BART Connection to San Jose Will Solve Nothing

This article appeared in the San Jose Business Journal on October 5, 2007.
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Extending BART to San Jose will do nothing to relieve the region'straffic congestion. The environmental impact report (EIR) predictsit will take only two-thirds of one percent of cars off of freewaysduring peak hours.

During rush hour, says the EIS, I-280, I-680, I-880, U.S. 101 andSR 87 will carry an average of 10,000 cars per hour. BART will takean average of less than 60 of those cars per hour off the freeways.

Not surprisingly, the EIR also estimates that average rush-hourspeeds on all freeways would be exactly the same with BART as ifBART were not built. So much for relieving congestion.

BART's projected cost is $4.7 billion. But rail transit projectsin the last 20 years have, on average, gone 30 percent over budget,which means that the final cost is likely to be somewhere north of$6 billion. Rail projects approved by Denver in 2004 are already30 percent over budget before a single spade of dirt has been turned.

Whether $6 billion or $4.7 billion, that money could relieve a lotof congestion if applied to cost-effective projects. According to theMetropolitan Transportation Commission, traffic signal coordination,rapid bus routes and selected highway improvements are all far moreeffective than BART.

Tampa recently built an elevated three-lane highway on six-foot piersin the median strip of an existing freeway. Used for in-bound trafficin the morning and outbound in the afternoon, the three lanes havecompletely relieved the congestion on that highway. At an average cost of less than $25 millionper mile, Caltrans could build such elevated roads above every mileof freeway in the San Jose area for around $3 billion.

If these new roads were tolled using variable pricing, motoristscould be assured of traveling anywhere in the region without facingcongestion. The tolls would also pay for most if not all of the newroads, unlike BART fares that don't even cover operating costs muchless capital costs.

VTA and other buses could use these roads for express service. Suchrapid bus lines could move people around the region far faster thanlight rail or BART, whose system-wide average speed is only about40 miles per hour.

BART is an idea whose time is long past. After the core BART systemwas completed in the 1970s, UC Berkeley planning professor MichaelWebber concluded it was a dismal failure. "High capital costs (about475 percent of forecast) are being compounded by low patronage (50percent of forecast)," said Webber.

Despite these problems, Webber feared BART would be "the first ofa series of multi-billion dollar mistakes scattered from one end ofthe continent to the other." Sure enough, new rail lines in Atlanta,Los Angeles, Miami and of course San Jose have resulted in similardisasters.

To the extent that BART worked at all, it was only because of SanFrancisco's dense job core. San Jose does not have such a denseconcentration of jobs, so it is entirely unsuited for rail transit.

BART's biggest drawback is the serious financial damage it does toother transit systems in the region. Constrained budgets for Muni,AC Transit and other systems have led to a decline in the region'stotal transit ridership since 1984.

Thanks to BART, wealthy white commuters have gotten heavilysubsidized train rides while low-income inner-city residents havelost less-costly bus service. This is why the BayRail Alliance,Bay Area Transportation and Land Use Coalition and Sierra Club alloppose extending BART to San Jose.

Given VTA's record of cutting bus service so it can continue to buildlightly used light-rail lines, San Jose can expect the same resultfrom BART. San Jose does not need BART and it cannot trust VTA tobuild BART. Anyone who cares about transit, transportation, or theirtaxes should oppose BART now.