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21st Century Transportation in the Bay Area


JUNE 2023

When the world moved into the 21st century, Silicon Valley was in the mist of the dotcom boom. Those of us not in tech industry were thinking of how we’d move all the additional people, goods and services that were coming our way as a result. The challenges of mobility were not new to us; they’ve been at the forefront of the Bay Area since the Gold Rush started 175 years ago. We’ve had trolleys, cable cars, streetcars and train systems come and go, replaced by buses, freeways, newer trains, light rail and even trolleys once again, often along the same alignments. But at the start of this century, the Bay Area saw an unprecedented number of large infrastructure projects, and in many ways, it set the stage for what’s coming next.

First, let’s take a look at the first two decades of the 2000s.

Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) deployments included (left to right) using Fastrak transponders as probe vehicles to predict travel times and relay information to motorists; real time transit time message boards; parking guidance in downtown San Jose; and high occupancy toll lanes. 

BART’s Oakland Airport Connector, which is a cable car system, opened in 2014.

Almost 25 years after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the rebuilt eastern span of the Bay Bridge was completed in 2013.

The Bay Area saw the completion of two tunnel projects in 2013. The fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel (left), and the new Devil’s Slide tunnels (right). The old Devil’s Slide highway was converted into a trail for hikers and bicyclists.

The Bay Area has long been a transportation rich environment, but the construction and realization of the projects shown above in the early 2000s was truly a unique period. While ITS and airport connectors are visible throughout the country, suspension bridges are rare and tunnel projects are even less common.  Which brings us to the obvious question – what’s next?

On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (Public Law 117-58, also known as the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law”) into law. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the largest long-term investment in our infrastructure and economy in our Nation’s history. It provides $550 billion over fiscal years 2022 through 2026 in new Federal investment in infrastructure, including in roads, bridges, and mass transit, water infrastructure, resilience, and broadband.  For the Bay Area, we can expect the see quite a windfall in major transportation projects.

California’s share of the funds will include $25 billion to repair the state’s highways, $4.2 billion for bridges, $9.45 billion for public transportation, $384 million to expand access to electric vehicle charging stations, $100 million to expand broadband internet access, $1.5 billion for the state’s major airports.

In the Bay Area, the bipartisan deal dedicates $4.5 billion to local rail, highway and public transit.  This will allow Caltrain to complete electrification and for BART to extend from east San Jose through downtown and to Santa Clara. BART is also hoping to replace their transit control system and allow trains to reduce headways and run closer together. San Jose Airport will receive about $11 million via a competitive grant program to be used for upgrades to the airport’s terminal and to bring airport facilities into compliance with the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.

One project that did not receive funds in the last round of the competitive Multimodal Project Disciplinary Grant program, nicknamed MEGA, was the California High Speed Rail project.  However, The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) in partnership with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District (METRO) was recently awarded $30 million in Mega Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the RTC’s Watsonville-Santa Cruz Multimodal Corridor Program: Highway 1 Bus on Shoulders and Auxiliary Lanes from Freedom Boulevard to State Park Drive and Segment 12 of the Coastal Rail Trail Project. The grant award will partially fund the design, right-of-way, and construction components ($25.2 million) of auxiliary lane and bus-on-shoulder facilities on Highway 1 from Freedom Boulevard to State Park Drive and a critical 1.25-mile segment of the 32-mile Coastal Rail Trail with much-needed pedestrian and bicycle overcrossings over the highway and parallel arterial Soquel Drive.  It will also fund four new zero emission buses for METRO ($4.8 million). This program is one of only nine projects nationwide and the only project in California awarded funds under this round of MEGA funding.

Over the next few years, the Bay Area will likely also see several safety improvements, seismic retrofit programs, freight and port projects, and continued deployment of active transportation (bicycle and pedestrian) projects. Given the strong federal funding plus our state and local support of transportation initiatives, the future of Bay Area transportation is indeed bright!


If you’d like more information about this article or about W-Trans, contact Mark Spencer at, or visit