The BART extension into downtown San Jose has hit another awkward moment after San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and officials with the Valley Transportation Authority, which is overseeing the project, were caught trying to keep an estimated $2 billion price increase on the project a secret. As Hoodline reported in February, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) claimed the project wouldn’t be finished until 2034 while adding that the estimated cost would balloon to $9.1 billion, well beyond the VTA’s estimate of $6.9 billion. The rising cost was apparently associated with the choice to go with a single-tunnel design for the subway system as opposed to a more traditional double-tunnel subway design.
The Mercury News recently obtained text message exchanges from October between Liccardo and Takis Salpeas, who is the VTA’s BART extension manager. They seem to show that the pair wanted to hide the rising costs from the public before they were eventually publicly released by the FTA. To be fair, the motivation for the secrecy appears to be trying to keep contractors from bidding up parts of the project.
“We need to be very ‘silent’ about our budget issues. As you know, we have 9 major construction teams shortlisted... They [sic] listening to everything!! I know you know,” Salpeas told Liccardo in a text message referring to the FTA’s higher cost estimate. Several days later, the FTA publicly announced the higher cost estimate in a news release.
In another text that the Mercury News got ahold of, Liccardo said to Salpeas and another VTA executive, “I’m sure you caught the part in the federal announcement where they assert the project cost ‘is expected to be $9.148 billion.’ Can we ask them to revise that language??” No changes were ever made.
Liccardo is now defending his actions saying that he was trying to not spend extra taxpayer money. “We were trying to ensure we can get a project built without giving hundreds of millions of dollars more of taxpayer money to contractors. So in other words, it was a tightrope in trying to elicit more state and federal resources for the project without telling contractors that there’s more money in the pot for them to go grab,” Liccardo told the Mercury News. Salpeas expressed the same sentiment to the Mercury News. “If I had to do it all over again, I would say the same message,” he said.
Liccardo is expected to request an independent review of BART’s extension into San Jose that will reassess the cost of the project, the station designs, and whether the single-tunnel design is the right way to go. Many transit officials are rejoicing at the news of the independent review since many of them have been pushing for a reevaluation since the single-tunnel design was chosen in 2018.