South Bay BART initiatives move forward

May 8, 2009 6:39:23 PM PDT
BART's extension to San Jose moved one step closer to a reality on Friday. However, trains won't be rolling through San Jose until 2025 at the earliest and the $6.1 billion project is inching forward at a time when BART's budget is in serious trouble.

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Excitement grows as the BART to San Jose project takes a step forward. Realignment of Union Pacific freight train tracks to make room for BART's tracks was cause for celebration.

However, BART is dealing with a $249 million budget deficit over the next four years. It's asking employee groups to take $100 million in cuts. It's considering a 10 percent fare hike, less frequent service, and parking fees at more of its stations.

Longer term, it's facing replacement of its aging fleet of cars, many of them dating back to BART's opening nearly 40 years ago. Still, South Bay officials say the cost of San Jose service will be covered by a one-eighth cent sales tax.

"The sales tax measure that passed in November will cover the difference between those fares and the total cost of the operation, so we'll be covered completely," says Valley Transit District General Manager Michael Burns.

"In theory, there should be no burden on the BART system?" asks ABC7's David Louie.

"No burden on the BART system," says Burns.

BART board president Tom Blalock says BART has flexibility to provide San Jose service, even if it puts pressure on the budget, by adjusting how it runs trains.

Less frequent late night service can save $4-5 million a year. Considering fare increase in July instead of waiting until January. tackle revenue issues. more stations with parking charges. maybe travel surcharges. incremental fare increase.

"If we don't run, say, San Francisco down, then people would catch the Richmond train and they could transfer at Bay Fair either to Fremont/San Francisco train or a Dublin/San Francisco train," says Blalock.

BART says a condition of the San Jose extension requires it to be self-sustaining. It can't be a burden on BART's budget.

"This recession will pass, and by the time this extension is built, many of us expect these circumstances to be very, very different. We have to build for the future, not simply for the present circumstances," says San Jose City council member San Liccardo.

There could be a silver lining in the current economic situation. A tunnel project to bring the rail line from Fremont all the way down to Santa Clara County already has been bid out, and the bids are coming in under projected cost.

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