13 November 2008

AP's Wolff interview + Shorter BART extension

Lew Wolff did his usual hot stove ballpark update, this time with the Associated Press. We've gotten used to these updates as part of an effort to keep the project in the public's consciousness. While the Fremont mayoral race did this on a local scale, an AP article is much more broad-reaching. No really new news here, as Wolff and new Giants managing partner Bill Neukom reaffirmed their commitments to Fremont and South Bay territorial rights, respectively. Wolff also shot down speculation about Sacramento, saying, "We've investigated pretty thoroughly." Long time readers already know my stance on Sacramento, so it doesn't bear repeating. No mention of any emerging TV or radio deals. Hmmph...

It's over a week after the election, and absentee ballots are still being counted in order to find out the fate of Santa Clara County's Measure B (BART to Silicon Valley). As of Wednesday, here are the totals:
Yes - 398222, 66.52%
No - 200430, 33.48%
There can't be more than 20,000 or so votes left to be counted, so it appears that Measure B is heading for defeat. However that doesn't mean BART won't be extended. A new piece by the Merc's Mr. Roadshow indicates that VTA will move to shorten the planned extension. To do this, they would stop short of downtown, avoiding the costly tunnel that would run from just west of 101 to the train station before heading up to San Jose Airport. What isn't certain is how truncated the extension will be. BART could stop only in Milpitas at the Great Mall, or it could head into San Jose and terminate at Berryessa (the old flea market). One last option is to end the line at the planned Alum Rock station, which is just short of downtown (1.5 miles east). Without the money to cover operations that would come from Measure B's sales tax hike, VTA will have to look at existing sources (2000's Measure A tax increase). They'll have to balance this with money for other projects, which may or may not be there because of lower consumption (sales tax revenue) or infrastructure money that the incoming Obama administration may or may not push in the extension's direction.

My hope is that the extension is built all the way to Alum Rock. Only a small amount of tunneling would be required, and it would allow VTA to properly pursue a BRT/LRT line linking downtown and the east side. The Alum Rock station would act as a major transit hub, and with the decidedly middle/working class neighborhoods in the area, could be a vital anchor for future transit planning. While BART would stop short of linking up with Caltrain and a new high speed rail line at Diridon Station, a simple transfer could be arranged between the two lines. While it's possible for the full extension to be built in phases, it will only take longer to complete and become far more expensive in the process.

The good news is that Warm Springs won't be affected by VTA's decision. It will still be built, with bids starting in February. The Warm Springs station is expected to open in 2014, two years after Cisco Field is expected to be completed. The San Jose extension could occur in another 3 years, though it remains to be seen if shortening the extension will also shorten the development time.