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Colin Peppard’s Blog

H.R. 1: What's at Stake? San Jose's Transportation Future

Colin Peppard

Posted February 17, 2011

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     Sunset Downtown San Jose

Since the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system was being conceived back in the 40s and 50s, the public, businesses, and government leaders throughout the region have wanted to connect San Jose to Oakland and, across the Bay, San Francisco with a rail link. In 2000, Santa Clara County residents even voted to tax themselves an extra half-cent for 30 years to pay for the extension.

The transit link would create new jobs, connect the bustling economies of two major West Coast cities, reduce traffic on Interstates 680 and 880, and provide Californians a cleaner transportation option that would reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions throughout Silicon Valley. What's more four new BART stations would provide significant opportunities for local economic growth, including new businesses, residential development, and office space that can help to bolster the state's flagging economy. Unfortunately for the people of Santa Clara County, funding concerns and the lack of a federal investment partner have held up the project for decades.

Whether it's a highway, rail line, or airport expansion, nearly all major transportation projects require a big upfront investment to get them off the ground. Our federal transportation policy has always helped to jump-start these projects by providing some of the upfront capital. For highways, often up to 80 percent of a project's cost that is covered by the Feds. For transit projects, this number is usually much lower - sometimes as low as 50 percent. And unlike highway projects, transit project must pass a cost-benefit threshold to receive federal funding. Resources are few, and competition is fierce.

So it was a big deal in San Jose this week when the Obama Administration announced as part of its transportation budget that at long last the BART extension to San Jose would receive the federal help it needs to get moving. But this progress could all come to a screeching halt if House Republicans get their way and eliminate New Starts, the federal program that would fund the extension.

This program has funded nearly all major new transit projects and expansions in the U.S. since it was created in 1976. Dozens of critical projects in states across country have relied on this program to get off the ground. These projects have improved our cities and suburbs, cut pollution, eased traffic, and spurred local economic growth. But we won't see many new transit projects in America if the House Republicans get their way.

That's what's at stake with H.R. 1, the funding bill that is currently being debated in Congress. And San Jose isn't alone. Our friends at Reconnecting America have identified projects across the country that would be in trouble if the cuts to transportation funding in this bill are approved.

Livability and ARRA Loc.JPG

Less congestion. Less pollution. More jobs. More growth. The attack on clean transportation just doesn't make sense.

Header image by Elaina's Blueprint, used under a Creative Commons license. 

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Andy ChowFeb 18 2011 04:14 PM

I would prefer this blog use a better example of how positive a New Start project can be. This project is the bottom of the barrel and the one that is opposed by the local environmental and transit community (mostly because of the large project cost and the likelihood of reducing funds to existing transit). This is not the best planned project as it could be. Basically the new start project would go to a flea market site far from local employers and surrounded by low density housing (but is located within the San Jose city limit).

I think there are many more projects in the new starts program worthy of funding. There are many more that are well planned and strongly supported by the environmental/transit advocacy community.

At the same time, the rail line that does connect between San Francisco and San Jose, Caltrain, is under threat of having all off peak and weekend service canceled. Service could also be canceled for any stations along the line. A lot of riders would not appreciate nor understand why a lot of money is being directed to a project that won't carry anyone for at least 8-10 years while the one that does is being starved of funds.

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