VTA has released a draft environmental impact report on the Santa Clara-Alum Rock corridor project. Eight years ago, light rail on the that corridor was one of the key projects listed on the 2000 Measure A in order to woo voters. Now it has been watered down to a bus rapid transit project with a possibility of a light rail upgrade.
For the BRT, VTA proposes to operate the existing 522 and the new 523 from downtown to Eastridge along Santa Clara/Alum Rock and then Capitol Expressway. On Santa Clara/Alum Rock west of King, buses will run on the curbside lane with upgraded bus stops that extend to the traffic lane. East of King, buses will run on the median bus lanes to Capitol Avenue. On Capitol Avenue, buses will operate pretty much as it is. VTA estimates a 25 minute travel time between Eastridge and San Jose Diridon Station.
Even if the light rail extension from Alum Rock to Eastridge (approved as a separate project, but unfunded) goes forward, buses will continue to serve Eastridge according to the study. However, the EIR has suggested that VTA could defer that project.
As for the light rail alternative, it is similar to the BRT proposal in various ways. It will share lanes with street traffic west of King and have reserved right of way east of King. The light rail alternative has an estimated travel time of a 27 minutes between San Jose Diridon Station and Eastridge, 90 seconds longer than the BRT. VTA says light rail could not be built at least until 2018, when BART is supposed to be completed. Also in the EIR, VTA threw out the idea of putting light rail underground (just like BART) because of the obvious high cost.
Essentially, as long as BART is on the table, light rail is dead on the Santa Clara/Alum Rock corridor. Even though light rail construction could technically move forward once BART construction completes, the reality is that VTA will run out of money by then and it will instead cut local bus service on that corridor to force riders onto BART. Whatever assumptions about the operating plan in the EIR should be taken with a grain of salt.
Although BRT is a good, cost-effective plan worthy of consideration, a switch from light rail to BRT nonetheless represents a pattern of double standards. If VTA actually put as much effort to develop a cost-effective alternative to BART as it did for light rail on the Santa Clara/Alum Rock Corridor, VTA wouldn't have to ask voters for another tax increase this November.
VTA has scheduled a meeting on Thursday to receive feedback on the proposal:
Thursday, July 17, 2008 at 6 p.m.
(presentation begins at 6:30 p.m.)
Mexican Heritage Plaza, Green Room
1700 Alum Rock Avenue
San Jose, CA 95116