A "megaregion" is a large network of cities or metropolitan regions that share common features, such as a similar environment, interconnected infrastructure systems, economic ties, and a shared culture and history.
The Northern California Megaregion comprises 21 counties, 164 incorporated cities and four regions: San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento Area, Northern San Joaquin Valley, and Monterey Bay Area. The Megaregion accounts for 31.5% of California's population, totaling 12.2 million people.
The Northern California Megaregion is one of the strongest economies in the world. With a gross regional product of $875 billion (2014 data), the Northern California Megaregion accounted for 5% of total U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).
This makes Northern California the fifth largest megaregional economy in the U.S. — and one of the most productive, with the highest GDP per capita. The Northern California Megaregion also boasts one of the fastest growing economies in the U.S. since 2010.
Northern Californians face transportation challenges every day. The Bay Area has the second worst congestion in the nation, and the average commuter loses nearly five full days per year sitting in traffic on increasingly congested highways. The lack of multiple reliable transportation choices hinders opportunities for residents and businesses, and lessens quality-of-life throughout the Megaregion.
In some of the busiest corridors in the Megaregion, many people choose rail — such as BART, Capitol Corridor, Caltrain, and the Altamont Corridor Express — over other options. However, transit and rail are not always dependable due to infrequent service; lack of evening, weekend, and late-night availability; and long travel times requiring multiple transfers and fares. In particular, the transbay corridor between Oakland and San Francisco is unable to effectively meet the needs of the region.
Without investments in the current systems to enable a robust rail network and vibrant communities, most trips in and around the Megaregion will continue to be made by car. Problems of increased traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions will only get worse as the population grows. The result will be increasingly unreliable travel times and damage to the environment and public health.
The high cost of living in the Bay Area has forced many residents to relocate further from their employment to less expensive areas within the Megaregion, increasing the number of commuters on both roadways and transit systems. Many residents now struggle to live affordably within easy reach of work, school, shopping, and recreation.
In 2018, median home values in the Bay Area were nearly $996,000, triple the median home values of nearby Northern San Joaquin Valley. Residents migrating from the Bay Area to places like the Northern San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento area — but still working in the Bay Area — have increased the number of commuters crossing regional boundaries by 78% between 1990 and 2013.
Transit ridership and road congestion are expected to increase as populations move to affordable housing centers farther away from job centers. Transit ridership is also expected to increase as the population grows within the Megaregion. Investments are needed to add capacity to the shared corridor approach that exists between freight and passenger rail operators in the Megaregion.