Martinez Invests in New Train Station To Revitalize Downtown

Contact: Richard Pearson, community development director and transportation projects manager, City of Martinez; phone: (925) 372-3525; e-mail:

Located on the east side of the San Francisco Bay Area, the City of Martinez has a quaint and charming downtown with a Main Street and old brick buildings. However, in the 1990s, the downtown area’s economic health was in danger. Both “anchor tenants” (Contra Costa County offices and the Superior Courts) were considering relocating, and no new businesses were moving in, no housing was being built and old businesses were leaving.

The reasons for the outmigration and lack of new business were annual flooding and lack of convenient parking. Furthermore, the streets and sewers were old and failing.

Two traffic bottlenecks were hampering drivers around Alhambra Creek. The first was an old railroad bridge, which the nearly bankrupt Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) had no money to replace in the 1980s. The second bottleneck was right on Main Street, at a tight 90-degree turn under a building.

Parking was worst on Mondays, when up to 300 jurors came in for that week’s trials. A 1985 parking study concluded that a 400-space parking structure was needed. The report also noted that the old Amtrak station had only 19 spaces and needed 50 more. In 1990, the state doubled the number of passenger trains through Martinez and projected a need for 600 new parking spaces by 2010 as the number of trains increased.

Developing a solution to the downtown’s infrastructure needs was a multi-year, multi-partner effort. It took more than 10 years; involved the cooperation of more than 10 agencies, citizen groups and the private sector; and required funding from more than 20 agencies.

Train Station Project Revitalizes Wetlands, Expands Parks

Surprisingly, the key to the solution was a new Amtrak station. The old station had limited parking, and Amtrak patrons overflowed into county parking lots. The city held public workshops to discuss where to site the new station and prepared an environmental impact report that evaluated five alternative designs on three different sites. The city council selected a site at the west end of downtown away from the county offices and courts. The city secured federal, state and Contra Costa Transportation Authority funds to acquire the site and build the new station, a 160-space parking lot, a bus transfer facility and bicycle lockers.

The new station site was next to Alhambra Creek, so the city created a wetlands area next to the creek to add flood capacity and used the excavated soil to raise the station site above the flood level. The Union Pacific Railroad acquired SP and agreed to pay 50 percent of the cost of the new railroad bridge, and the Caltrans Rail Program agreed to fund the other 50 percent. Downstream from the bridge, the creek was badly silted-in where it ran through degraded wetlands owned by the East Bay Regional Park District. Caltrans needed a mitigation site for its new Carquinez Bridge project, so the city also partnered with Caltrans and the Park District to restore those wetlands and add flood capacity.

The new Amtrak station eliminated one of the two bottlenecks. For the second, the city council formed a committee to work with the city engineer and the county flood control district, including citizens, businesses, property owners and an environmental group, Friends of Alhambra Creek. The committee suggested moving the creek from under the building into a city parking lot next door, creating an open creek with additional capacity. In other downtown areas, the creek banks would be laid back to add capacity and room for restoration planting, and small parks would be built along the creek. The city received a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood mitigation grant and a state Department of Water Resources grant for stream restoration. The city and downtown property owners established an assessment district to fund the local match for the FEMA grant.

Mission Accomplished

The city council formed an Economic Vitality Task Force of council members, the city manager and community members. The task force recommended adopting the following vision statement:

Martinez would be a vibrant family-oriented community with a fascinating historic downtown, … a bustling intermodal transportation hub, and the proud home of the county seat.

The Martinez City Council committed to the county and the courts that if the new family law courts were built in the downtown area, the city would solve the parking and flooding problems. To that end, the city obtained federal funds to repave, beautify and add bicycle lanes to the three arterial streets providing access to the downtown. The sewer district replaced sewers and repaved those streets. The city council allocated funds to repave the other streets.

To reach people not involved in the various committees, the city distributed newsletters about the train station project, and later the creek project, to downtown businesses, property owners and other interested members of the public.

As a result of the flooding and traffic mitigation project, the City of Martinez and its residents now enjoy the following benefits:

  • No more yearly flooding! Martinez is no longer regularly featured in television news storm coverage.
  • The new Amtrak station is an intermodal hub with six local bus services, 34 Amtrak California passenger trains per day, bicycle lockers and 160 parking spaces.
  • Major entry streets have been repaved and beautified, the other downtown streets have been repaved, and the sewers have been replaced.
  • Alhambra Creek and its wetlands have been restored and a chain of parks built along the creek. A former liability is now an attractive asset.
  • The county has built one new building, rebuilt a second, started construction on a third and is in the process of approving a fourth.
  • New businesses have moved in, supported by a thriving chamber of commerce and new Main Street Program.
  • New housing has been built in the downtown — 14 units since the completion of the new Amtrak station and the Alhambra Creek project, plus 14 more approved for construction this year.

The city is finishing a new downtown specific plan. The draft plan calls for an additional 500–1,000 housing units to support a revitalized commercial core.

The City of Martinez won an Award for Excellence for this project in the Public Works, Infrastructure and Transportation category of the 2005 California Cities Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more about the award program, visit

This article appears in the February 2006 issue of Western City
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