BART could get a $140 million grant to begin the second phase of construction on a South Bay transit project — more than four decades in the making — from the latest COVID-19 stimulus package, if Congress passes the Biden-backed bill.
The latest COVID-19 stimulus package passed the House early Saturday morning in Washington along party lines, with Democrats voting overwhelmingly in favor of the $1.9 trillion bill. It now faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats hold the slimmest possible majority with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking any tie votes. Should it pass the Senate, President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law around mid-March.
Tucked away in the House Transportation Committee’s section, funding is promised for certain transit projects “that received allocations for fiscal year 2019 and 2020,” which includes the BART Phase II project that will bring the heavy rail system further into San Jose and Santa Clara.
The proposed $140 million grant, set to be allocated over several years, will be used to help local funding streams, such as revenue loss from transit fares because of the COVID-19 pandemic that would have gone to the project.
“It’s going to take a while for things to get where they were economically,” said Valley Transportation Authority spokesperson Bernice Alaniz. “This is some relief.”
According to the project’s website, Phase II will extend BART from its current endpoint in Berryessa to Santa Clara and will cost $6.9 billion. The extension will add four new stops to the transit line: one in East San Jose, two in downtown and one in Santa Clara. The project is currently in its design phase, and construction is scheduled to begin in late 2022 with completion in 2030.
Like BART’s first foray into the South Bay, Phase II, which will extend the rail system into downtown San Jose, is a partnership between VTA and BART. VTA will build the project, and BART will manage it once it opens.
“What we have in our valley is a half-built mass transportation system and our wonderful light rail system,” said Rod Diridon, a longtime transit advocate and the namesake of Diridon Station in San Jose, where part of the BART project will pass through. “We can’t build it halfway, because the vast majority of people aren’t going to ride it halfway.”
The project had been criticized in the past due to increasing costs and complexity.
Diridon, who was on the San Jose Station Study Joint Powers Board that explored BART in Silicon Valley, said the project’s price tag has ballooned due to developers sitting on its plans, which increased construction costs.
Transit advocate Monica Mallon said the BART extension will provide an important connection along with VTA to getting around the city. Like Diridon, however, Mallon doesn’t think BART in San Jose is the end-all solution to an “incomplete” transit system. An increase in bus service and more connections to Caltrain and BART would serve her better, she said.
“I think a lot of people act like the day that this opens will be the day we have a transit system here,” Mallon said. “But I don’t think that’s true.”
The use of COVID-19 related funds, although a decision from Washington and not from VTA, has also garnered criticism, claiming that more money should be going to individuals and small businesses.
But, according to Alaniz, projects like mass transit and the subsequent residential and commercial development that goes around it are essential if the economy is to recover after the pandemic.
“The project will spur jobs and economic recovery,” Alaniz said. “If people are saying, ‘Why is a transit project part of COVID relief?,’ It really is profoundly impactful when it comes to economic recovery and job creation.”
The Federal Transit Administration also allocated $100 million to the BART extension in January, which is expected to be awarded rafter the FTA determines the project has met its grant program requirements. The $100 million is in addition to another $125 million federal grant it received in 2019.
(2/2) FTA also announced @VTA will receive a $100 million funding allocation for the @SFBART Silicon Valley Phase II project. This is the second funding allocation to VTA. FTA has allocated a total of $225 million to VTA for the project. https://t.co/Ria4v7IuNR
— Federal Transit Admn (@FTA_DOT) January 11, 2021
BART opened its first two stops in the South Bay, in the Berryessa neighborhood of San Jose and Milpitas, in June 2020 after numerous delays.
Seventy-five percent of the second phase of the project has been secured through state and local funding such as 2016’s Measure B and a partnership with tech company Google. VTA is looking to pay for the rest of the project with a pending request for $1.7 billion through the federal government’s Expedited Project Delivery Pilot Program.
Business advocates, like Scott Knies of the San Jose Downtown Association, say downtown has waited long enough for BART to reach businesses.
“Keeping BART Phase II on track is a priority investment,” Knies said. “Let’s get the package over the finish line and construction underway.”