Billions of infrastructure dollars are coming to Silicon Valley
Caltrain’s rebirth came as the late 1990’s tech industry exploded in Silicon Valley and workers were looking for ways to avoid traffic. File photo.

    Caltrain, VTA and BART are all big winners with the passage of the federal infrastructure bill on Monday, with billions of dollars flowing into Silicon Valley.

    Some of the funding from the $1.2 trillion bill will be spent on local public transportation. Coming to the Bay Area is $66 billion which will enable the $7 billion extension of BART to downtown San Jose and $2 billion electrification of Caltrain to move forward. San Jose also plans to apply for a $5 billion grant to purchase electric buses.

    BART’s biggest priority—and highest price tag—is its Train Control Modernization Program, which updates the system’s communications and allows trains to run closer together, increasing the number of trains from 23 to 30 through the Transbay Tube per hour, BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said.

    “This new bill increases the amount of money this project could be eligible for. We are grateful there’s possibly more money for that program,” Trost told San José Spotlight.

    Funds for transit-oriented development will allow BART to study developing affordable housing at some stations, and could also help BART improve access for people with disabilities.

    “The infrastructure bill is a once-in-a-generation investment in things that matter to our riders: reliability, frequency and accessibility,” BART General Manager Bob Powers said in a statement.

    VTA spokesperson Stacey Hendler Ross said the infrastructure bill makes additional funding available for projects such as the second phase of BART to San Jose, as well as access to electric buses and charging infrastructure. The federal government will provide 25% of the funding for the second phase of the project, she said.

    “California has a mandate to have transit agencies (operating with) zero-emission fleets by 2040,” she said. “So this kind of funding will certainly help not only VTA, but all transit agencies in California reach that goal.”

    Hendler Ross is excited to see this kind of commitment made to public transit.

    “It’s good for our community, good for our riders and good for the environment,” she said.

    The zero-emissions goal also applies to Caltrain. Spokesperson Dan Lieberman said its goal is to have 75% of its diesel fleet electrified. The funding will allow it to complete the project by 2024 and reach zero emission service by 2040. Caltrain wants to build out and deliver on the promise of what electrification can provide, Lieberman said.

    “The big step is having eight trains per hour going each direction,” he told San José Spotlight. “It could move the equivalent of 5.5 lanes worth of traffic on 101, benefits you’re not going to see through any other means.”

    It’s a plan Caltrain had back in 2018, but the big question was when funding would be available. As the financial picture becomes clearer, it’s easier to start figuring out timelines, he said.

    Caltrain hopes to get federal assistance for grade separations where the tracks meet the road, another priority from a safety and traffic standpoint. Grade separations can cost between $100-$400 million per project, Lieberman said, and Caltrain just completed three grade separation projects in San Mateo that cost more than $200 million.

    “Doing infrastructure right is expensive,” Lieberman said. “Getting this support from Washington to do it correctly is very worthwhile.”

    Congressman Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), said some federal funds will go toward high-speed rail, roads and bridges. He told San José Spotlight he’ll advocate for expanding the intersection between Mission Boulevard and Interstate 680 in Fremont, as well as the entrance to State Route 237 where traffic backs up in the mornings. He’d also like to see the San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges widened and improvements made to the Mineta San Jose International Airport.

    Khanna, who lobbied for the bill and witnessed the ceremonial signing at the White House alongside San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and other politicians, said it was inspiring and a moment of pride.

    “It was exciting to be part of something you know is going to do good for the country,” he said. “My hope is that we can have more bipartisan wins.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

    Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story reported the bill would help fund an extension of light rail, but that project did not qualify for funding.

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