Published Tuesday, June 22, 2004, in the Oakland Tribune
Grand jury raps BART linkup to San Jose
Report blames Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority for
financial mismanagement of sales tax money
By Sean Holstege
South Bay transit planners cannot afford to build a BART extension to
San Jose and should stop spending money on it, a Santa Clara County
grand jury has concluded.
The 22-page report blames the Santa Clara Valley Transportation
Authority for financial mismanagement of local sales tax money. An
inexperienced, oversized and overly political board failed to keep a
tight leash on planners, who may have misled voters, the jury
The report, released late last week, is the latest in a string of
setbacks for the $4 billion San Jose extension, but it also spells bad
news for Fremont residents and could prompt the region to rethink its
priorities for a Bay Area rail network.
That's because the proposed $634 million extension to Fremont's Warm
Springs, which has been on the books for decades, hinges on two things
now very much in doubt.
One is money from San Mateo County, from the operating surplus on the
new SFO line. SamTrans is to contribute $145 million, but the trains
have been far emptier than expected, so empty that the line is
operating in the red to the tune of $20 million a year.
Warm Springs construction cannot proceed until all the money for a
"rail connection" into Santa Clara County has been secured, according
the Alameda County ballot measure that paid for work. But South Bay
voters only raised about half of the funds for the BART line. State
money is in limbo, and earlier this year the Federal Transit
Administration recommended against federal money for BART to San Jose.
The grand jury report noted that "VTA does not have the funds to
complete BART anytime in the next 20 years" and acknowledged VTA's
view that Warm Springs "was in jeopardy."
Critics of extending BART said the grand jury reinforces their claims.
Backers said the report reconfirms what is known about the bleak
financial outlook, and plays down the fact that voters on both sides
of the county line overwhelmingly supported BART.
"Warm Springs would be one of the least effective transportation
investments this region has ever made. It's in an industrial area
with very little around it," said Stuart Cohen, executive director of
the Transportation and Land Use Coalition.
[BATN: See http://www.transcoalition.org/reports/b_w/b_w_a.html
"It will have horrible ridership. BART will be faced with a major
question about doing the project, especially if there is a financial
implosion in Santa Clara," he added.
Not so fast, say longtime supporters such as Alameda County Supervisor
"I think we'd be extremely short-sighted by not investing in BART
going south," Haggerty said. "How much BART can be built, that's the
question. Maybe it's time we talk about phasing the project and going
A BART connection to Santa Clara's light-rail system at Milpitas is
achievable and enough to get the Warm Springs project, said Christine
Monsen, who runs the agency spending Alameda County's Measure B sales
tax transportation money.
BATN notes that the cost of this simple, albeit useless, 5.4 mile,
one-station BART extension has already risen from $546.3 million at
the time it was sold to voters
> to $695.5
million -- a 27% blow-out before a single shovel of dirt has been
turned. Historically, BART extension "budgets" for political sales
purposes have always been at least 100% below the final delivered
project price, so look for this number to explode upwards once it
ever gets under way.]
She and BART Director Dan Richard said the grand jury report should
prompt the area to look again at its commitments to a regional rail
"There's no question Warm Springs will take longer. It's very hard to
get there on the track we're on," Richard said.
Voters in March shuffled in an extra $85 million for Warm Springs when
they agreed to increase bridge tolls by $1. How the deck gets sorted
is the job of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The MTC has
asked project sponsors to report by next month how much money they
have, and how much they need.
"We are taking each of those projects and giving them a good hard
look-over," said MTC's policy director, Therese McMillan. "Right now,
I don't have enough information to rethink that project. Show me the
numbers, then we can see if there's a case to me made."
[BATN: On the contrary, MTC has had the numbers to show that the
project is a complete disaster since before 1998 -- starting with
numbers generated by its own staff!! -- but has chosen to ignore them.
See for example the MTC-sourced table
Contact Sean Holstege at sholstege@...