Top Ten Public Works Projects of the Century

Editor's Note: APWA developed the Top Ten Public Works Projects of the Century Program to honor the ten most outstanding public works projects of the 20th Century that significantly affected and improved the quality of life in the United States or Canada. Our goal was to generate awareness of the positive contributions public works has made as well as to build appreciation for public works and its contributions to North America.

The APWA Reporter has highlighted each of the outstanding projects throughout 2001. This issue features the final project-the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART).

The Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART)

Managing Agency: San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Commission
Nominated by: Parsons Brinckerhoff

Signaling a renaissance in rail transit in the United States-the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART)-the San Francisco Bay area's mass transit system opened its first segment in 1972. The system was built as a result of the revolutionary decision by voters to tax themselves to build an entirely new transit system and introduced electronic systems into what had been a mechanical railroad technology-based system. BART was the first modern subway system in North America.

BART's original 75-mile-long system serves the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco, and was one of the world's largest single construction projects at the time. The system was built 20 years after the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Commission authorized the first-ever study to determine the role of rapid transit in urban transportation in the automobile era. The 1952 study assessed the need for and the feasibility of an interurban rapid transit system in the Bay Area and led to the design and construction of the BART system.

To design the epitome of a modern rapid transit system, engineers incorporated the most advanced technologies and designed the system to capture the imagination of the public with an ultra-modern look including streamlined cars and stations that reflect the cultural diversity of the local communities.

The initial system included the 3.6-mile-long Trans-Bay Tube connecting San Francisco and Oakland under the San Francisco Bay. At the time of its inauguration in 1974, the tube was the longest and deepest underwater tube tunnel in the world. Its opening rendered the BART system fully operational, cutting the trip across the bay to nine minutes and revolutionized transportation in the San Francisco Bay area. The system was designed to unify the San Francisco Bay area and to reduce congestion that threatened to strangle the area's growth and development.

The BART system passed a major test in October 1989, when an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale shook the Bay Area. The special joints connecting the Trans-Bay Tube to the ventilation structures at each end performed as designed, shifting no more than 3/4 of an inch-a fraction of their four-inch tolerance. In the days immediately following the quake, with the Bay Bridge out of commission, BART provided the only direct means of transportation between San Francisco and Oakland. The system ran a 24-hour schedule to accommodate a ridership increase of nearly 50 percent.

By the 1990s, a program to add more than 34 miles of BART line extensions was underway, continuing evidence of the health and importance of this essential public service. The 95-mile system now serves over 3 million people. Since opening, BART has carried more than 11/2 billion passengers more than 18 billion passenger miles.

BART's influence has been felt far beyond the Bay area. The BART system, including the world's first computer-supervised train control system, advanced the cutting edge technology of mass transit operations within the United States and became the model to be followed by others including the Baltimore Metro, the Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transportation Authority, and the Los Angeles Metro.