By Phil Matier

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — For years, there has been talk about building a second Transbay tube for BART. It’s been mostly all talk, until now.

BART is seriously studying a new tunnel that would run from Alameda to San Francisco’s South of Market area.

For lots of commuters, a new tube couldn’t come fast enough.

Anyone on a rush hour train knows the system is maxing out.

“We’re at crush loads today,” said BART Board President Robert Rayburn.

Randy Rentschler, director of Metropolitan Transportation Commission said, “BART carries twice as many people in the peak, during the a.m. and the p.m., than the whole Bay Bridge does. The capacity of BART is really what drives the Bay Area economy.”

And the fear of the economy grinding to a halt because people can’t get in and out of San Francisco is a key reason why, after 20 years of talk, BART is stepping up and spending a whopping $200 million for a serious look at a second Bay crossing.

“So that we will have some solid proposals versus just lines on the back of cocktail napkin,” Rayburn said.

Getting serious about a mega-dig like a new Transbay tube means answering some tough questions like the route from the East Bay. Where would it start and where would it land in San Francisco?

Rentschler said, “South of Market and the Mission Bay area, where we see all that growth? Is it going to be in the traditional downtown area of San Francisco? That’s one of the most important questions.”

“The downside is cost,” said Rayburn.

Early estimates put the price of the project from anywhere from $10 billion to $15 billion.

But as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned Wednesday: don’t look to Washington for help.

“The money is just not there,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi said.

Another issue is that a new Transbay tube will likely mean either digging up, or digging under Alameda Island.

And what do the folks there think of such a big dig on their door step?

Alameda Vice Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said, “It’s a balance. You weigh the benefit versus the burden and the long term good for the community, I think, is just huge.”

Hundreds of thousands of people pass through the tube every day and if that tube went down for some reason, people would be stuck.

BART says they will have something on the table by the end of the year.

Rayburn said, “We need to get busy on this, now.”

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