Silicon Valley business leaders push to get federal money for BART extension

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan speaks at a Diridon Station media event with local business leaders in San Jose, Calif., calling for federal funds to complete the long-promised BART extension, Tuesday, July 9, 2024. (Karl Mondon/ Bay Area News Group)

A coalition representing hundreds of businesses on Tuesday released a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg urging the federal government to quickly release more than $6 billion to bring BART to downtown San Jose and the city of Santa Clara — the largest single public infrastructure project ever proposed in Santa Clara County.

“This project is crucial for our region’s infrastructure and economic growth, and is supported by substantial local and state funding commitments,’’ wrote Ahmad Thomas, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents businesses in the region including Kaiser, Airbnb and the San Jose Sharks. The Bay Area News Group is also a member.

Silicon Valley leaders say continuing Phase II of the Silicon Valley BART line is vitally important because 35 % of the Bay Area’s future job and population growth is expected to happen in the region, according to Plan Bay Area 2050, a 30-year strategic plan developed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that focuses on the environment, transportation, housing and the economy.

Phase I of the BART extension brought service into Santa Clara County from Alameda County, with stops in Milpitas and North San Jose opening in 2020.

Crews broke ground on the next phase of the extension project last month, and the area is shovel ready but construction can’t get going until the federal money comes through.

“Our voters taxed themselves because we so badly want BART here. Now we need the Biden Administration and the Federal Transit Administration’s help,’’ said Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez at a Tuesday news conference. “We need them to step up. We must include the federal funding to move this project forward.”

Over the last two decades, Santa Clara County taxpayers have kicked down more than $4.6 billion from local tax measures for the project and the state has contributed another $1.9 billion. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is designing and building the South Bay extension. BART will operate and maintain the line.

The Federal Transit Administration is expected to rule on the dollar amount it will provide in the coming weeks, but an internal report outlines a slew of concerns and risks associated with the project, including the controversial decision to go with a single-bore tunnel design rather than the traditional twin-bore tunnel design.

The feds raised several other concerns in the report that could further compound challenges, such as inflation rates for transit projects that are ticking higher in California than the national average and what they describe as a lack of a clear plan for the $2.7 billion in contingency funds that VTA has set aside in case something goes wrong.

VTA said in a statement that the agency is “amid intense conversations with the Federal Transit Administration and fighting for every dollar we can secure for this project.”

The 6-mile, four-station BART extension that will run from the Berryessa Transit Center in North San Jose through downtown and up to Santa Clara has a price tag that has skyrocketed from $4.4 billion to $12.75 billion in the last decade. Originally slated to begin service in 2026, its opening date has been pushed back to 2037. By 2040, officials say the BART to Silicon Valley extension will serve 55,000 daily passengers. It is also expected to create 75,000 union jobs, Chavez said.

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said extending BART will serve generations to come.

“Bringing BART through Silicon Valley isn’t just about the cost today, it’s about the opportunity we are creating tomorrow. It’s a testament that Americans can still do great things. That we can sacrifice for the benefit, for the opportunity of future generations,’’ Mahan said. “This is for our kids and our grandkids and our great-grandkids after that.”

Mahan said having the opportunity to use public transit was life changing for him as a renter without a car when he was going to school and joining the workforce.

“Without the Highway 17 Express Bus, I never could have taken advantage of a work-study scholarship to get a great, high-quality education,’’ he said. “Without Caltrain, originally constructed by people six generations ago, I never would have been able to start a company and commute from San Jose up to the Peninsula. Transit changed my life.”

Staff writer Grace Hase contributed to this report. 

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San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan speaks at a Diridon Station media event with loc…