San Jose lawmakers establish design goals for BART extension
The Berryessa BART station was San Jose's first BART station. Plans to expand to downtown San Jose are slated for 2030. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    San Jose lawmakers and transit leaders are cautiously laying the groundwork for how to integrate new BART stations in San Jose.

    The City Council received an update Tuesday from VTA and BART officials on the latest stages of the BART Silicon Valley Phase II project. This major infrastructure development will extend BART service by six miles into downtown San Jose and Santa Clara, adding four new stations.

    A memo submitted by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Raul Peralez, David Cohen and Dev Davis lays out the design goals for the San Jose stations: 28th Street/Little Portugal, Downtown San Jose, Diridon Station and one on the border of San Jose and Santa Clara near Newhall Street.

    Lawmakers want easy station access for the public, especially at Diridon Station. They stressed the importance of San Jose and VTA working closely with the San Jose Sharks hockey team and SAP Center to find ways to minimize the construction impact around the arena. The city and VTA are also considering how to fund public art around the stations. Another priority is setting up a business interruption fund to ensure small businesses are not put in jeopardy by ongoing construction.

    Nathan Ulsh, director of policy and operations for the San Jose Downtown Association, urged stakeholders to set up financial assistance for downtown businesses before construction occurs.

    “This needs to be addressed and we would appreciate funds being allocated for this, as it will massively disrupt our downtown businesses,” Ulsh said.

    Peralez emphasized collaboration is critical to the project. He noted many of the issues addressed in the city memo are already being worked on by multiple stakeholders.

    Still on track

    BART first reached Santa Clara County in 2020 with the opening of stations in Milpitas and Berryessa in North San Jose. The project has already received significant funding through multiple ballot measures. It’s also a source of headaches for San Jose and VTA. Last month, civil rights groups accused the agency of backing off its goal to allocate a high percentage of project contracts to diverse small businesses. Earlier this year, Congress pulled $141 million earmarked for the project in a COVID-19 relief package.

    Most recently, the project achieved a milestone through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which provides grants for transit projects. The FTA sent VTA a letter of intent on Oct. 25, announcing it will commit close to $2.3 billion to the Phase II extension or 25% of the final project cost, whichever is lower. Passenger service is planned to start in 2030.

    Councilmember Matt Mahan asked Takis Salpeas, VTA’s chief BART delivery officer, to explain what the agency is doing to make sure cost and timeline overruns don’t occur. The FTA identified risks that could potentially drive the cost of the project up to $9.1 billion—substantially higher than VTA’s $6.9 billion estimate.

    Salpeas said the FTA has given VTA ample time to collect bids from contractors to figure out its budget needs for the project. He also said the agency has benefited from lessons learned on similar transportation projects in high-density urban areas.

    Residents and transit advocates generally applauded the project, but also questioned the price tag.

    “(This is) one of San Jose’s greatest building opportunities, a project with multigenerational impact,” said Jonathon Kass, transportation policy manager at SPUR. “Given FTA’s cost review suggesting the project could cost over $9 billion, we’re concerned that continuing on the current path could threaten the entire project.”

    Ryan Globus, a San Jose resident who lives near the Diridon Station, is excited for the BART extension, but concerned about the depth of the tunnel under Diridon, which will make it difficult to transfer from BART to Caltrain or Amtrak.

    “Whenever I transfer from Caltrain to BART at Millbrae, it’s always a roll of the dice. It’s always kind of a mess, in part because of bad decisions (made) several decades ago,” he said. The Millbrae station, which originally served just Caltrain, received BART service in 2003. Transferring between the two requires walking up long series of stairs, which can sometimes cause commuters to miss their connection.

    Some speakers expressed concern with the use of a single-bore design, which they argued is less cost-effective than a dual-bore alternative.

    “What I would like to see is re-exploring a shallower dual-bore design,” said Daniel Hulse. “Because the single bore is inherently wasteful, and it represents a huge opportunity cost that takes (away) from potential other capital projects in San Jose.”

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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