Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | March 28, 2007

Study déjà vu: Kill BART-to-San Jose

“It’s like déjà vu all over again.” ~ Major League Baseball manager and malapropism king Yogi Berra

The Hay Group just completed a $500,000 review of the VTA’s organizational and financial operations. Blistering, stinging, scathing, biting, brutal, harsh – pick your adjective, any of these work to describe the HayGroup’s assessment of the VTA.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury undertook a similar exercise in June 2004 and the results were similar in tone.

At the time, VTA officials were dismissive of the grand jury’s recommendations. The grand jury report’s major recommendations included these:

• Decrease board member reliance on VTA staff

• Reorganize the VTA’s board of directors

• End the BART-to-San Jose extension project

“Spending limited resources on BART could squander an opportunity to build, maintain and operate a far larger network of transit options throughout the county as enabled by voters approving the half-cent Measure A sales tax in 2000,” the grand jury found.

Now, three years later and who knows how much more money down the BART drain, the Hay Group is presenting its findings. Under the heading “VTA has Lost its Regional Focus and Strayed from its Core Business,” the HayGroup’s executive report has these statements:

• “During the last decade, VTA has, in many cases, planned for and built capital projects that have not satisfied regional transportation needs.”

• “VTA’s fiduciary obligations and the Board’s duty of care require that these transportation systems be built, operated and maintained within existing fiscal constraints.”

• “The Board has approved capital projects that were political solutions to address the needs of certain local neighborhoods at the expense of regional congestion management. As a result, VTA has built transportation systems that have low ridership and are also expensive to operate and maintain.”

• “VTA’s budgeting practices and operations indicate that VTA has been focused on funding for building projects, but not on post-build system operations and maintenance.”

• “… The Measure A Plan does not provide for realistic revenue assumptions and related cost increases for the operation of its planned capital projects.”

These statements encapsulate my opposition to the VTA’s continuing efforts to extend BART to San Jose, a project that now sports a $4.7-billion price tag, up from $4.2 billion when the grand jury slammed the project.

If you’d like to read the Hay Group’s 38-page executive summary for yourself, a PDF version is available on the VTA’s web site. Click the VTA Organizational and Financial Assessment link. (Note that when the Hay Group report refers to “Silicon Valley Rapid Transit” or “SVRT,” it means “BART to San Jose extension.”)

Here’s what I’ve been saying for years: Due in part to rosy construction cost and funding projections, the VTA cannot afford to build the BART-to-San Jose extension. If VTA does build the BART extension, it will do so at the expense of regional transportation services, including services to South County. Due in part to rosy ridership projections, if VTA does build the BART extension, it cannot afford to operate it.

After the Hay Group’s report, many are proposing shortening, not cutting, the BART-to-San Jose extension, according to Saturday’s edition of the San Jose Mercury News. Instead of ending ending near the Mineta International Airport, the line might end at Berryessa. BART riders would then have to board buses to go to downtown San Jose or the airport.

Shortening BART is not enough. We need to remember what the grand jury recommended nearly three years ago – end the BART-to-San Jose extension project.

Don’t believe the independent grand jury’s unbiased findings?

Then remember what former VTA General Manager Pete Cipolla said in a letter to the editor of The Dispatch in August 2004: “Shortening the proposed BART extension would reduce project benefits substantially, reduce access, and be more expensive overall. … Taking a piecemeal approach to the project would substantially increase total capital and operating costs with no real advantages.”

The grand jury report gave VTA officials and area political leaders an opportunity to do the right thing nearly four years ago, but they squandered it.

The Hay Group audit has presented leaders with a rare and precious second opportunity. Let’s do the right thing now, even though it should have been done years ago: Kill the BART-to-San Jose extension.

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