Federal transportation officials have approved a $250 million infusion for the BART-to-San Jose project —more than its planners had even hoped for.
The Valley Transportation Authority announced Monday that it will receive $100 million in federal funds for the current fiscal year as soon as an agreement with the Federal Transit Administration is signed on March 12. And for the fiscal year beginning in October, the budget President Barack Obama released Monday calls for an additional $150 million for the 10-mile, $2.1 billion line from Fremont to the Berryessa area of San Jose. That's $20 million more than what local officials had originally estimated they would get annually.
Transit officials say the funding won't be slashed by Congress. Nearly $700 million in federal assistance for five new transit projects has been approved — which is line with funding in past years.
"This money is rock-solid," said Randy Rentschler of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "This is really good news."
Having that $250 million means fewer dollars will have to be spent on issuing bonds and paying off debt service.
"Helps with cash flow," VTA general manager Michael Burns said. "The more we receive ahead of schedule, the less likely we will need to finance down the road, saving interest expense."
Of five new transit lines included in the budget released Monday, three are in California. San Francisco's Third Street light rail line will get $150 million, and a light-rail extension in Sacramento will receive $46 million. Projects in Honolulu and Portland will get $250 million and $100 million.
"Having two big projects in the Bay Area being funded is extremely good news," Rentschler said.
The BART-to-Berryessa funding plan includes $352 million in state funds and $848 million in local sales tax revenues.
Once final documents are signed next month, the VTA can begin to collect a one-eighth-cent sales tax beginning July 1 that will be set aside to cover the cost of running trains in the South Bay. Voters approved that tax by a two-thirds majority in 2008.
Construction will be under way this summer, with groundbreaking set for April 12. Trains could begin running in late 2016.
Congressman Mike Honda, D-San Jose, said the $150 million in the president's budget "is yet another recognition that this important, job-creating transportation project is rolling towards the finish line."
Construction will take off in the summer, when utility lines are relocated and buildings razed around future stations in Milpitas near the Great Mall and east of Highway 101 off Berryessa.
The federal government gave the BART plan a "not recommended" rating in 2004, saying the $4 billion-plus to build tracks underground through downtown San Jose and into Santa Clara was too costly, especially with no money set aside for operations and maintenance. Transportation officials wanted the line shortened and costs lowered.
Four years ago, the VTA agreed to build only to the Berryessa area, leaving open the option of extending tracks another six miles to Santa Clara at some point in the future.
Then, in 2008, the one-eighth-cent sales tax for operating costs won voter approval.
Shortly after, the FTA gave the BART project a favorable rating. Now, in a matter of weeks, money will be arriving.
Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.KEY DATES Now: Construction under way to lower Kato Road so that it passes beneath railroad tracks between Milmont Drive and Warm Springs Boulevard. March 12: FTA to give formal approval to $900 million in federal aid over seven years for extension of BART to San Jose. April 12: Groundbreaking. July 1: Santa Clara County sales tax will be increased one-eighth of a cent to pay for running BART trains. 2016: Trains to begin running. Source: Valley Transportation Authority