San Jose BART funds irk some 

Some Bay Area rail advocates are miffed by Thursday’s announcement of $364 million in new state funding to design a Bay Area Rapid Transit extension from Fremont to San Jose and Santa Clara, saying it is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Still lacking the billions needed to construct and operate the BART extension, the money would be better spent designing a cheaper alternative, such as the high-speed Caltrain extension to San Jose and the East Bay supported by her group, according to Margaret Okuzumi, executive director of BayRail Alliance.

"I think the voters have already indicated they aren’t willing to pay more and they’re tired of [Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s] promises," Okuzumi said. VTA, which manages bus and light rail operations in Santa Clara County, has agreed to design and construct the extension, while BART will operate the trains, officials said.

A light-rail system such as Caltrain would cost one-third less than the $4.7 billion BART extension, according to estimates by BayRail Alliance, Okuzumi said.

The $364 million in funding announced Friday will help VTA complete 65 percent of the design for the project by the end of 2008. Construction would begin in 2009 with the extension scheduled to be operational in 2016, VTA spokeswoman Jayme Kunz said.

The 16-mile extension from Fremont south would include a Milpitas stop, a Santa Clara stop and four San Jose stops, with the option of adding another Milpitas stop in the future, Kunz said.

Santa Clara County voters in June 2006 failed to approve a one-half-cent general sales tax that would have raised about $160 million a year for the county and been a prime source for BART funding, officials said.

Many voters opposed the tax because it wasn’t clear where the funds would be spent, Kunz said. In hope of securing its own dedicated funding source, VTA plans to seek voter approval for a sales tax of its own before the end of 2008, Kunz said.

"It’s quite possible [the BART extension] will never get built and [the $364 million total] will be an absolute waste of taxpayers’ money," said Stuart Cohen, executive director of the Bay Area Transportation and Land Use Coalition. If the project is approved, he worries VTA will use a clause in its agreement with BART that allows it to cut bus services to fund the extension, Cohen said.

Without local matching funds for construction, the federal government has so far been reluctant to earmark the $752 million being requested by VTA from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Kunz said.

Martin Schulter, chairman for the VTA Citizens Advisory Committee, believes the county’s "progressive" voters will see the benefit of BART.

"While the BART solution maybe more expensive, it has more benefits," Schulter said.

The most obvious is reduced traffic congestion and pollution because more people ride BART than light rail, Schulter said.

BART to Silicon Valley highlights

» 16-mile extension of BART, starting just south of the planned BART Warm Springs station in Fremont

» 4.8 miles of subway through downtown San Jose

» Six or seven stations and one future station in Milpitas

» Serves Silicon Valley with stations in Fremont, Milpitas, San Jose and Santa Clara

» Fully grade separated (rail tracks separated from roads)

» Intermodal connections (VTA light rail and buses, Greyhound, ACE, Capitol Corridor, Amtrak, Caltrain, future High-Speed Rail and Airport People Mover)

» New maintenance facility

-Source: Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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