ANTIOCH -- While most of the news about BART the past year has centered around work stoppages, construction to bring the transit service to East Contra Costa County continues at a steady clip.
Over the past few months, a three-story-high train maintenance building, bus stop kiosks and parking lot surface have become visible, especially to Highway 4 drivers who pass it each day.
Before that, much of the work on the future Antioch station consisted mainly of grading hills and moving dirt.
A transfer station east of the Pittsburg-Bay Point BART station was also completed, but it's not distinguishable to those driving on Highway 4.
"People ask me all the time about what is that building with the white roof; they're a little confused if that's part of eBART," said Joel Keller, president of BART's board of directors. "I think once we shift the park-and-ride to the new parking lot, there will be a greater awareness and appreciation."
"We've been hearing about it every day," added county Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg. "We've been telling people for years that it's coming, so it's good to be able to have that movement and show the reality of the day is near."
Dubbed eBART, the transit agency's 10-mile extension from the Pittsburg-Bay Point BART station to Antioch, is still on track to open in late 2017, said Ric Rattray, the project manager. The trains, which will also stop at a station near Railroad Avenue in Pittsburg, will run down the middle of Highway 4.
Work started in August 2012 on the site of the new Antioch station, located about a half-mile east of Hillcrest Avenue. The parking lot is nearly complete, while the maintenance facility about a half-mile east of the station is about 60 percent done, said Andy Kleiber, a project manager with S&C Engineers.
The first big change for East Contra Costa commuters and the new station will come in mid-February when Tri Delta Transit buses start using its parking lot. The old Hillcrest park-and-ride will be demolished to clear space for freeway onramps and offramps.
"It's a good thing for our riders because it opens things up," Mike Furnary, Tri Delta's marketing director, said of the additional 94 parking spaces. "There are times when our existing lot fills, and people have to park farther away and walk."
Keller, of Brentwood, also points out the new parking lot will have surveillance cameras and offer more security.
The bus agency will start advertising the switch after Jan. 1, including posting notices on buses, bus stands and fliers on car windshields.
The main difference between eBART and conventional BART is that eBART will use railcars with diesel-powered engines instead of electric rail. eBART's $462 million price tag is about 60 percent cheaper than BART, while officials said its design does not preclude conventional BART from being added some day.
Keller said there is still some anti-eBART sentiment in the region from some who think they are being underserved, while others are of the mindset of "just get me a train."
"I think most people are being patient to see if this is a good deal and how it operates first," Keller said.
Early 2014 will be a busy time for BART to keep progress going on the extension. The agency is soliciting bids for eBART's railcars and rails, ties and switch machines, and is expected to award contracts in late spring, Rattray said.
Contractors for the Highway 4 widening project near Hillcrest Avenue will also start construction on the structure work for the station house during the summer, said Ivy Morrison, a Contra Costa Transportation Agency spokeswoman for the project.
That work includes the pedestrian crossing over Highway 4 onto the train platform, Morrison said.
Once the structure work is completed and the median right of way is secured, BART will add the elevators, canopies and system and complete all the finish work on the station, Rattray said. Laying down the track won't start until the Highway 4 median is finished, which will allow for a "continuous flow of work" rather than starting and stopping, he said.
An agreement also ensures at least a quarter of the 600 local construction jobs for the project come from East Contra Costa ZIP codes, Keller said.
"eBART is not just going to benefit commuters but residents here as well," he said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.