VTA Cuts Alum Rock and Santa Clara BART Stations From Funding Plans

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Five Wounds Urban Village, which would redevelop an industrial site with new housing, office, and retail space around a new Alum Rock BART Station. Image: Taeker Planning & Design

Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) officials announced on October 6 that they would not seek federal funds in 2015 to construct Alum Rock and Santa Clara BART stations planned as part of the transit system’s extension through downtown San Jose. The move sparked an outcry from neighborhood leaders and elected officials, who have worked in community planning efforts for over a decade to anchor new compact, walkable urban centers with the transit stations.

A $2.3 billion, 10-mile extension of BART to Berryessa in northeast San Jose, from its current terminus in Fremont, is currently under construction and scheduled to open in late 2017. Another $4.7 billion is needed for an extension from Berryessa to Santa Clara’s Caltrain Station, through downtown San Jose, which had earlier been slated to have four stations. VTA planners say the extension would get a better chance of winning a $1.1 billion New Starts construction grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) by cutting the $1.3 billion cost of the Alum Rock and Santa Clara stations from the grant application.

“This is a radical change from what we understood from VTA for the last nearly-15 years,” said Terry Christensen, the Friends of Five Wounds Trail’s executive director and long-time resident of the Five Wounds/Brookwood Terrace neighborhood. VTA first proposed the Alum Rock station for that neighborhood in 2001.

The locations of future BART stations planned for the rail transit system’s extension to Santa Clara, through downtown San Jose. Image: Valley Transportation Authority

While FTA’s policy guide for scoring New Starts transit projects requires that funded projects “be supported by an acceptable degree of local financial commitment, including evidence of stable and dependable financing sources,” cutting the two stations still leaves the BART extension $1.7 billion short of its construction budget. Cutting the stations also hurts the project’s ratings on other factors FTA scores on: mobility improvements, particularly for car-free households; economic development effects, or the likelihood of attracting transit-supportive development;, environmental benefits like reduced vehicle miles traveled; and congestion relief.

VTA is now pursuing a “phased station implementation”, first constructing BART stations only at Diridon and Downtown by 2025, and later adding the Alum Rock and Santa Clara stations when an additional $1.3 billion for their construction somehow becomes available. VTA planners are also proposing to relocate the proposed Alum Rock Station, if and when it is ever built, to Santa Clara and 23rd streets to trim another $165 million in tunneling costs from the project.

The Five Wounds Trail would connect to the planned Alum Rock BART Station and be constructed on this abandoned rail line. Photo: Friends of Five Wounds Trail

The Alum Rock BART Station at 28th Street was to be the centerpiece of the planned Five Wounds Urban Village, a walkable, transit-oriented urban center with 875 housing units and up to 4,000 office and retail jobs built upon an existing industrial site located behind the Five Wounds Portuguese National Church on Santa Clara Street. An abandoned Union Pacific Railroad rail line that runs north-south through the site is planned to be rebuilt as the Five Wounds Trail connecting to the future Lower Sliver Creek and Coyote Creek trails elsewhere in San Jose. Unfortunately, VTA and San Jose allowed a section of the rail right-of-way to the south (along 22nd Street, from Williams Street to Highway 280) to be developed as new housing in 2007, sidelining the Five Wounds Trail as merely a wide sidewalk there.

The BART station would slash one-way travel times from San Jose to major job centers in Oakland and San Francisco by about 30 minutes compared to existing transit, and the resulting mixed-use development is expected to pay for street and sidewalk upgrades that would improve walking and bicycling safety in new downtown neighborhoods.

“This is a travesty, especially for anyone living downtown or in East San Jose,” said Raul Peralez, who was elected on November 4 to represent District 3 on the San Jose City Council. “Constantly neglected and under-served, San Jose’s east side and immigrant communities are once again first on the chopping block.”

Engineering drawing showing the location of the proposed Alum Rock BART Station, between 28th Street and Highway 101, just north of the Five Wounds Church (upper-right corner). Image: Valley Transportation Authority

A community-based planning effort to create a new urban center around the Alum Rock BART Station began in 2002, and served as an inspiration for other “urban villages” where San Jose aims to concentrate future population and job growth. The city aims to develop a total of 70 urban villages, to “enable location of commercial and public services in close proximity to residential and employee populations, allowing people to walk to services while also providing greater mobility for the expanding senior and youth segments of the population,” according to San Jose’s Envision 2040 General Plan.

