By 2016, if all goes as planned, an extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) line will go from Fremont in the East Bay to the Berryessa area of San Jose. Construction will begin in April. The project will cost $2.3 billion with $900 million being a grant from the federal government. Among other things, this means people in San Jose will be able to get to San Francisco Airport (SFO) on BART, even if the route is a bit circuitous. Further, those living in the East Bay will more easily be able to get to work in Silicon Valley.
Currently BART runs south down the peninsula, terminating at Millbrea, which is just below SFO. Amtrak does run from Diridon Station in San Jose north to San Francisco, but the trains are nowhere near as frequent as BART. The new Berryessa and Milpitas BART stations will have thousands of parking spaces. Authorities assume many will also use mass transit to get to the stations, cutting down on competition for parking.
San Jose officials are already planning the next phase, a $4 billion plan to extend BART from Berryessa underground down Santa Clara St to the downtown area. Another second link would be aboveground from Diridon / Arena to Santa Clara. Buses and other transportation would shuttle people between the two. Providing a direct link from Berryessa to Diridon Station is not possible given existing lines and congestion in the area.
These ambitious plans will greatly reduce automobile congestion in the area as well as providing more flexibility for people to get around. They may be the beginning of the end for High Speed Rail (HSR) going up the peninsula. HSR is so hugely expensive that even Gov. Brown is backing off on his previously enthusiastic plans for it. If BART can get you from San Jose to San Francisco, then the need for HSR is greatly diminished.
$2.3 billion budgets for mass transit often end up taking years longer and being much more costly. What happens if it goes way over budget? How will the difference be made up? After all, the initial estimate for HSR was $30 billion which has now grown to $100 billion, and construction hasn’t even started.
Santa Clara county officials hope to partially fund the proposed $4 billion extension with a half cent sales tax increase expiring in 2036. Having such revenue in place would enable them to better ask for federal grants and loans. Let’s hope both plans happen. The more that mass transit can move people to where they want to go, the better.