Feds claim San Jose BART extension will be way more expensive than the VTA thinks

Feds claim San Jose BART extension will be way more expensive than the VTA thinks
Photo Credit: VTA
By Wesley Severson - Published on October 27, 2021.

Federal transportation officials now say that the price tag for BART’s new downtown San Jose extension will be higher than what local transit officials estimate. According to an announcement from the Federal Transit Administration, the cost to complete the six-mile extension from the Berryessa Transit Center to Diridon Station will be around $9.1 billion. Last year, the Valley Transportation Authority put the cost at $6.9 billion when it applied for a federal grant in an effort to get the feds to cover 25% percent of the project or $1.7 billion dollars.

Based on the new estimate, the FTA is now planning to give the transit agency $2.3 billion dollars, which would be around a quarter of the project's total cost. The higher estimate from federal officials appears to be factoring in things that the VTA did not consider such as risk factors, higher cost of labor, and inceasingly expensive building materials. “$9.1 billion is certainly something that we’re not planning to achieve. We’re going to work to keep the budget as close to where our budget and plan is right now. We will look at everything we can control to reduce risk and bring down that contingency.” VTA spokesperson Bernice Alaniz told Mercury News.

The design of the tunnel could pose problems when it comes to the budget. According to Mercury News, the VTA has chosen to use a construction method that lessens the impact on above-ground traffic and forces the subway through a 48-foot wide, single-bored tunnel that is deeper in the ground. VTA has said that this method is faster and more cost-effective than a less deep, dual tunnel plan, but it does come with challenges. “It’s a very risky construction type, and that risk usually equates to cost on these types of projects,” Laura Tolkoff with policy group SPUR told Mercury News. 

City officials remain hopeful that the project will stay on track even though the VTA only has funding right now for the $6.9 billion price tag. “This auspicious milestone gladdens the hearts of all of us who have been working--and many more who have been waiting--to bring BART to Downtown San Jose and Santa Clara,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told San Jose Inside.

If the $9.1 billion estimate from the feds comes to fruition, it’s unclear where the VTA would get the money to make up the more than 30% funding gap. Voters have passed two sales tax measures to fund it so far, and they may not approve a third. “VTA needs to be taking a strong look at the federal government’s estimate and figuring out what decisions have led to this and how to address it moving forward. The fact that we expect there will always be more money from the voters or from the federal government is just not true,” Gwen Litvak with the Bay Area Council told Mercury News.