VTA staff will present the scaled-back, two-station “phased implementation” project to the public at a series of currently-unscheduled community meetings, and to the VTA Board of Directors for review and approval on December 11.

  • AJ

    The fact that VTA can’t distinguish between Alum Rock (necessary) and Santa Clara (duplicative waste of money) is really concerning

  • The Overhead Wire

    Even cutting those stations doesn’t make up the difference. Also, I guarantee you they were over-engineered something aweful. More concrete caverns

  • The list of reasons San Jose sucks just keeps growing and growing.

  • Out of curiousity I tracked down renders for the 2 cut stations and you’re right on the money.

    http://fmgarchitects.com/wp/portfolio/bart-alum-rock-station
    http://www.brian-hong.com/SVRT-BART-to-San-Jose (scroll down a bit)

    The blurb for Alum Rock is just hilarious and renders look more like a museum than a BART station. Santa Clara isn’t as bad but still way overcooked.

  • thielges

    I’m sure that the Alum Rock station will be built right after the planned 30th St. Glen Park infill station in SF is done.

  • shanand

    Looking at the newer BART extensions (Colma, Millbrae, Dublin/Plesanton), these are ridiculously over-engineered. Who holds BART accountable for these decisions, if not the County Funding agencies.

    But let’s face it. The Santa Clara VTA has never designed our built a thoughtful transit service. They build political compromises.

  • Bruce

    There is no reason to build a station in Santa Clara. Period.

  • Sam

    Ha, Five Wounds Urban Village featuring an entire 875 housing units! What a joke, can these projects. Build where people actually are

  • And trying to imagine that a project called “Five Wounds” will be commercially successful defies the non-religious imagination.

  • 42apples

    If the stations are so economically beneficial, they shouldn’t need federal funds. San Jose has a median household income of $80,000, even more for surrounding cities. If they are not worth it, they shouldn’t need federal funds. I fail to see why this is so bad. Maybe VTA will be more frugal with its money.

  • Davide Vieira

    Stop by sometime when out riding your bike. The area is anchored by a landmark hundred-year-old Manueline Gothic Catholic church built by Portuguese immigrants with recycled timbers from the Portuguese Pavilion at the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915 in that now smaller city up north. The church is one of the most photographed, sketched, and painted buildings in San José. Southwest featured it in an ad. Even the non-religious can appreciate beautiful architecture, can’t they?

    Stop by sometime. Or visit it online at: http://www.fivewoundschurch.org

  • murphstahoe

    So let’s see. San Jose should send funds to the feds, but should not get funds from the feds, those funds should go to non-economically beneficial projects elsewhere?

    Your argument only works in a world where there are no federal funds.

  • 42apples

    I don’t think federal funds should be used for local projects. If that means lower taxes, so be it. Or more income redistribution. Why can’t the station be funded with development revenue?

    Federal money for projects comes with strings attached that may not be optimal for the situation. For example, CAHSR is hampered by onerous federal regulations (FRA regs, Buy American, etc) that would not be present for a private or state-funded system. VTA does not have a good track record considering how terribly awful light rail is.

  • Jake Wegmann

    Let’s end federal subsidies for freeway construction. Then we can talk.

  • The Alum Rock station was planned next to a highway? Thats idiotic, it eliminates half your walk shed

  • uri

    why? I’m not super familiar with this project, but it seems like a great place to have it with the University, 49er and Earthquake stadiums, and Caltrain.

  • Bluehale

    To be fair the BART tunnel between Glen Park and 24th Mission isn’t flat (it climbs) making building a 30th street station much more expensive and difficult since you’d have to build a new section of tunnel and then a station. Of course BART could do it if there was the political will to do it which is short in both SF and BART.

  • Jarrett M

    Yeah, I have a feeling the station location was less an outcome of community participation or land use goals and more about making sure the massive BART parking garage was right next to the freeway onramp. The station box was never well positioned to serve the existing neighborhood commercial spine and heavily used local transit corridor on Santa Clara street.

