BART on its way to San Jose

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- BART will reach a historic milestone by the end of the year when its trains reach into San Jose for the first time in its history.

Two construction workers were using a jackhammer at the corner of Santa Clara and Market streets in downtown San Jose. It's a kind of music to the ears of San Jose residents who have been waiting for action, not words, that BART is coming. Initial work to map underground utility lines and to do soil sampling is underway where the future downtown station will be built.

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"I think that this is something that's been missing from the BART system. We should be connected to one of our most important centers in the Bay Area," said Bevan Dufty, president of the BART Board of Directors.

BART will make its long-awaited entry into Santa Clara County by year's end with the opening of a 10-mile long extension from the existing Warm Springs station in Fremont to two new stations, one in Milpitas and then one at Berryessa in San Jose.

Those stations are mostly completed while VTA conducts tests of its track and signal communications and the trains. The chair of the BART board and the president of the VTA board took a tour of the Berryessa station the other day. VTA is in charge of construction as the transit agency in Santa Clara County. In a few weeks, VTA will then turn over this phase to BART for system integration and safety certification.

"The testing will be done in that environment and integrated with the BART system," said Bernice Alaniz, VTA communications manager. "That's about another 90-day process, and following that becomes the actual simulated service testing and the training of the operators, which is about another 90 days or so."

A year-end opening puts the project about three years later than originally planned, in part due to some technical issues with networking equipment that required rigorous testing. VTA says it had an overarching goal.

"When our residents and riders get on BART lines in Santa Clara County that they can be confident that they're going to be as safe as possible," said Teresa O'Neill, chair of the VTA Board.

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As BART comes to downtown San Jose, the Mayor is very concerned about some of the issues highlighted in our week-long series about BART, such as fare cheats, sanitation issues and drug use in the stations. That's why he prefers San Jose Police to patrol the four new BART stations in his city.

"It's having local police agencies there at the station that understand the local community and understand also when there's communication that needs to be had about who's coming and going and who's been engaged in crime, who's not," said Mayor Sam Liccardo.

There are still seven years to hammer out the details. The next phase is the continuation of BART from Berryessa to a station at Alum Rock, then down Santa Clara Street to a new downtown station near Market Street. From there, BART will make a stop at Diridon Station near SAP Center before making its final way to the city of Santa Clara. About five miles of this six mile route will be underground.

If you roll the clock back a half-century-- BART construction under Market Street in San Francisco disrupted traffic and pedestrians for years. After many meetings and public input, VTA will avoid that in San Jose by using a single tunnel with excavation that won't dig up Santa Clara Street. The downtown station will be at ground level.

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"We would have had to excavate from the top down (with a plan to create two tunnels), and that is essentially opening up Santa Clara Street and digging down," said Brandi Childress, VTA public affairs manager. "We would have put plates over the top so cars could drive as we're building the station box, and then we restore the area later."

Altogether, BART to San Jose is 16 miles long, costing $7 billion for construction. Voters approved three tax measures, the first one 19 years ago. Additional funds came from the state and federal government. Projected daily ridership is 52,000.
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