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An Analysis of the Economic Uncertainties and Environmental Justice Risks of Extending BART to San Jose
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has announced that a "Regional Transit Expansion Policy" (RTEP) for the Bay Area will be developed by August 2001. BART to San Jose is being touted as a likely priority project with a price tag of $3.8 billion.
However, this cost estimate is not complete - it does not include operating costs, bond financing, assistance in covering BART maintenance shortfalls, nor a potential buy-in fee to existing BART counties. Based on experience with previous BART extensions, it is prudent to expect significant cost overruns. These factors raise the likely construction and operation cost of the extension to between $5.7 and $8.2 billion.
If the extension does get built it would place a tremendous strain on the existing BART system, which already has packed trains carrying up to 370,000 passengers per day. This overcrowding will dramatically worsen with the opening of the San Francisco Airport extension. So in addition to the extension costs, BART to San Jose will require additions and upgrades to be made to core facilities. Additionally, BART has recently determined that it will require $6.8 billion just to maintain its aging system and has not identified sufficient funding for this purpose at this time.
Beyond financial uncertainties there is another problem; MTC's evaluation of the project showed it to be the least cost-effective potential project for that corridor, costing an astounding $100 per new rider. The MTC study identified other projects that could attract more riders for much less money and could be implemented sooner than BART.
Finally, there is the very real risk that bus service may be cut if there are BART cost overruns or if no new operating funds are secured. VTA bus service is critical for those who depend on transit, especially low-income families and communities of color.
The following recommendations would promote a fiscally responsible plan, maximize transportation benefits and ensure compliance with federal environmental justice requirements:
- MTC should not support BART to San Jose until there is a detailed financing plan that guarantees there will be no bus cuts and until a thorough alternatives analysis has been completed.
- Santa Clara County should mitigate all of the costs to the BART system that are incurred due to the extension. Santa Clara County must pay for any additional stress on the BART system and must become a partner in BART's rehabilitation costs. This will protect taxpayers in the existing BART counties that have funded BART for 30 years.
- Voters must know which projects VTA will not be able to afford, or what new taxes will be necessary, to pay for BART to San Jose. Due to the unprecedented cost of this extension, VTA should not only produce a plan that covers all anticipated costs, but identifies contingencies should cost overruns occur. If necessary, the BART extension could be scaled back (ending it at downtown San Jose would save over $1 billion) or European-style service using existing tracks could be substituted.