    I know a lot of community members feel the proposed station relocation under Santa Clara at 23rd is a betrayal, but there are some real benefits with better transit connectivity to the 22/522/23 bus (and future BRT) which produce a combined headway of 5ish minutes and direct access to the existing commercial corridor. The redevelopment area behind 5 wounds would still be within the walkshed for the BART station, so there should still be interest from developers.

  • Wanderer

    Funding a station locally was possible in the era of redevelopment, but now that redevelopment has been ended, there’s no realistic way for a city to find tens of millions of dollars for a BART station.

  • aslevin

    The decision about federal funding has been postponed, thanks to active community input. No application is going to be made by the end of the year, according to comments made by VTA board chair Ash Kalra. On December 11, the VTA board will get an update on the status of the project planning, but will not make a decision. Earlier, VTA staff had made the argument that they could decide which stations to submit for federal funding without board approval. It is not clear whether that will still be the case going forward.

  • J_blu

    This seems so short sighted! Diridon is walkable from Downtown; instead of removing that station keep Santa Clara / the link SJC. I understand the arena is a draw, but four blocks isn’t far to walk.

  • Bruce

    Not to mention the money saved from an overpass over 101 instead of a tunnel underneath.

  • The location right next to 101 isn’t idiotic and doesn’t eliminate half of the walkshed. People would still be able to use the bridges on Santa Clara/Alum Rock and McKee to walk to the station from the east side of the highway.

    While a station without parking on a commercial corridor sounds ideal in theory, the fact is that the parking structure adjacent to the freeway is a necessity here. I lived in DC for 10 years, and I know what good rail transit and adjacent development looks like, and that’s just not quite possible here. The US101 freeway isn’t going away anytime soon, and BART is less of a transit system and more of a linear commuter service than WMATA is.

    There isn’t going to be a BART extension further south into Santa Clara county, and there aren’t going to be stubs going further east either. The fact is that, even with enhanced bus service (which there should be!), there are still going to be a lot of people who will drive to this point, and then use the train to get to points much further afield (SF, Oakland, etc.). Parking needs to be included, and keeping it as close to the freeway as possible makes sense.

    As a resident of 23rd Street, I don’t want to see the historic library at the end of our street ripped down for a parking structure (it’s not proposed, but it would be one of the only easy places to put one if the station ends up at 23rd). Keep the station and the parking on the brownfield at 28th.

  • Gezellig

    “VTA is now pursuing a “phased station implementation”, first constructing BART stations only at Diridon and Downtown by 2025, and later adding the Alum Rock and Santa Clara stations.”

    Assuming this 2025 arrival of BART to Diridon, Caltrain will already be electrified (expected ETA: 2020) meaning more frequent metro-like service to Santa Clara will be possible.

    http://test.bayrailalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/CaltrainEMU2.jpg

    Once this happens it might become clear to people that extending BART to Santa Clara would be fairly redundant, anyway.

    Yes, there *is* something to be said about the psychologically convenient allure of being able to hop on a single system (ie, BART) to, say, the airport but if the transfers at Diridon are convenient, frequent and timed well I think people will catch on.

    Accordingly, I’ve often wondered if Caltrain could use the broad branding prestige that BART enjoys in the Bay Area and rebrand itself as BART: Bigger And Better (okay, maybe without that last part explicitly stated, haha). After all, BART’s already branding heavy-rail trains as eBART in the Delta region. Even though, say, Hayward to Santa Clara or Palo Alto to Fremont would still require one transfer at Diridon, BART’s map could show that psychologically all-important Full Loop Around the Bay instead of the thinly drawn afterthought reference to Caltrain the map currently gives:

    http://sf.metblogs.com/archives/images/2008/02/big_bart_map.gif

    In addition, it would give every incentive to the agency to fully coordinate timed transfers, unify payment structure, etc. This would also benefit the sync-up with Millbrae and due to the increased convenience (and *perception* of increased convenience) likely encourage even more ridership on both ends.

  • Idrather Bebikin

    Very good article. The big issues here are:

    1) What did VTA Staff know and when did they know it?
    1a) What did VTA Senior Staff & General Manager know and when did they know it?
    1b) Is it true that the VTA Board was blindsided about all of this on Oct. 6th?

