Posts Tagged ‘Caldecott Tunnel’

Earlier this month, Moraga hosted a debate between U.S. Senate incumbent Barbara Boxer and challenger Carly Fiorina, late of HP fame. I watched it on TV from across town. A slick production suitable for state-wide consumption. I expected nothing less. Moraga is a precious place and Saint Mary’s College, host to the event, sets the tone — literally, with its bells (The bell tower is real, but I’ve often wondered about the bells.)

Saint Mary’s moved over the hills from Oakland in the 1920s. At that time the Sacramento Northern Railway, one of the region’s electric railways, served the Moraga Valley. The route was an amalgam of small lines that ran from the Oakland Long Wharf, through a tunnel bored through the Oakland Hills (now abandoned) all the way to Chico. It was a street-car-like commuter line not unlike San Francisco’s Muni in appearance and did its part to link the inland valleys to the hub of commerce that the Bay cities have been since the gold rush. Saint Mary’s had its own little station. But autos were coming into favor and the Caldecott Tunnel opened in 1937 a few miles north-west of the old rail line. The Sacramento Northern ceased passenger operation in 1941 just as World War II was about to turn the Bay Area into an arsenal and staging area for the Pacific theater.

Like the much of Central Contra Costa County, post-war Moraga served as a bedroom and brood house for Oakland and San Francisco. In the morning the breadwinners exited for San Francisco Bay’s commercial centers, returning to their cocoon through the tunnel at night. The success of Central County’s burbs inspired a third tunnel that provided switchable reserve capacity for the peak travel direction. It opened in 1964 as real estate developers eyed East County’s farmland.

Now, two generations later, the Caldecott is a three-tunnel bottleneck much of the day where the non-commute direction, with its single tunnel, hosts a formidable reverse commute. No one expected that commuters from Oakland would be going opposite the traditional commute to the business parks in San Ramon, or going out of their way to avoid the even-more congested freeways that ring the Bay. After decades of discussion and money hunting a new fourth tunnel is under construction courtesy of the federal Recovery Act. In a couple years the barriers that twice daily change the direction of the middle bore will become a memory.

I doubt that I’m the only one who sees irony in the fact that the original two-bore Caldecott Tunnel was built during the depressed 1930s, and the new fourth bore is progressing during California’s Great Depression II. Déjà vu all over again. The Caldecott was started before Roosevelt’s New Deal, before the late 30’s conservative pushback dried up enthusiasm for federal spending. Likewise, the new fourth bore is funded by a financing package that could not be done in the current political climate where deficit hawks, directed by the oppressed affluent** have successfully played the fear card that Roosevelt warned against. Barbara Boxer is on Roosevelt’s side of history and Carly Fiorina is on Herbert Hoover’s. They echo the same polarized California we had during the last depression. The California fault line is alive and well.

** “oppressed affluent” courtesy of Paul Krugman’s opinion piece: The Angry Rich  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/20/opinion/20krugman.html?src=me&ref=general


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