As the November election draws closer, the fight is heating up over the proposed Santa Clara County sales tax increase that would allow an extension of the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system to be built from Fremont to San Jose.
Measure B is a one-eighth-cent sales tax to operate, maintain and improve a 16-mile extension of BART through the South Bay. The tax must garner two-thirds approval to pass, and will only be collected if matching state and federal funds are obtained, according to the county Registrar of Voters. If passed, the tax will be in effect for 30 years.
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said that the measure tax comes out to around $13 a year per resident.
"If we want the Silicon Valley to remain an innovation center, then from time to time we are going to have to invest in its infrastructure," Reed said. "It's a huge investment in our future, and it will create many badly needed jobs in a poor economy," he added.
The California Transportation Commission voted Sept. 25 to approve $239 million in state transportation funds for the extension of BART to the South Bay.
Funding will be used to complete engineering for the 16-mile extension, according to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. The authority has already purchased the right of way for the tracks that will run through Milpitas, San Jose and Santa Clara and now the state money, which in all totals $760 million, can be used for project engineers and other areas, VTA Senior Policy Advisor Jim Lawson said.
With the California commission funding, the last step toward beginning the project is the sales tax increase that will maintain the completed rail system, according to Reed.
VTA Executive Director Michael Burns said the rails will be state-of-the-art, with grade separation and full automation. The project received federal environmental approval in 2007.
Voters approved the general plan for the BART extension in 2000.
Opponents to the measure claim VTA has been promising this and other transit projects for years without fulfillment, and has starved other transit systems to help pave the way for the BART extension. The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury called it an "over promising of projects to voters," according to http://SmartVoter.org .
Other websites that oppose the tax, such as http://NoVTATax.org , list organizations and public officials opposed to the tax, such as the BayRail Alliance, VTA Riders' Union, county supervisor Blanca Alvarado and San Jose Councilman Pete Constant.
Officials are optimistic about the measure passing, but in the event that it does not, Lawson said that the VTA will still "have ownership of a transportation corridor" and would possibly use the land for other forms of transit.