    2) Technical decisions versus community input?

    3) Federal ranking schemas: Won’t the two below rank well?
    3a) Community involvement for OVER 25 years for this BART Alum Rock @ 28th Streeet
    3B) Disadvantaged communities

    4) Can the new overpass (instead of a tunnel mean that the new BART tunnel and station be built under the 28th Street and under the Five Wounds Trail?

    5) Density and height of the footprint?
    5a) Can the parking garage be modified, put underground, especially if the BART station is under 28th Street and FWT?
    (assuming BART runs over Hwy 101 next to the existing UPRR train bridge, why can’t it go under 28th St to Santa Clara)
    5b) Getting developers to design in the mixed use development alongside BART planning will save money
    5c) Can the height be increased from 120 feet to 240 feet or more?
    5d) Once buildings go over 5 stories and require reinforced concrete or steel beams, higher buildings might as well be built – as long as it complies with community realities. [but the tallest structures will be next to Hwy 101!]

    6) Bike/Pedestrian bridge directly into this master planned development will be a HUGE way to get peopl between Hwy 101 & 680 there!

    7) Please keep this TRUE mixed use Transit Oriented Development

    8) Please make this as lush looking as the photograph!

  • Bruce

    Because there will be a Caltrain connection at Diridon (a much busier station that is a Baby Bullet stop). Levi’s Stadium is actually not that close to the Santa Clara Caltrain station, and passengers can reach it via light rail from Diridon. Avaya Stadium might be a legitimate draw for BART but is it worth spending billions of dollars to build a station that would only see high ridership 17 days of the year?

  • Juan

    Please take one minute to submit an online petition to save the Alum Rock BART station! Submit your online petition on your smartphone, tablet, laptop or computer at http://bit.ly/1xynn3Q

    On October 6th, the VTA unilaterally proposed to the Silicon Valley Rapid Transit Program Working Committee the elimination of the Alum Rock BART station.

    Your online petition will be submitted to the following parties to request that the VTA Board save the Alum Rock BART station: Valley Transportation Authority, City of San Jose’s Mayor & City Council Members, San Jose City Manager, and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

  • Idrather Bebikin

    Adina –

    Nothing has really changed from VTA. They have not told the public when these three public outreach meetings are at Mexican Heritage Plaza, Downtown San Jose and Santa Clara. These three meetings should have been “baked in” and created during this process 4-6 months ago.

    The community should have been informed of ANY materially significant changes when they were happening, not 4-6 months later. Not after they were caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

    I would “not” trust VTA Senior Management on BART. We need a strong ongoing push every day/week until the Dec. 11th Meeting.And beyond! The new words coming from VTA General Manager are more PR spin than anything else. This is not comforting at all.

    FYI:
    As someone that uses VTA extensively, they have a great new marketing push overall. Their operational excellence of getting trains and buses onto their schedule at the major transit points and time stops is still “hit and miss.”

    It doesn’t matter how well you make VTA look online, if the service stinks people who don’t need to use it will stop using it!

  • Idrather Bebikin

    Catchy one liner “Upright Biker” but way off the mark in every which way. Religious or not it is the cultural center and heartbeat of the area.

  • Idrather Bebikin

    The 875 units can be increased drastically as can the office units if density and height is targeted differently.

  • Idrather Bebikin

    The grouping of the 28th St location and Santa Clara near SCU into Phase III is done on purpose IMHO.

    VTA BART SV needs to be honest with separating ALL of the costs of both stations and how much the cost is for the long stretch all the way to Santa Clara.

    IF the VTA BART SV is honest about this, people will be amazed at how HUGE the cost is between Diridon Station and Santa Clara.

  • andrelot

    It is impossible to increase frequencies between Milbrae and San Jose on Caltrain to BART levels because that will be a shared sector between CAHSR (high speed rail) and Caltrain (the so-called “blended sector”). Because of the speed differential and very different stop pattern, this considerably reduces total capacity of the rail tracks all the way to San Jose.

  • Idrather Bebikin

    I don’t think it’s done out of incompetence AJ. I’m convinced it’s because they don’t want to be honest with the public about how much it costs to be near SCU. Because almost everyone will say “Hell, NO!”

