Realizing just how costly and controversial the project has become, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, along with other VTA Board members and municipal politicians, recently commissioned a Peer Review Team of “experts” to conduct an independent evaluation of the BART Phase II Project comparing the original twin bore alternative to the current single bore alternative.
BATWG’s response to the resulting Peer Reviewers’ Evaluation is set forth below in a letter to Mayor Liccardo.
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November 7, 2022
Honorable Sam Liccardo
Mayor of San Jose
Dear Mayor Liccardo,
BATWG is a 501(c)(3) volunteer transit-advocacy group, comprised of transportation engineers, accountants, planners and other professionals. As such, we follow the Region’s ongoing transportation capital improvement projects as closely as our limited resources permit. We have followed the BART Phase II extension for at least the last five years and were much encouraged when you called for an independent comparison of the traditional twin bore approach versus the single bore approach
At last Thursday’s VTA Board meeting as you know, the Peer Review Team presented its findings. After the presentation, you and several other Commissioners raised important questions that we feel were not adequately addressed. At the risk of telling you things you already know, here are issues that we have identified as in need of further consideration and analysis.
1. Surface Disruption Fears. It has been suggested that the antipathy to cut-and-cover construction arose because it was thought that Santa Clara Street would become like San Francisco’s Market Street during the original Market Street construction period. But the two situations are fundamentally different from one another. Muni’s Market Street streetcar service has always been an active and popular operation. By the 1960’s, when BART was being defined and planned, the Market Street streetcar lines were carrying roughly 150,000 riders a day. For reasons that now seem absurd, San Francisco’s government insisted that the streetcars be kept in full operation along the entire street during the entire duration of the BART construction program, thereby requiring that four different sections of both the tracks and the overhead wires each be relocated five times. This myopic requirement made the subway work much slower and more expensive than it otherwise would have been and, needless to add, significantly disrupted street operations.
Santa Clara Street has no streetcars.
2. Minimizing Street Disruption. From listening to the statements of the Peer Review Team and some of the VTA staff, one could be excused for believing that all of Santa Clara street would be shut down. That contention is not even close to being true. For one thing the Downtown Station is only 1,000 or so feet long. Downtown subway stations are constructed all over the world using cut-and-cover methods for a reason. Done properly, a station can be built from the top down using cut-and-cover methods without ever closing more than half the street at any one time. In fact for most of the construction period the entire street would be fully open to traffic. For more information on this point see: https://batwgblog.com/2020/10/12/vtas-santa-clara-street-subway-goes-off-the-rails/#more-3004
3. Cost Comparison Needed! As you know at least two of the Peer Reviewers indicated that their assignment was limited to determining the technical feasibility of the two alternatives. Apparently for this reason, the Peer Review presentation said nothing about either the relative costs of the two alternatives or their relative construction impacts. We found this statement to be frankly astonishing. With enough money and time, virtually anything can be done. There are hundreds if not thousands of completed projects in the world that are more complicated and risky than building a subway under Santa Clara Street. If the VTA’s staff instruction to the Peer Review Team was to look only at technical feasibility, the Reviewers conclusions were virtually forgone from the outset.
4. Bonifide Delay Analysis Needed: Without taking account of, or perhaps even being aware of the status of the design work, the Reviewers concluded that switching from the Single Bore option (now at the 35% PE phase), to the Twin Bore option, (already at the 60% PE phase), would delay the project “for up to two years”. Based upon what?
5. Single Bore Tube Size: At the meeting the Peer Review Team indicated that its findings were based upon the single bore tube being 40 feet in diameter. But the diameter of the single bore tunnel is now projected to be 52 feet 3 inches!
6. Getting Federal Funding: The VTA Staff is apparently now seeking a federal government New Starts grant equal to twice the commitment that the FTA has already made to the project. It seems us that the best way for the VTA to catch the Fed’s attention when it comes to funding would be to demonstrate the desire and ability to prudently cut costs. Our analysis is no more detailed than that of the Peer Group review team, but it does appear that with smart decisions and efficient execution, the BART Phase II cost could be cut by two to three billion dollars.
Gerald Cauthen P.E.
President, Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG)
END OF NEWSLETTER NO. 45