FTA puts South Bay BART expansion plans on fast track with federal funding allocation

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Silicon Valley is already known globally for tech innovation. Soon, the same could be said for the region's transit system.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is stepping in to help build a better Bay Area, as the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority's (VTA) BART expansion plans move forward.

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VTA is on track to get a big funding boost from the federal government. The FTA was in town Wednesday with the news.

"I'm very pleased to announce a $125-million funding allocation to Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority for the second phase of its BART-way subway extension project," FTA Acting Administrator, Jane Williams told reporters.

VTA is the first transit agency in the nation being considered for this new program.

The injection of money would speed up the approval process for major infrastructure projects. In this case, funds would go toward the six-mile, four-station BART extension that would take riders through Downtown San Jose and into Santa Clara. The expansion is known as VTA's BART Silicon Valley Phase II Extension Project, or Phase II.

It's the largest single public infrastructure project ever constructed in Santa Clara County, and is estimated to carry 52,000 BART riders to destinations throughout the Bay Area by 2035.

Its completion would ring the Bay Area with rapid rail service.

Federal funding through the Expedited Project Delivery Pilot Program would allow VTA to fast track the Phase II funding process by more than 14 months.

"To receive funding under the pilot program, VTA must fund at least 75 percent of the project cost through local, state and other non-federal contributions, including a public-private partnership. 2000 Measure A and 2016 Measure B, passed by Santa Clara County voters, and SB 1 are also providing funding for the $5.81-billion-dollar Phase II project," VTA spokeswoman Bernice Alaniz said.

She continued, "In turn, FTA will expedite the review and evaluation of application materials under a streamlined review process as authorized by law."

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"It will need to be faster," Williams told ABC7 News. "Infrastructure will need to be delivered faster, and it'll be interesting to see how we make it through this pilot program."

You'll remember, VTA's Phase I involved a 10-mile, two station system that began south of Fremont's Warm Springs station, went through Milpitas and ended in the Berryessa area of north San Jose.

Come December 2019, San Jose's Berryessa Station in District 4 will be the new end of the line.

District Councilmember Lan Diep said he's learned firsthand that growth does not come without growing pains.

"I know there'll be bumps. There's going to be increased traffic, there's going to be more people here," Diep said. "But overall in the long run, we're building a community not for just the people living here today, but for future generations."

He added, "People can live in Oakland and come down in San Jose to work much easier. We could live down here and go up to San Francisco to work much easier. And that kind of lifts the cap on the proximity of where people get to be."

For now, VTA will work to complete a formal application with the federal government to get Phase II on the fast track.

"The second extension going from north San Jose to Downtown San Jose and on to Santa Clara- 2026 can't come soon enough," Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO, Carl Guardino said. "But it will be here in many ways before we know it."

Guardino led four transportation funding measures within the region, which he explained are collectively producing billions of dollars in local investment from employers and individuals willing to tax themselves to invest in the future of Silicon Valley

"Because the 16-mile BART extension is 50-000 daily passenger trips," he said about Phase I and II combined. "That's 50,000 less brake lights in front of us."

Construction on Phase II is expected to begin in 2022.

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