    So to hide this fact they decided to group it with the Alum Rock @ 28th St location – effectively “throwing under the bus” the community that was worked for over 25 years to land BART right there.

  • murphstahoe

    At peak rush, Caltrain already runs at higher frequencies than the BART spur lines.

  • andrelot

    But that frequency is is not what gezellig was alluding to.

    Under blender Caltrain/high-speed operation, there will be space for 6 high-speed trains per hour, and 7 Caltrain train per hour (maximum).

  • Gezellig

    7 per hour isn’t too bad–in fact that would seem to be slightly above the current 6 per hour max that appear to operate during peak hours–of which about 3 per hour stop in Santa Clara. 3 per hour (avg. headway = 20 mins) is about what BART has in many stations currently.

    Also, I’m curious–isn’t CAHSR projected to not begin blended SF-SJ service until at least 2026? That’d be a minimum of 6 full years of post-electrification where Caltrain would presumably have it “all to itself.” Or would it still be bound to the 7/hour max even with no CAHSR trains during that window due to construction/upgrade issues? I don’t really follow Caltrain upgrades in detail so I’d be interested in finding out.

  • andrelot

    Without sharing space with HSR, Caltrain can operate as much as 19 trains per hour with proper signaling and proper rolling stock .

    All these measures are trains per direction.,

  • Bruce

    Yes, extending a tunnel and building a portal don’t come cheap. Not to mention the station itself.

  • Gezellig

    I wonder how close to 19 Caltrain will get during that post-electrification pre-HSR-blended service window of 6+ years.

    Also, won’t the existence of CAHSR actually siphon off at least a percentage of Caltrain’s Baby Bullet ridership? If so, it’d presumably free up Caltrain to offer at least a little more Local and Limited trains–which would themselves be faster than their current counterparts due to electrification.

  • murphstahoe

    and if you get to Diridon you can hop onto Caltrain and get to SCU. Or if you are coming from SF, you just take Caltrain in the first place.

    “Oh, but not very many trains stop at Santa Clara!!!’ you say?

    It would probably be cheaper to run special 2 car EMUs from Diridon to Santa Clara that meet the BART train as a shuttle for the next 100 years, than it would be to build the extension to SCU. And frankly, we have no idea what the Caltrain schedule will be like when a BART station in Santa Clara would open in what, 2030?

  • murphstahoe

    Transit ridership is up, but by the time Caltrain ridership levels demand 19 trains per hour, we’ll have a whole different set of issues to deal with.

  • ladyfleur

    Where are you getting four blocks? The distance between Diridon and the downtown San Jose station is about 3/4 of a mile.

    Beside that, Diridon is the major transit hub, not Santa Clara: Caltrain (all trains), Amtrak Capitol Corridor & Coast Starlight, ACE Train, Hwy 17 & Monterey buses, plus a slew of VTA local buses. The Santa Clara to Diridon segment is redundant with Caltrain plus VTA’s #1 bus route.

    As for the SJC connection bus, it would be better served from Diridon instead of the lower-service Santa Clara Caltrain station regardless.

  • ladyfleur

    There’s more than just Caltrain connecting Diridon and Santa Clara stations. The VTA 522 Rapid connects them with an 18 minute ride at an economical price. During peak times/directions, the Capitol Corridor and ACE trains also make that run in about 12 minutes.

  • Andy Chow

    If the parking demand is great (which I somewhat doubt), there can always be interchange improvements from 101 to the Berryessa station and putting more parking there. There shouldn’t be consideration for further extension at least until the Berryessa portion opens and depend on how commuters react.

  • Bob

    VTA is the entire county, not just San Jose. Other than that, please stick to the conversation and not use this as a platform for your own ignorance.

  • GCHH927

    I agree. VTA honestly has many bus lines that do not connect time wise with other bus lines. And, as someone who has used VTA many times, no show buses are often a problem using it. I live closest to the Winchester Transit Center where VTA’s light rail and 3 bus lines meet. I cannot tell you the number of times when I have taken a bus to connect with the light rail, only to see the light rail train take off early the minute the bus stopped there.

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