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Supporters of BART extension in Silicon Valley demand federal funding

Supporters of BART extension in Silicon Valley demand federal funding

Map of proposed stations and route from North San Jose to the City of Santa Clara for the VTA/BART Silicon Valley Extension Phase II project in San Jose, California. (Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority via Bay City News)

Dozens of business and labor leaders, elected officials and community activists who support the BART Silicon Valley Extension project gathered in solidarity at San Jose’s Diridon Station on Tuesday to ask the government for help in funding the project.

“To move this project forward, we need to involve federal funding,” said Santa Clara County Councilwoman Cindy Chavez.

The BART Silicon Valley Phase II project calls for the construction of a 6-mile BART line from the Berryessa Transit Center through downtown San Jose, eventually ending with a station in the city of Santa Clara. The project would complete a ring of transit rails around the bay.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the project took place in June, but additional funding from the federal government is required to continue the multi-year construction process.

San Jose taxpayers have contributed more than $4.5 billion to the project, and the state of California has paid $1.9 billion, Chavez said. Now they hope to get $6 billion from the federal government to cover the rest.

“Our voters are paying their own taxes because they want BART here so badly. Now we need the help of the Biden administration and the (Federal Transit Administration). We need their support,” Chavez said.

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan explained at the press conference the benefits the project would bring to Silicon Valley and the Bay Area as a whole.

“It’s not every day that our business and union leaders stand side by side and agree. But today we are here to say that rail development of the Bay is our best chance to create a better, more connected future for all. And now is the time to make that investment,” Mahan said.

The project is expected to bring 75,000 new jobs to the region, said Omar Torres, a San José city councilor.

Ahmad Thomas, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said the project will be a catalyst for expanding economic innovation in Silicon Valley, the country’s technology and startup hotspot.

“As we look at our innovation ecosystem, this pivotal project will provide equitable connectivity to make this region what it can be. It is designed to attract more startup founders, create more housing and spur a truly fairer and more inclusive innovation economy for all,” said Thomas.

Gary Dillabough, founder of real estate firm Urban Community, also praised the expansion’s potential to bring even more workers to Silicon Valley’s technology sector beyond the 75,000 jobs the project alone will create.

“Connecting Diridon Station to the rest of the Bay Area will help these companies access a larger and broader workforce, enabling them to grow faster and more effectively,” Dillabough said.

The press conference comes as the project awaits an answer from the federal government on how much money it is willing to pay. This year, the estimated cost rose from $12.2 billion to $12.75 billion, according to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

“Bringing BART through Silicon Valley is not just about the cost today. It’s about the opportunities we create tomorrow,” Mahan said. “We can make sacrifices to provide benefits and opportunities for future generations, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren after that.”

Tammy Dhanota, a San Jose resident and member of Service Employees International Union Local 521, has been waiting for the project to come to fruition for decades.

“As a mother and a resident of San Jose, I know this project is about more than just numbers. It’s about investing in our future so that my children and your children have access to good jobs, an efficient transportation system and a healthy environment,” Dhanota said.

Torres said he has been waiting for this extension since he was a child. Now, as an adult, he hopes the federal government will fund the rest of the project’s costs and recognize its benefits to Silicon Valley and the Bay Area.

“This expansion will improve connectivity, spur significant economic growth and provide a sustainable transportation option for our residents and workers,” Torres said. “But we can’t do it alone. We need the support of the federal government.”

Editor’s note: Story by Alise Maripuu, Bay City News