BART extension to San Jose off track

[Updated, Correction] The problem of extending BART to San Jose wasn’t going to be solved in time to do me, with my commute from the Santa Cruz Mountains to CSU East Bay, any good anyway. But there’s more bad news. The Federal Transit Administration has proposed new cost-effectiveness rules, setting a standard the proposed BART extension “cannot possibly meet.”

The proposed change isn’t a done deal, said Bernice Alaniz, chief spokeswoman for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, the agency overseeing the 16.3-mile project to extend BART from the Alameda County line to Milpitas, east San Jose and through downtown San Jose before ending in Santa Clara.

An earlier San Jose Mercury News story stated, “New federal standards make it unlikely that the proposed BART extension to San Jose will ever be part of a Bush administration budget — a critical blow to a project that was already struggling to find funding.” I interpreted this to mean that the change was a “done deal.”

But VTA is now acquiescing to FTA pressure to consider requesting federal funds only for a shorter extension as far as Berryessa Road. Berryessa Road connects with Hedding Street as it crosses U.S. Highway 101.

“The primary benefit of this project can be achieved at Berryessa,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of the Oakland-based Transportation and Land Use Coalition. “After that, you are spending literally $3 billion for very few riders when that money could be spent on projects all around the county that would carry many more people.”

VTA says, however, that it remains committed to the full extension. Local funds would pay for the remaining portion of the extension.

It would be better than no federal money at all. “The BART proposal is in jeopardy of failing to qualify for any federal funds because the extension’s cost is too great for the limited number of new riders who are expected to use it under Federal Transit Administration standards.” But questions obviously remain as to how an already cash-strapped project will raise the further funds needed.

Some are hoping that, if needed, voters will accept another sales tax increase to help pay for the project:

The new public opinion survey by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a prime proponent of the BART project, showed growing support for a new sales tax for transportation needs and continued strong support for the BART extension to the South Bay, but disenchantment with light-rail service.

The survey of 1,000 likely voters showed 61 percent would favor a quarter-cent increase in the local sales tax to pay for transit improvements originally promised when voters approved the Measure A half-cent sales tax in 2000. Funds also would be earmarked for road maintenance, signal upgrades and paratransit service.

That’s a six percentage point bump upward from a survey taken in late 2003, but still short of a two-thirds majority.

“With an improving economy and with 18 months before a ballot measure, we think there’s a good chance” to reach the two-thirds threshold, said Carl Guardino, head of the leadership group, formerly known as the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group. “We are very encouraged.”

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