VTA proposes next BART phase – Downtown and Diridon only

This morning, VTA staff proposed to the BART SV board subcommittee a scaled back Phase 2 of the BART to Silicon Valley project which would include Downtown and Diridon stations, but not yet stations at Alum Rock or City of Santa Clara. Staff had evaluated project options against the criteria for federal funding and found that the two-station project would maximize the chances of getting the federal funding critical to complete the project. VTA would still perform environmental review of all four stations, but would seek federal funding for the 2-station option.

BART SV options ranked by federal funding criteria
BART SV options ranked by federal funding criteria

The full 4-station project would cost $4.7 billion, (with $1.1 billion or more from federal New Starts funding) and would need a full $3 billion out of the proposed $3.5 billion upcoming transportation tax that VTA is considering for 2016, eliminating most other projects, or depend bonds with very high debt service costs. By contrast, the 2-station project would cost $3.4 Billion, and would require up to $1.7 billion of the upcoming sales tax measure and/or additional funds. Federal criteria: mobility improvements, environmental benefits, cost-effectiveness, and land use, together favored the 2-station version over the 4-station version, and also potential 3 station versions.

There were other differences in the proposed project, compared to the version reviewed earlier. Staff proposed that the Alum Rock station be moved from near 28th street near the 101 freeway 23rd street, and a parking garage, opposed by the community, would be removed. VTA staff member Gonot expressed concern that removing the parking would greatly hamper ridership, however General Manager Fernandez noted that the area would be served by BRT, and was relatively near Berryessa’s park and ride.

The 23rd street alignment would allow BART to use a bridge over 101, saving money with less tunnelling. Another difference is that the full 4-station project would include a maintenance facility at Newhall, while the 2-station project would have a storage yard at Newhall, to be used to store cars from BART’s larger fleet, but not the full maintenance facility.

VTA staff wants to get the project into the queue for Federal New Starts funding by the end of the year, so the final decision could be made by 2016, before the conclusion of the Obama administration.

At the meeting, board member Cindy Chavez expressed concern about reaction from Alum Rock/5 Wounds community, which had engaged in a comprehensive planning process for the station area. Chavez expressed a strong interest in more public outreach, so that community members do not feel like decisions are a “done deal” without community input. Chavez also mentioned that the Silicon Valley Leadership Group had discussed options, and agreed that Downtown/Diridon were the highest priorities.

And board member Ken Yeager expressed concern about City of Santa Clara, which has been eager to get a BART station of its own, although the Caltrain station at the same location currently serves about 800 riders. Yeager also mentioned the benefit of the Santa Clara station as an airport connector. However, given the multi-modal station at Diridon including eventual high speed rail, Diridon has been mentioned as a potential primary airport connection location.

Board Member Yeager made a salient point – stakeholders were concerned that if Phase 2 were broken up into 2a and 2b, then there would be a risk that 2b would never happen, due to the land use in those areas. If there is a lack of supportive land use and land use plans, that would seem like a good reason to refrain from building a station. Community member Roland Lebrun expressed concern about the proposed delay of the Alum Rock station which had substantial community support.

This decision will be presented for the VTA board approval at its upcoming November meeting.

Given the need to consider cost-effectiveness and land use to receive the federal funding, and the focus on the critical BART-Caltrain connection creating a continuous backbone transit route around the bay, this seems like a prudent approach. San Jose readers and transit supporters – what do you think?