Tuesday, August 08, 2006
The real Top 10 Questions for the BART project
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Instead of making another deceptive memo at the taxpayers' expense, VTA should be outright honest about the status of the BART project. If VTA's staff cannot do it right, VTA Watch will do it right for the sake of our taxpayers.
How does the recent defeat of Santa Clara County's proposed 1/2 cent sales tax increase impact the BART to "Silicon Valley" project?
VTA, along with SVLG and others, were counting on the 2006 Measure A to provide more funding to VTA. Instead of admitting the reality of voters' rejection of VTA's policy by denying more taxes to VTA, VTA is pretending nothing has happened with the hope that voters will pass another tax increase someday in the future. As the way it goes, VTA will continue to withhold a no-new-tax alternative as a way to pressure the voters to pass another tax; basically increase the tax for a lousy plan or increase the tax for a lousy plan.
Why is BART the "best solution" for this corridor?
BART is not the best solution for the corridor. The so call "full evaluation" was performed in 2001 with the full and clear bias for BART in a specific alignment and against any other modes and alignments. All VTA had to do was to somehow make up the ridership numbers and cost to make the pre-determined politically-driven plan to work.
Best access to jobs? It doesn't go to the job rich area bounded by 237, 101, and 880, the so called the "Golden Triangle." Sure, no transfers to the BART system, but not a transfer-less trip to where the jobs are. What about a direct Tri-Valley and possibly Altamont Pass connection, where it is rated as one of the most congested corridors in the Bay Area? Forget about it! Should this much taxpayer's money be spent on the BART extension that, for many Santa Clara County residents, means faster trips on transit to A's baseball games in Oakland?
Why not upgrade the existing commuter rail lines such as the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) to the Caltrain line?
According to the 2000 Measure A, ACE upgrade is clearly listed as one of the projects eligible to receive Measure A funding. At that time, despite criticisms, Measure A supporters claimed there was enough funding that the BART extension would not be impacting the upgrade of the ACE line. Today, VTA, following the pre-June 6 SVLG talking points and outdated/misguided poll numbers, is saying that the 2000 Measure A is all about BART and nothing about ACE and everything else.
Due to the increasing slower freight train traffic, what ACE needs is a dedicated right of way to enhance speed and reliability. What VTA has is a dedicated right of way between Fremont and San Jose. Instead of giving ACE the use of a publicly owned right of way to improve reliability and increase ridership, VTA plans to leave it empty until the day when BART, which its tracks are 100% incompatible to ACE, is built.
The rail mode with no direct connection to the Tri-Valley and no connection over the Altamont Pass gets everything, and the one with direct connection to the Tri-Valley and the Altamont Pass gets nothing. Is it fair? Does VTA care?
Is BART to "Silicon Valley" really going to happen?
If you're one of the contractors and consultants working on the project and would receive millions of dollars of payment from it, you will want to believe it will happen. The federal government, which VTA will require approval from before receiving any federal funding for final design and construction, is questioning this project. Even if VTA has a new tax, it will not be a slam dunk.
Why did VTA temporarily withdraw the project from preliminary engineering in the federal New Starts process?
VTA withdrew the process knowing that the project will face certain rejection from the federal government, as this project would be evaluated along with other rail and bus expansion projects throughout the nation. Rather than facing a rejection, VTA was hoping to get back to the process next year if the 2006 Measure A is passed, which didn't happen. Even with a new tax, there is no guarantee that the federal government will approve it. VTA's financial plan and ridership projection for BART are as flawed whether there's a new tax or not.
How many people will ride BART to "Silicon Valley"?
VTA is projecting 111,500 daily riders, but it is a questionable projection. To put it into perspective, what VTA is projecting is about 1/3 of the total BART ridership today, which half of it is transbay ridership, a corridor that has limited highway competition (one toll bridge). In addition, VTA projection is the nearly the same as the Red Line subway in Los Angeles, a system with twice as many station and lower fares, and a city with the population many more times than in Santa Clara County. Finally, VTA's projection for the BART line is more than the entire VTA bus ridership today! In comparison, the bus system in Los Angeles carries 10 times more riders than the Red Line.
It is not the first time a BART extension uses questionable projection. The latest extension to SFO was built using phony projections and now SamTrans, who carries the responsibility of paying the operating subsidy, is now suffering from low BART ridership.
The projected ridership numbers are great, but how can you be sure that people will ride BART?
The statement "more people choose to ride BART than other modes" is balony beyond reason. People choose to ride transit because it goes where people want to go in a reasonble time and at a reasonable cost, regardless of how the train looks like or who operates it. Caltrain was able to increase its ridership by over 20% by offering express service. The ridership on the Orange Line (Bus rapid transit) in Los Angeles has grown beyond projection. Caltrain and Orange Line are not BART, but they're transit successes.
What made BART a success today is the high density urban growth in San Francisco, and the limited highway competition on the Bay Bridge. Neither case is true in Santa Clara County, but VTA expects the same number of boardings at a downtown San Francisco station to apply in downtown San Jose. As we all know, the airport's landing path is limiting the building heights in downtown San Jose.
Will the project solve our traffic problem?
According to MTC, the second and third most congested spots last year were on the I-580 in the Tri-Valley area. The BART extension, unlike ACE, will not provide any alternative to this growing corridor.
How much will the project cost and who's paying for it?
What VTA stated omits the financing cost. When that, and other costs, are accounted for, the cost will be in the range of $6 to 7 billion. The construction timing and method proposed by VTA for the BART projects require a large cash flow that VTA doesn't have without bonding. What is also not included is the 100%+ cost overruns that other BART extensions have experienced.
The BART extension simply is a new Bay Bridge East Span in the making, except that the politicians themselves cannot pass new taxes on you like bridge tolls. However, voters should not be pressured to pass a new tax if VTA runs out of money in the midst of digging a subway in downtown San Jose.
How does funding for the BART Extension relate to other VTA transit service and projects?
VTA has passed an expenditure plan, but it requires a new tax to be effective. Even so, the expenditure plan provides no guarantees and protection to the other projects. Over the years, VTA has consistently used inflated tax revenue projections to make false claims that all projects are funded, and VTA has consistently refused to consider other scenarios where no new taxes are needed and projects that can fulfill all of the 2000 Measure A goals and beyond. As long as BART is in VTA's plan, all other non-BART projects are essentially screwed.