Buses waiting to pick up passengers
South Bay transit leaders have approved a major contract to construct a long-planned light rail extension project in East San Jose. Photo by Jana Kadah.

South Bay transit leaders have approved a major contract to get construction underway on a long-planned light rail extension project in East San Jose.

The VTA board of directors on Thursday unanimously approved awarding a $437 million construction contract to a joint venture of two companies to build the Eastridge to BART Regional Connector.

The 2.4-mile project will create an elevated track along East Capitol Expressway from a new ground level station at VTA’s revamped Eastridge Transit Center north to a new elevated station at Story Road, and on to the Alum Rock Station, offering a link to the Milpitas BART Station.

“We are sending a clear message today that East San Jose deserves an equitable transportation system. We cannot wait any longer,” VTA Board Member and District 3 San Jose Councilmember Omar Torres said.

The project has been in the making for more than two decades, leaving the lower-income, largely Latino East San Jose community without a long-promised piece of critical infrastructure, leaders and advocates say.

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan, a member of the VTA board, said the board approving costs for the major construction phase represents a historic investment.

“Our east side in San Jose has waited far too long, and has been truly underserved,” Mahan said. “It’s an intergenerational investment, it’s a sacrifice we make as a contribution toward an overall regional network that one day is going to all fit together at the service levels we want.”

The $437 million joint bid from Sacramento-based MCM Construction Inc. and New York City-based RailWorks Corporation came in about $122 million over VTA’s estimates, largely due to a differing view on potential inflation on materials like concrete and electrical components.

This digital rendering shows what a portion of the Eastridge to BART Regional Connector could look like along Capitol Expressway when complete. Image courtesy of VTA.

The board, in approving the contract award, gave the go-ahead for VTA to dip into its reserves to cover the bulk of the additional cost.

District 8 San Jose Councilmember Domingo Candelas, who represents a portion of the area where the new tracks will run, said the project goes beyond the immediate benefits of offering improved transit access for the area.

“Its realization will bring change and opportunities for this historically disadvantaged area of our valley,” Candelas said. “This light rail extension holds the promise of revitalizing our neighborhoods and attracting new investments.”

The total project cost from start to finish is expected to be $653 million. This includes pedestrian and bus improvements in the area dating back to 2007, as well as the reconstruction of the Eastridge bus hub in 2015 and utility relocation and land acquisition work that has been done over the past three years.

Angel Madero, chief of staff for District 5 San Jose Councilmember Peter Ortiz, said the lack of investment in public transportation in East San Jose has caused significant hardships for residents.

“Without reliable options for transit and the inability to afford a car, too many residents are forced to walk on dangerous, high-speed corridors with inadequate sidewalk space or none at all. It’s these conditions that have made East San Jose an epicenter of traffic fatalities,” Madero said.

The project is funded by $313 million from Measure A, a tax measure approved by voters in 2000, and by $130 million from Regional Measure 3, a 2018 bridge toll increase. About $86 million is coming from state transportation grants and funds, including the gas tax.

Officials said the cost of the project would only increase if it isn’t started immediately, and with Thursday’s approval, construction can start in April. It’s expected to be completed in 2028.

Eugene Bradley, founder of advocacy group Silicon Valley Transit Users, has attended recent public hearings on the project to encourage leaders to approve the contract. He said he’s “stoked”construction is finally beginning.

“I remember over 20 years ago taking the old 74 bus from Eastridge to where the Great Mall is and then back again. I believe this project really should have been VTA’s No. 1 priority, yes even above BART,” Bradley said. “Let’s just get going on this project. This community has waited too long.”

Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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