Published Friday, August 31, 2001, in the San Jose Business Journal
VTA gears up to take bids on Vasona light-rail extension
Andrew F. Hamm
Work crews are digging a light-rail tunnel under the Diridon railroad
station in downtown San Jose, and contracts are ready for bidding on
the remaining Vasona light-rail line that will connect downtown with
western San Jose and Campbell.
The next key element will come in September, when the Valley
Transportation Authority board will vote on an agreement in principle
with Union Pacific Railroad for the right-of-way to 3.5 miles of the
corridor southwest of Diridon Station.
Once the Union Pacific agreement is final, bids will be accepted to
build the rest of the estimated $283 million project, says John
Pilger, spokesman for the VTA. The 5.3-mile light-rail line will make
nine stops between Campbell and downtown San Jose. Construction
contracts are to be awarded in December.
The Vasona line is slated to open in late 2004, connecting to the
existing system at West San Carlos Street and Woz Way.
The most dynamic feature of the line will be its connection to
Diridon Station, where Amtrak, Caltrain and ACE Commuter trains link
up. Passengers will be able to connect from heavy rail to light rail
on site. The new line also will run within one block of Compaq Center.
The city of San Jose also hopes the new light-rail line will spur
additional construction of apartments, condominiums and other high-
density housing. City officials estimate that 2,500 units could be
built around Diridon Station and southwest along the Vasona light-
Tunnel construction began in February and should finish by 2002, says
Mark Robinson, project manager for the Vasona project. Light-rail
trains will go underground just north of the railroad station, curve
underground and resurface southwest of Diridon at a new stop.
That stop will be connected to Diridon Station via a 500-foot
pedestrian tunnel. Another light-rail station would be located about
four blocks away at San Fernando Street and Delmas Avenue.
The new line has support from commuters, local and state officials
for its convenience as a way to bring workers and shoppers into and
out of downtown.
Gov. Gray Davis approved an additional $15 million for the project so
that a ninth stop could be built near the Campbell-Los Gatos border.
However, not everybody is happy about the new line. Hamilton Avenue
residents have complained about plans to build a bridge over the road
and place a station in their neighborhood. The California Public
Utilities Commission objected to VTA's original proposal for a a
ground-level crossing at Hamilton, citing safety and traffic-flow
concerns. No final decision has been made.
A below-grade separation with a Hamilton Avenue station would add
more than $19 million to the overall project, Mr. Pilger says, and
delay opening the line until early 2006.
Some neighborhood residents say they don't want any station -- with
or without a bridge -- saying it will attract criminals and block
views of the Santa Cruz mountains, according to Margaret Okuzumi,
executive director of Peninsula Rail 2000, a commuter watchdog group.
A second phase of construction, which would add two more stops in Los
Gatos, has not been funded, Mr. Pilger says. VTA hopes to secure $59
million in Measure A money to build that extension sometime after
The Vasona line is part of an ambitious expansion program for VTA's
light-rail system. A Milpitas station opened earlier this year, and
work began in June on the $150 million Capitol expansion that would
extend the line 3.5 miles into east San Jose via four new stops. Yet
another route now under construction, the $195 million, 2.9-mile
Tasman East line, would add four stations in Milpitas and east San
Jose and should open in the spring of 2004.
Andrew F. Hamm covers sports management, energy issues and
transportation for the Business Journal.