Earlier this week, the California Transportation Commission agreed to set aside $40 million for BART Silicon Valley and another $10 million for a related project in Fremont. If you’re wondering about what’s going on with the much-discussed , keep reading. Patch caught up with Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) spokesperson Brandi Childress and asked her to break it all down for us.
Patch: What exactly does the VTA do?
Brandi Childress: We are a bus and light rail transit service provider, but we are also the congestion management agency for the county. What that means is we have the authority to collect sales tax from voters to be applied to transportation improvements, whether that is a new bus line, a new light rail extension, a heavy commuter rail, like the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Silicon Valley project. We also build highways, pedestrian bridges, we do a lot of the land use planning around the county, which entails us working with the different municipalities in land use.
Patch: How does the VTA feel about the BART Funding that has been given to Silicon Valley?
Childress: The BART funding is significant. It shows great support form the state of California, and it has been supported by the state for many years. The $40 million that we received…is basically a third of six payments that we have received and will receive in the future. California through the Traffic Congestion Relief Program committed $240 million to the BART project since September 2008. We have an agreement with them that we will receive $40 million six times over to reach $240 million to help construct BART Silicon Valley. That is also in addition to almost $400 million dollars that we have already received from the state that helped us purchase the corridor that the BART project is going to be operated in. Basically, we had to own the right of way, so that meant we had to purchase the Union Pacific Railroad part of that corridor that the BART project will be operating alongside of. That state money helped us buy the right of way to bring BART into San Jose.
Patch: What will the $40 million that you received be specifically used for?
Childress: These $40 million we received yesterday is going to specifically go towards construction of the first ten miles of this project. BART Silicon Valley is a 16-miles-long project.
Patch: What is BART funding made up off?
Childress: The BART funding has three aspects to it. The majority of the funding coming from the local sales tax revenue; back in in 2000 we went to the voters and asked for a half cent sales tax to help fund the BART project along with many other transportation improvement projects. BART was the priority project, and in 2000, voters voted over 70 percent yes to tax themselves to bring the project improvements to the Santa Clara County. So, 74 percent of BART funding comes from the sales, 11 percent from the state, which is important because it helped us get the corridor purchased, the infusions of $40 million over the next couple of years will help towards the construction of the project, then you have got the federal side which is 15 percent, an ongoing commitment that we have working with the FTA, who we have to enter an agreement with because we are looking for $900 million to complete this package. That in it self is one of our top priorities is to get everything in place for this agreement to happen in the earliest part of next year. The grand total of the project is 5.9 billion dollars.
Patch: How long would it have taken to add the I-880 car pool lane and the merging lanes on US 101 without this funding?
Childress: This fits into a different pot of money. It’s state money. These projects come from proposition 1b, which is a state transportation infrastructure bond. It was passed by the voters in November of 2006, the problem with these bonds is that you have to sell these bonds to generate the money. We were faced with putting these projects on hold because of the states ability to sell these bonds. What happened…which was significant was that the California Transportation Commission basically voted to give us the money that had been generated from the last bond sale that happened last fall. These were priority projects mandated by what we call by the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account (CMIA).
Patch: Does the VTA feel confident about receiving the $900 million funding that is being asked for?
Childress: We are confident we will get the funding agreement in place, but unsure about what the funding allocation will look like. That $900 million is by no way a small amount of money, but the important part is that we have funded almost 85 percent of this project, the local money is basically carrying this project because the voters of Santa Clara County decided they to tax themselves to bring this to San Jose. To have that local support behind it, state money already allocated, it would be hard for the Feds to not give us that last piece of the pie.
Patch: Why is this project important?
Childress: The project is important because you are looking at $5.9 billion that is going to create jobs, we are looking at anywhere between 2,500 to 7,000 jobs per year dedicated to the construction of this BART project. This does not include the jobs that will be created after the creation has finalized. It is an economic boost to Silicon Valley, you also have traffic congestion relief, we have got the two most travelled corridors in Silicon Valley, the 680 and 880 freeway, the BART corridor runs right down the middle of those, so if we can get those people out of their cars and onto BART we are easing the congestion, which also provides cleaner air and helps us go towards those green economics we hear so much about.