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VTA approves San Jose BART extension contract despite controversial design

By Eliyahu Kamisher and Maggie Angst, Mercury News, May 6, 2022

“Marking a key milestone in the long-delayed effort to bring BART trains to downtown San Jose, the Valley Transportation Authority board awarded a major contract billed as the project’s ‘foundational backbone’ on [May 5] while also approving an independent review of the project’s controversial design in an effort to assuage critics.

“[Q]uestions remain over who will oversee the review and how much impact, if any, it would have on the design as [the] contract award lays the groundwork for the mega project’s single-bore tunnel.

“Critics say VTA’s plan to mine one of the world’s largest subway tunnels with a single-bore instead of a more conventional dual-bore design could compromise the rider experience and lead to ballooning costs.

“Supporters of the single-bore design say it would avoid chaos on Santa Clara Street by minimizing surface-level disruptions, while shallower dual-bore construction would require tearing up swaths of the street. They also say switching to a dual-bore would require new environmental clearances, tacking years more of delays onto the project.

“The VTA board vote comes as the six-mile, four-station BART extension through downtown San Jose faces criticism over a federal analysis that pegged the expected cost at $9.1 billion — a $2.25 billion increase over the current budget.

“ ‘I believe what we have in front of us now is the right decision,’ VTA’s Takis Salpeas, the agency’s lead on the project, said in an interview earlier this week, adding that engineers are looking to improve riders’ station access while maintaining the current tunnel-mining technology.”

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