Although the underlying objective of BART to Silicon Valley may have been to furnish Diridon and Downtown San Jose with new gleaming subway stations, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is currently setting its sight only as far as Berryessa Station in East San Jose: about two miles short of where the tracks are planned to dive into a subway under Santa Clara Street. The Berryessa station area is currently home to the San Jose Flea Market; it is hemmed in by nearby low-density, auto-oriented residential development, and it features no major transit connection point. It is, to say the least, an unlikely location for the terminus of a major rapid transit line. But the terminus it may indeed be, thanks to the fact that VTA is now faced with flat sales tax revenue through the year 2036 and cannot afford to build any more of the line. The extension to Berryessa is now expected to be complete by the year 2018, with the remainder of the extension following by 2025 at the earliest. The ballot text to 2008 Measure B opted against clearly explicating for voters the possibility (or was it near certainty?) that the project would be built in phases, rather than in one fell swoop from Milpitas, through San Jose to Santa Clara. Indeed, official reactions from Reed, Guardino, et al, immediately following the November 2008 election cried grudgingly for a phased project only before it became apparent that Measure B had actually passed — immediately followed by heaved sighs of relief once the vote tallies barely edged out past the required 2/3 mark. Nonetheless, the segment of the BART extension that VTA plans to submit this year for federal funding includes only two of the six planned stations: (i) the station at Montague and Capitol in Milpitas, where BART would connect with VTA light rail, and (ii) the station at Berryessa, a rendering of which is pictured below.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has already removed $91 million of Regional Measure 2 money that was slated for Dumbarton Rail (thus pulling the plug on that project at least for a couple decades) and reallocated it to fill the funding gap in the Warm Springs BART extension. The cost of the stub line to Berryessa is $2.1 billion; combined with the Warm Springs extension, some $3 billion will be spent to extend BART from its current Fremont terminal even further into the depths of Bay Area suburbia. VTA plans to use the rest of this year to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement while applying for section 5309 New Starts funding from the Federal Transit Administration. It anticipates an FTA Record of Decision in January 2010, and subsequent financial commitment from the federal government (in the form of an executed Full Funding Grant Agreement) is required to trigger the flow of 2008 Measure B sales tax money.
VTA marches forward with the truncated BART extension, but in light of current economic conditions, the budget is unsurprisingly grim — calling into question the agency’s sense of reality: even in these tough times it prioritizes a gold-plated rail extension, when it ought to focus on maintaining and improving the bus, light rail, and commuter rail service upon which the residents and workers of Santa Clara County currently rely. It is not yet clear to what extent this core service will be cut, or by how much fares will be increased, to set the budget right. Sales tax revenue for this fiscal year has been projected to decrease 6.76% from last year, followed by a 5% decrease in FY09-10, and a 3% decrease in FY10-11. VTA will lose over $6 million of State Transit Assistance funds for the latter half of this fiscal year, and as we have remarked before, STA funds are eliminated for subsequent years. VTA projects a $53.1 million shortfall in operating revenue by FY11-12, by which time a $50.1 million operating reserve will have vanished into thin air.