BART extension requires independent review of total cost

Following the Loma Prieta earthquake, Caltrans estimated in 1998 that a new eastern span of the Bay Bridge would cost $ 1.4 billion and take four years to build. The actual cost was $ 6.4 billion and it was 11 years before the project was completed.

In 2008, the cost of a high-speed rail line stretching from Los Angeles to San Francisco was estimated at $ 33 billion. Today, that estimated cost has swelled to $ 100 billion, with additional cost increases a virtual certainty.

The San Francisco TransBay Transit Center cost nearly double its original budget of $ 1.18 billion and opened two years late before closing for nine months to repair cracked steel beams, which led to former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown wrote in a 2013 San Francisco Chronicle column: “We always knew that the original estimate was well below the actual cost. Just like we never had a real cost for the central metro or the bay bridge or any other massive construction project. … If people knew the real cost up front, nothing would ever get approved.

It is this approach that breeds mistrust of Bay Area transportation projects. And that’s why Bay Area residents need an independent review of the true cost of expanding four BART stations in San Jose.

The Valley Transportation Authority, which is building the extension, estimated in 2019 that the total cost would be $ 4.7 billion and would be completed by 2026. The latest estimate of the total cost of the VTA project stands at $ 6.9 billion, and the completion date has been pushed back to 2030.

Yet last week, local and federal officials argued over the final cost of the project.

The Federal Transit Authority now predicts the price will increase to $ 9.1 billion. And the agency has put its money where its mouth is. Federal officials on Monday allocated the project $ 2.3 billion, or 25% of the final cost of the project, whichever is less.

When VTA first applied for the federal grant in 2020, it requested $ 1.7 billion, or 25% of its total expected cost of $ 6.9 billion. Local transport officials don’t budge on their latest cost estimate.

Digging projects are known to have unexpected cost overruns. Boston’s Big Dig was sold for around $ 2.4 billion, but ended in well over $ 14 billion. The BART expansion in San Jose includes the construction of a subway through downtown San Jose and to Santa Clara.

Honest estimates of expected costs are important. The high-speed rail company has lost public trust to such an extent that a poll by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research showed that only 41% of voters still want construction to continue.

Transport officials will need public support for future transport projects. Plan Bay Area 2050’s master plan calls for a transportation strategy estimated at $ 579 billion.

Creating a downtown transit hub is a critical part of the region’s transportation strategy. The clearest way for officials to maintain confidence in the BART project in San Jose and future transit projects is to use part of the funding for an independent analysis of the estimated cost of expanding BART.


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