After decades, VTA light rail extension to Eastridge moves forward
During a June 6 VTA Board of Directors meeting, the board voted unanimously to green-light a light rail extension into East San Jose's Eastridge Transit Center from Alum Rock. Photo by Kyle Martin.

The Valley Transportation Authority Board of Directors on Thursday voted unanimously to approve new plans for a light rail extension to San Jose’s Eastridge Transit Center — giving what should be the go-ahead on an almost 20-year-old project.

The vote came decades after East San Jose residents waited for the wheels of government to crank the fully-funded project into action, after county voters first approved the extension project in 2000 with Measure A. The VTA board discussed new findings in a second study that details impact from noise, vibration and traffic impacts, including the loss of carpool lanes. The unavoidable impacts will affect East San Jose residents along Capitol Expressway between VTA’s Alum Rock and Eastridge transit centers, where the 2.4 mile extension will be placed.

VTA officials Ken Ronsse and Christina Jaworksi explained the changes to the previous project plan.

“Tonight’s action improves the project,” Ronsse told San José Spotlight. “With the approved project, we’ll be able to move full steam ahead.”

During Thursday’s board meeting, Supervisor Dave Cortese, who has supported the project for years, called the new plan a “breakthrough” for public transit in the region.

“There’s literally hundreds of reasons, practical reasons, to keep moving down this path,” Cortese told the board.

Construction for the $453 million project is planned to start in late 2020, according to VTA officials. In the meantime, contracts and permits must be approved, utilities must be relocated and land must be acquired, among other things.

A few board members expressed reservations in the plan — such as Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, who said that more traffic congestion is not something she’s looking forward to as public transit changes in her district. Still, Carrasco has been a staunch supporter of extending light rail to East San Jose, which has been largely left behind in the city’s transit improvement plans and cut off from other parts of the Bay Area because of a lack of services.

“This doesn’t look good to me as a consumer, as someone who commutes everyday and who is always late,” Carrasco said of VTA’s new impact report, but added that “it’s a small inconvenience in comparison to those who are transit dependent.”

But the new light rail extension will open access to public transit to and from East San Jose for thousands across the Bay Area, said San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez. Elected leaders earlier this year worried about another delay in the long-awaited project — despite the fact that East San Jose residents have taxed themselves for years to pay for it.

“Right now, it is still too fast to ride in your cars around the Bay… people still do that instead of taking public transportation,” Peralez said. But if the lane closures get people out of their cars and into trains and buses, the downtown councilman sees that as a benefit. “The reality is that I think the benefits go much beyond what we see today.”

Sunil Sharma, an East San Jose resident who spoke to the board Thursday, said the extension could help boost revenue at the Eastridge Mall, where he said he’s concerned businesses are slowing and shutting down — especially following the Barnes and Noble closure at the mall in January 2018.

“I’m concerned other stores might close,” Sharma, 61, told San José Spotlight. But with a new light rail extension, he said the area could see an uptick in business, and he might gain some new neighbors, too. “I’d like to see more high income residents, like technology workers, move in.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo weighed in during Thursday’s meeting to show his support for the new extension.

“There are a lot of members on this board that are not from San Jose that are still supporting this project because they think it’s the right thing to do,” Liccardo said. “And it is the right thing to do.”

Contact Kyle Martin at kylebmartin96@gmail.com or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.

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