The price tag on the long-awaited subway project linking Silicon Valley to parts of the San Francisco Bay Area is poised to jump to $12.2 billion, according to a new estimate released Wednesday, making it one of the costliest transportation projects in the country.
(Bloomberg) — The price tag on the long-awaited subway project linking Silicon Valley to parts of the San Francisco Bay Area is poised to jump to $12.2 billion, according to a new estimate released Wednesday, making it one of the costliest transportation projects in the country.
The price is more than a third higher than the previous estimate and a 77% increase from a 2020 $6.9 billion projection. Subway planners attribute the increases to inflation. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which is managing the project, is looking to the federal government to make up much of the higher costs as they compete with transit agencies for federal infrastructure dollars.
“We’re competing with New York, Los Angeles, particularly New York,” said Carolyn Gonot, VTA’s general manager, at a press conference. “I’m not going to lie, BART is a very expensive system to build. But it’s a very productive and efficient system as well for getting people around the region.”
The project will extend the Bay Area Rapid Transit District six miles through San Jose and into the smaller city of Santa Clara. Unlike a typical subway project, which constructs side-by-side tunnels for trains to pass through, the local transit agency plans to build a single tunnel about the width of a four-lane highway. The method known as “single bore” has never been used to construct a subway system in the US.
Estimates expect daily ridership to start at around 14,000 while growing to 33,000 in 2040, according to the Federal Transit Administration. Trains are now expected to run through San Jose in 2036 — two years later than the previous forecast.
The Silicon Valley extension comes as BART’s ridership has been upended by remote work trends. The agency serves about 160,000 riders on an average weekday, roughly 38% of pre-pandemic levels. The slump is largely driven by the slow recovery of downtown San Francisco.
The suburban region of Silicon Valley, meanwhile, has seen its economy hold up relatively well from remote work. Even as office buildings are hallowed out, the fortunes of major tech companies like Nvidia Corp. and Apple Inc. have helped buoy the area, which is an hour south of San Francisco. Many tech workers who once spent time in the city have now shifted their spending to suburban areas like Silicon Valley, where they live.
That has helped boost sales taxes for the transit agency which is planning to use some of the windfall to offset a portion of costs. “Silicon Valley is still flourishing,” said Gonot.
Still, local officials don’t want to go back to taxpayers for another cash infusion.
“BART to Silicon Valley is happening and VTA and its contractors will have to live within their means to get it done,” said San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan in a statement. “We are not going back to the voters on this one.”
Read more: San Francisco’s Streets Empty, While Nearby San Jose Is Booming
Across the US transportation projects are only getting more expensive.
The Gateway Development Project in the New York City area has seen costs climb to $16.1 billion and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority earlier this year paused its $3 billion King of Prussia Rail project after the Federal Transit Administration raised concerns about how the agency would pay for it.
And transit agencies are competing for a limited amount of federal funds, said Jeff Davis, an analyst with the Eno Center for Transportation, a Washington-based transit advocacy group.
“If Secretary Buttigieg signs all of those that means that Congress will theoretically be obligated to cough up an enormous amount of money for the next 10 years to fund all of these projects,” he said.
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