14 December 2006

When is BART not BART?

Answer: When it's being pitched by VTA.

The still-languishing BART-to-San Jose project got a bit of a reprieve today, as the
VTA board approved $135 million in additional design and engineering costs associated with the project. Dissenting Santa Clara Supervisor Liz Kniss put out a rather pointed question:

"Are we concerned at all about starting BART without knowing where it's going?"
This is extremely important, as it gets to the heart of the matter. There is still uncertainty as to how far BART will travel into Santa Clara County, if at all. There's talk of having BART terminate in Milpitas at the Great Mall, or in San Jose at the old Flea Market, which is 2.5 miles (crow flies) northeast of Downtown San Jose. The mode may not even be BART, as light rail could be used for most of the route up to Warm Springs, where it would meet BART's new southern terminus. The most expensive part of the entire 16.1-mile project is the controversial 4.8 mile downtown subway, which would burrow under the most heavily-used thoroughfare, Santa Clara Street.
There are numerous alternatives in VTA's 2001 MIS Report. In addition to the aforementioned concepts, there are possibilities for enhanced commuter rail along the ACE/Amtrak corridor, a separate busway along the planned BART corridor, or even a strange situation in which BART technology would be used throughout, but users would transfer at Warm Springs to San Jose-bound trains.

Personally, I'm warming up to the idea of light rail coming up from the Valley and meeting BART at Warm Springs. It would capture two-thirds of the projected riders taking the BART alternative, but it would cost less than half as much ($1.5 billion for LRT vs. $3.7 billion for BART in 2001 dollars - now $4.7 billion). There would be dedicated routes from Mountain View and Downtown San Jose, with simple transfers from East and South San Jose, and Campbell. Plus with VTA's fare structure, it'd be quite inexpensive to ride. That's a double-edged sword since it's bad for "farebox recovery" but good for ridership numbers.

If you're from the East Bay, you might be asking how this affects you. It all comes down to feasibility. The rising costs of the BART extension make it more difficult to justify with each passing day. VTA already had to abort an earlier attempt to get federal funding because of insufficient ridership projections, and now there's talk that they're inflating the numbers to make it work. If you're only using BART to go to A's games, all you want is the extension to Warm Springs and a solid transfer method to get you the rest of the way. If you're a commuter, the BART extension isn't a perfect anyway since it sidesteps many of the heavy employment centers in the Golden Triangle and takes a circuitous route to downtown San Jose, likely requiring a transfer in Milpitas.

For those of you in the South Bay, what do you think of a light rail alternative as opposed to BART from San Jose/Milpitas? If you could take a 30-45 minute, $2 ride to Fremont from Mountain View or San Jose and then a short shuttle from there to Cisco Field, would you take that instead of your car?

Fremont-A's negotiations begin in earnest

The Merc's Lisa Fernandez reports that the first of probably many biweekly meetings involving the A's and the City of Fremont was held this morning at Fremont's City Hall. City Manager Fred Diaz said little about the substance of the meetings, describing this first session as an "icebreaker."
There was also no discussion of a Nov. 21 A's letter to Fremont in which team officials offered the possibility of Fremont one day owning the land and stadium, which many see would be a tax break for the team.
This is the first article I've seen that acknowledges the tax break option that the A's are proposing.