BART celebrates 60 years of Bay Area transit

July 22, 2011 7:23:23 PM PDT
Nearly 60 years ago, the California legislature created a special commission to study the Bay Area's transportation problems. Their solution would lead to the creation of the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART.

It would be a few more years after the commission drafted that solution before tractors and cranes would appear, but when they did, they were everywhere.

In 1951, the world was different. The original concept for BART stemmed from a national defense need as well as a transport need.

"I think that, during the war, the Army was concerned that the Bay Bridge was the primary corridor between the East and West Bay," said BART history expert Mike Healy.

Healy, the institutional memory of BART, served 30 years managing the transportation agency's public affairs. Early on, Bay Area residents worried about disruptions from what may have been the biggest public works project in history.

Five thousand people spread out on construction sites for six years, building tracks and 35 stations across 75 miles of the Bay Area at a cost of $1.5 billion.

"Probably the best investment the Bay Area has ever made," Healy said.

Imagine what it might cost today to drill a tunnel through the Berkeley Hills, and then hire Bethlehem Steel to build the 57 tube sections. Engineers floated each of them into place, and then divers connected them precisely in a trench beneath the San Francisco Bay.

"I consider it one of the engineering marvels of the world," Healy said.

A marvel that has become a backdrop now taken for granted in our daily commutes. Think about that next Monday when riding the BART train, and wish the system a happy, conceptual 60th birthday.

Load Comments