VTA is diverting funding from a controversial highway project—the target of community outrage for years.
The transit agency’s board of directors agreed to approve nearly $200 million for 11 infrastructure projects to relieve highway congestion in Santa Clara County during its Thursday meeting. At the urging of director and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, the board agreed to not allocate a planned $9.5 million for the Charcot Avenue Extension project.
Residents have complained about the project since its inception, saying it threatens the safety of children at nearby Orchard Elementary School. Parents have organized protests and signed petitions asking lawmakers to not proceed with the project.
Citing community concerns, Liccardo suggested the board divert funding to two other projects in North San Jose. Director and county Supervisor Cindy Chavez agreed, noting the board has heard complaints from residents about the extension project for years.
“We need to incent the ability to stop a project that we no longer think is valuable to the communities we represent,” Chavez said. “So I am very comfortable with looking at a reassignment of resources to other projects.”
The board agreed to not allocate the funding, but stopped short of immediately assigning funds to another project. If the San Jose City Council also agrees not to fund the extension, VTA will allocate the money to one of two other high-priority proposals: the 101/Maybury interchange and the 101/Zanker Road/Skyport Drive/Fourth Street improvements.
The Charcot Avenue extension is one of several infrastructure proposals Santa Clara County voters agreed to fund in 2016 through Measure B—a half-cent sales tax expected to produce $6.3 billion over 30 years.
In 2019, VTA approved $25 million in Measure B funds to construct the Charcot Avenue extension, which would cross over Highway 880 from Paragon Drive to Oakland Road. At the time the city also planned to widen Silkwood Lane immediately behind Orchard Elementary School.
The project’s controversy has not subsided over the last few years. Numerous residents and advocates urged the transit agency to divert funding away from the extension.
“I’m calling to support Mayor Liccardo’s memo to allow San Jose flexibility to redirect funding from this very misguided and environmentally racist Charcot extension project,” said Linda Hutchins-Knowles, co-founder of environmental group Mothers Out Front Silicon Valley.
Erin McCarthy, president of the Orchard Teachers Association, told the board the overpass would seriously impact the school.
“The teachers stand wholeheartedly with our community in opposition to this road,” McCarthy said. “It’s not safe, not good for the climate, and almost certainly not good for our students… just don’t build it.”
San Jose Councilmember David Cohen also spoke out against the project, which would be located in his district.
“It’s important that we reevaluate projects over time based on current conditions,” Cohen said. “The project at Charcot was devised 25 years ago and the area around it has changed.”
Several residents thanked the board for its vote. Robin Roemer, a critic of how VTA funds highway projects, praised the board for axing the extension.
“Today is a day of great relief for the Orchard community,” Roemer said.