BART is a necessary ingredient in plan for a growing Silicon Valley 01/30/ 2008 By Chuck Reed and Sam Liccardo, San Jose Mercury New s "Time is a great teacher," observed the 19th century composer Hector Berlioz. "Unfortunately, it kills all of its pupils." When discussion of bringing BART to Sant a Clara County arises, we've all heard the common refrain, "Why didn't we do it 30 years ago?" The answer is that BART naysayers were saying 30 years ago exactly what they're saying now: We can't afford the cost, and we're just "too suburban" for a regional rail transit system. Roy Nak adegawa, a former East Bay transit official, makes these familiar arguments in a recent Scott Herhold column. Without any factual basis, he speculates that the project will cost $9 bil lion to $10 billion, when the most recent estimates - which take into account current and projected cost escalation - arrive at a substantially lower $6.1 billion price tag. The Valley Transportation Authority has confronted the challenge of rising construction costs through project redesign and elimination of one station. This cost cutting has become a familiar task at VTA, which has delivered 25 Measure B projects, three light -rail lines and numerous highway projects within budget and on schedule over the past two decades. Several experts have studied less-costly transit alternatives to BART for this corridor, and, wit hout exception, those studies prove the axiom that "you get what you pay for." If we want more than 100,000 weekday commuters to use transit along that corridor, BART remains the only means - by a wide margin - to that goal. In fact, the BART extension would carry more riders in this county by 2030 than all of our existing forms of transit today - bus, light rail and Caltrain combined. Only a high-speed, high-frequency rail line connecting seamlessly to a regional system will draw commuters otherwise deterred by the transfers and delays inherent in a patchwork of incongruous rail and bus systems. Mr. Nakadegawa characterizes the 71 percent fare-box return projection as too ambitious, yet our experience tells us otherwise. Within mont hs of completing the BART extension to San Francisco International Airport, the agency recovered 70 percent of its operating costs through fares. Our VTA project, in contrast, would serve not only passengers to San Jose's airport, but it would finally connect the rest of the Bay Area with Santa Clara County's 1.8 million residents and its thousands of employ ers, encircling the bay with rail. His assertion that BART's expense appears "better-suited to dense urban areas than suburban transit" overlooks the fact that BART already serves suburban communities well, including Pleasanton, Fremont and much of San Mateo County. More important, we are no longer as "suburban" as we - or Berkeley resident Nakadegawa - would like to think. Among the 10 largest cities in the United States, San Jose has the fifth-highest population density. With several residential high-rises under way now in San Jose's downtown core, and with high- density zoning approved near transit stops in Milpitas, San Jose and Santa Clara, the stations will have a clearly urban character. With or wit hout BART, the future will bring even greater population density. Demographers predict that over the next quart er-century, a third of the population growth within the nine-county Bay Area will occur within Sant a Clara County, adding more than 300,000 residents to San Jose alone. By that time, San Jose will have almost twice the population of its "suburb" to the nort h, San Francisco. As you envision traffic snarls on Int erstates 680 and 880 in the next 20 years, you'll quickly realize why the view of Silicon Valley as too "suburban" appears short -sighted. We need to prepare by investing in transit infrastructure now. Of course, this investment comes at a substantial price. Yet what has been the cost to us for doing nothing? Imagine the millions of hours our residents have spent every year sitting in traffic unnecessarily, or the thousands of tons of greenhouse -gas emissions. Thos e costs demand a more enlightened calculus, such as that made by the late Ernie Renzel. Renzel, who later became San Jose's mayor, championed a ballot measure in 1940 to acquire 483 acres of ranch land to build an airport at a time when San Jose had only half the population of modern -day Sunny vale. Renzel's foresight anticipated the need for an airport that now carries 11 million passengers each year. Our modern-day Renzels include organizations like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which has led the effort to bring BART to our valley. As SVLG and other transit advocates show, time may have killed its great pupils, but we're not doomed to ignore its lessons. CHUCK REED is mayor of San Jose and SA M LI CCA RDO is a city councilman represent ing District 3. They wrote this article for the Mercury News.
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