VTA pursues high capacity transit study for Stevens Creek, other corridors; will the study affect budget crisis options?

On Friday November 16, the VTA Ad Hoc Financial Sustainability Committee reviewed and recommended options to deal with a $25M deficit.   The Committee recommended a less draconian option that reduced bus and light rail service below the “Next Network” plan, but not lower than than current service. VTA’s expected budget gap was thankfully halved due to  Californians’ protection of the SB1 gas tax funding by voting down Prop 6 and the failure of the lawsuit against the Measure B county transportation sales tax.

 

But the VTA Ad Hoc Financial Sustainability Committee’s proposal did not commit to accelerating improvements that would make VTA service more productive and cost-effective, such as more transit signal priority and all-door boarding.   And the Committee did not commit to revisiting capital spending, including projects that have been on the books for decades and wouldn’t necessarily be high priority if they were considered today.

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Revisiting high-capacity transit corridors

Meanwhile, though, VTA is about to kick off a 2-year study that is revisiting plans for high-capacity transit corridors.  VTA solicited proposals for the upcoming study with a deadline in September, and is expected to announce the consulting team early next year.

The VTA study will explore the potential for high-capacity transit on corridors that have been planned in the past, and that aren’t planned yet, looking at a variety of modes including bus rapid transit, light rail, rapid transit, and heavy rail (diesel multiple unit or electric multiple unit).

The study will revisit questions about which corridors are suitable for high-capacity transit, considering land use, travel patterns, and potential speed. If a corridor isn’t currently suitable for high-capacity transit, the study will identify changes that could support such investment.

The Stevens Creek corridor is of particular interest, as seen recently in proposals for the MTC Horizons transformative projects competition.  VTA, and the cities of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara jointly submitted a project for “Stevens Creek Rapid Transit Line for a high speed, high capacity, grade separated system from the Diridon Station area to De Anza College along the West San Carlos-Stevens Creek Corridor.”   While Stevens Creek wasn’t chosen for evaluation by MTC, it was already included in the scope of upcoming VTA study.

The updated High Capacity Corridors study seems like a good process to provide a rational update to consider long-standing plans in the context of current conditions, without appearing to pick on any particular project on the books that may have outlived its original justification, and without appearing to pick on the hopeful aspirations of local officials who are eager for rapid transit that might not be justified by land use and likely ridership.

Can the High Capacity Corridors study help VTA address its financial crisis?

However, it’s not clear whether the timeline of this study will be useful for the VTA board to grapple with its financial crisis.  

The options on the table on Friday only included different scenarios to reduce bus and light rail service hours. There were no options on the table to defer or reconsider legacy capital projects.  Changing a legacy capital project that was approved by the votes is politically fraught. But cutting service that voters agreed to pay for is also problematic. And, going ahead to build out legacy capital projects with questionable ridership potential, while the agency can’t afford grow current service at pace with population, might be compounding problems into the future.

Legacy corridors to reconsider

The request for proposals identified the following “legacy corridors” for updated consideration, noting that they weren’t in any particular order.

  • Mountain View Transit Center to Palo Alto Transit Center (Measure A ballot)
  • Sunnyvale to Cupertino: Lockheed Transit Center to De Anza College via De Anza Blvd and Mathilda (Measure A ballot)
  • Eastridge Transit Center to Nieman Boulevard to SR 87 along Capital Expressway (Measure A ballot) Santa Teresa Light Rail Station to Coyote Valley and Morgan Hill (Measure A ballot)
  • Lawrence Expressway: From Campbell to Lockheed Transit Center
  • Central Expressway
  • San Tomas Expressway: North San Jose to Campbell
  • King Road: Great Mall to Capital
  • Monterey Highway: Santa Teresa light rail station to downtown San Jose
  • Blossom Hill Caltrain Station to Alviso
  • SR 85: South San Jose to Mountain View
  • Vasona Light Rail extension (Measure A ballot)
  • Stevens Creek Boulevard: Convention Center to SR 85 (Measure A ballot)
  • The Caltrain Corridor

Decisions in December

The VTA board is expected to make decisions about responses to the financial crisis at its board meeting on Thursday, December 6.