BART Alternative is Cotton Candy: Spun Sugar and Air

Your view: rail plan based on flimsy analysis and flawed logic,
while BART is on solid ground
By Laura Stuchinsky

Creative thinking is critical when you’re caught in a jam. And, that’s Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority current dilemma.

After 10 consecutive quarters of declining sales tax revenues, VTA is struggling with how to do more with less: pay for a long list of valuable transportation projects with fewer dollars than projected in 2000.

Many of these projects are essential if Santa Clara County is ever to build the kind of transit system that would entice large numbers of commuters off our congested roads and highways. If you could build a rail line between Fremont and San Jose that would generate as many riders, cost substantially less than extending BART to Silicon Valley, and eliminate VTA’s need for additional revenues that would be a real boon.

Unfortunately, the facts don’t support it.

BART opponents propose dropping the BART extension for a Caltrain-like rail line (Guest Opinion: Rail Transit Plan Far Better than BART – Money for Roads, too, 12/9). They claim “Caltrain Metro East,” would provide better service than BART at a fraction the cost, allowing VTA to build all of the Measure A projects without more funds. But the plan is cotton candy – sugar spun and air. And, if their alternative isn’t sufficiently compelling, they warn if BART isn’t dropped, Gilroy and South County will pay the price.

That’s scare tactics. Here are some of the facts:

– LOWER COST MYTH: BART opponents offer no data to substantiate their claim that their plan would cost $1.5 billion. Conversely, the price tag for the BART extension to Silicon Valley is based on extensive analysis and years of study. It has been raised once, to accommodate recent increased ridership projections. In reality, their “alternative” is likely to cost much more. Why? There is no freight route (and consequently no preserved right of way) between Milpitas and San Jose. Building one would require purchasing the rights to bulldoze approximately seven linear miles of homes and office buildings or tunneling underground that distance. Either proposition would be extremely expensive and fiercely opposed by neighbors.

– BETTER SERVICE DEBUNKED: BART opponents say their alternative would provide better service than BART in part because it would provide a direct connection between Silicon Valley and Central Valley. But we already have two transit lines that serve this market – the Altamont Commuter Express and the Capitol Corridor line. What we don’t have is a reliable transit alternative for commuters traveling from eastern Alameda and Contra Costa counties to Silicon Valley: the majority of the folks sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-880. That’s one of the reasons why the BART extension to Silicon Valley is expected to generate approximately 111,500 average weekday boardings by 2030. The BART extension would also serve the east side of San Jose, downtown San Jose, San Jose State University and Santa Clara University. Some of the highest ridership levels are projected for these stations. Their alternative wouldn’t serve any of these areas. In fact, the proposed route along Montague Expressway and Trimble Road would go through a lightly populated industrial area.

– SOUTH COUNTY GAINS: Opponents warn BART will be built at the expense of South County priority transportation projects. That’s false. The long-range expenditure plan VTA is currently considering retains funding for Caltrain service improvements (including funding for South County) a 24 percent increase in bus/light rail service, expanded senior/disabled services, and approximately $10 million per year for local street and road improvements throughout the county, a proportional share of which would flow to Gilroy, Morgan Hill and the county.

Replacing BART with a Caltrain-like commuter rail line would not solve VTA’s financial or our traffic problems. To build and operate ANY new transit services in the County, VTA will need more money. If we really want to move large numbers of commuters off our roads, we need to build BART. BART transports more people than any other transit system in the region. On an average weekday, 34,000 passengers board Caltrain; 330,000 board BART. By 2030 Caltrain anticipates average weekday boardings will grow to 65,000; BART’s will climb to approximately 760,000 (including the BART extension to Silicon Valley). That’s a tenfold difference in magnitude.

If you want your tax dollars to build a transit system that truly works for our region, urge Supervisor Don Gage and your council members to press the VTA Board to adopt the draft long-range expenditure plan on February 2. That’ll move Gilroy and the entire county forward.

Guest columnist Laura Stuchinsky is the Director of Transportation and Land Use for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Anyone interested in writing a guest column may contact Editor Mark Derry at 842-6400 or e-mail to [email protected]