Waite: Abandon Eastridge Streetcar Extension Project
This scathing comment about the Valley Transportation Authority light rail system comes from the “Valley Transportation Authority Governance Inquiry” report released by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury in June 2019:
“The (Eastridge extension) project makes no financial sense and only survives because powerful political forces continue to support it. VTA must carefully consider whether the recognized needs of residents of east San José for modern and efficient public transport can be met without “ doubling down on a failing system, ” as one manager said, and making matters worse. precarious financial position of VTA.
Two years later, the plan to bring the streetcar to Eastridge continues to hit the tracks. VTA has spent over $ 175 million of the estimated total project cost of $ 615 million, with completion estimated in 2027.
VTA has reframed the project from “Capitol Expressway Light Rail to Eastridge” to “Eastridge to Bart Regional Connector”. This name change appears to serve two purposes; he combines the project with the popular and efficient BART (which recovers more than 60% of the system costs on the tariffs, against 7% for the light rail VTA) and dissociates it from an obsolete transport technology.
Why does VTA insist on moving the project forward? On the one hand, “powerful political forces continue to support him”. The project provides years of employment for members of construction unions. These unions, in turn, provide resources to their favorite politicians. It could be political suicide for a union-backed politician to support the cancellation of such a lucrative project.
A second argument in favor of completing the Eastridge Streetcar Extension is that of fairness. It is rightly argued that eastern San Jose has been largely ignored by the political powers that be. They lavished favors and funds on their pals in West San Jose and Downtown San Jose; parks, street maintenance, commission appointments, public transportation and public safety, to name a few. In the name of fairness, it is imperative that the Eastridge LRT project be completed. It has been more than 20 years since the approval of measure A (2000), which specifically funded the extension. It is high time that VTA kept its promise to the people of East San Jose.
Here is, however, the problem: The Eastridge LRT offers no significant benefit to residents of eastern San Jose. In fact, it is more likely to affect their quality of life. Construction will cause considerable disruption to nearby residents. Upon completion, the towers supporting the above-grade portion of the extension will attract graffiti and homeless encampments, as do air transport structures.
Capitol Expressway will permanently lose two lanes, one in each direction, increasing congestion to around 90% and creating access problems for vehicles trying to enter the freeway. The increased congestion will spew additional pollution into the environment. Worse, the projected ridership does not justify the extension; most likely he will be allowed to suck grants from VTA for a while, to follow the path of the Ohlone / Almaden line that VTA closed over a year ago.
But the demand for fairness is also an empty argument. The extension of the Eastridge streetcar is as unfair as it gets. It is true that VTA will invest nearly $ 500 million in east San Jose. However, this investment will lead to a significant increase in congestion in the region and a further deterioration in the quality of life.
Meanwhile, under Measure B (2016), VTA has allocated $ 750 million to improve freeways on the Almaden, Central, Foothill, Lawrence, Montague and San Tomas highways, as well as on the Santa Corridor. Teresa-Hale in southern Santa Clara County and Oregon. -Page Mill Corridor in northern Santa Clara County. Of course, measure B also includes funding for the improvement of the Capitol freeway … between I-680 and Capitol Avenue. Commuters east of San Jose will be able to walk this half-mile stretch before getting bogged down for the remainder of their trip south on the Capitol Expressway.
A well-managed organization would grit its teeth and set course for the project. But not VTA, because, as the 2019 Civil Grand Jury Report indicates, VTA is not a well-managed entity. It is the one who “goes from one financial crisis to another”. This sentiment is echoed by the 2009 grand jury report, which proclaimed, “the more you learn about how VTA carries out its mission, the lower the level of confidence in the board’s ability to run the agency” and the 2003 grand jury report. stating “The VTA board has not reacted diligently to the current fiscal problems, has exhausted its financial reserves… and has borrowed against future tax revenue rather than addressing an ongoing operating deficit.
Three separate grand jury investigations over the past 18 years have reached the same conclusion … VTA’s governance structure should be changed. Yet nothing has changed. It’s time for the people of Santa Clara County, especially those east of San Jose, to send a message to their representatives and to VTA management. The Eastridge light rail extension must be abandoned because it is a waste of money and is damaging to our community. Visit www.cfr-sj.org to find out how you can make your voice heard.
Pat Waite is president of Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, a non-partisan organization focused on San Jose and Santa Clara County.