The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) Board of Directors last week voted unanimously to authorize an agreement with BART that defines responsibilities between the two agencies as the latter extends its transit lines into the South Bay.
Under the terms of the deal, VTA will allocate about $57 million a year in 2008’s Measure B eight-cent sales tax revenue to pay for BART’s foray into Santa Clara County; rider fares will account for an estimated $25 million a year in additional revenue. Meanwhile, BART agreed to maintain and operate the equipment to run the lines through Milpitas and San Jose.
The new Operations and Maintenance Agreement has been three-and-a-half years in the making and comes 18 years after VTA entered into an agreement to bring BART to the South Bay. The two agencies shook hands on the deal just as BART is finishing construction on its Milpitas and San Jose’s Berryessa stations.
Transit officials lauded the landmark decision.
“Everyone has talked about the delay of the opening because of technical issues,” said San Jose Councilman Lan Diep, who serves on the VTA’s 18-member board. “But from a board member’s perspective, the harder thing to overcome is not the technical stuff—it was agreeing on the operation and management aspect of BART. That was a huge win for VTA and residents of Berryessa.”
Negotiations dragged on for as long as they did largely because of concerns that too much of VTA’s budget would get diverted from bus and light rail services to BART.
In 2003, BART obtained legal rights to VTA’s $100 million annual funding from the Transportation Development Act (TDA). Securing that state funding, which accounts for more than a fifth of VTA’s budget, BART ensured that the South Bay transit agency would pay for 100 percent of the Silicon Valley expansion.
The new operations agreement suspends BART’s authority over VTA’s TDA dollars, however. VTA will receive around $57 million annual funding from Measure B. Its projected fare revenue will also rope in $25 million every year. VTA spokeswoman Bernice Alaniz said that before Measure B expires in 2024, her agency may ask voters to pass another ballot measure to support its $60 million annual operating budget.
Phase I of VTA’s four-mile extension—which connects BART’s Warm Springs Station in Fremont, to Milpitas and Berryessa—will soon be open for service. In October, VTA launched the final stage of the project, initiating “pre-revenue operations” to train personnel and test train rides.
Alaniz did not guarantee that VTA will open its doors to residents by the end of year, though she said “BART and VTA are deploying every available resource. They are working 24/7 to complete all the testing. They are doing everything within their resources to make that date.”
Officials have delayed the stations’ opening several times. The Mercury News reported that VTA planned to open Milpitas and Berryessa stations in 2017. Then, it delayed opening to 2018 and later pushed the deadline again to 2019.
VTA has also delayed Phase II of VTA’s six-mile extension from the Berryessa to the 28th Street/Little Portugal, Downtown San Jose, Diridon and Santa Clara stations from 2026 to 2030. And even that deadline isn’t set in stone, according to Alaniz.
The delays partly owe to VTA having to redesign the tunnel east of Highway 101, widening its diameter from 41 feet to 55 feet to allow side-by-side tracks separated by a single passenger-boarding platform. Alaniz said VTA completed 2 to 3 percent of the new design and they’re hoping to complete 10 percent of the design by the end of the year. Only then will VTA have a more accurate estimate of the completion date, she said.
“At this point, I don't know how accurate it is for anyone to make a prediction [of completing Phase II],” Santa Clara councilwoman and VTA board member Teresa O’Neill says. “I’m hopeful that [BART] will find a way to get it open. We were in a meeting with a couple BART people. They have to tamper down some of the expectations on their side.”