenon that is likely to grow,” this person says, “especially around Caltrain [in the South Bay] and the East Bay.”
Long-term economic development impacts stemming from the BART extension are more related to tourism and labor market access—particularly access to service workers—than to business attraction. One person interviewed does not believe that corporate relocations can be attributed to the extension, nor that technology companies based in Silicon Valley depend on the line, in part because many provide private bus service to their employees. People interviewed also agree that for most existing companies, BART’s connection to SFO is not critical, mostly because driving is convenient and often much quicker than the train. Still, BART’s extension has expanded the number of options for reaching SFO, the region’s premier airport.
The extension plays a different role among tourists because many visitors to the Bay Area are from Europe and Asia, where using public transportation is a common mode of travel. Because of this, BART is a popular way to reach San Francisco and other areas. Since 2003, when the BART-SFO extension opened, the number of annual visitors to San Francisco has exceeded 14 million. And while not segmented by route, the San Francisco Travel Association reports that more than one in four (26.7 percent) of visitors use BART while in San Francisco. Regarding labor market access, service workers at SFO and possibly retail stores surrounding the San Bruno station depend on BART for their commute.
The technology and construction industries have led job growth in San Mateo County and the larger Silicon Valley, with a buoyant housing market supporting the construction industry. In a sign of the region’s dominance in the broadly defined “tech” sector, it received nearly 58 percent of total venture capital funding in the U.S., nearly all of which flowed into the three San Francisco Peninsula counties: San Francisco, San Mateo, and San Clara.
Michael Storper, an urban planning professor at UCLA who studies urban economies, attributes the Bay Area’s economic fortunes to a “...[concentration] on attracting and supporting new high-wage industries...,” especially in comparison to the Los Angeles region, which “tried to reinvigorate the mainstay of the old economy: manufacturing.”
Bay Area Council Economic Institute
San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association (SPUR)
Case Study Developed by Economic Development Research Group, Inc.