Regional Alliance For Transit
Founded 1992

1000 Union Street, Suite 207
San Francisco, California 94133
(415) 440-6895

Mr Tom Fitzwater
Environmental Planning Manager
VTA—Environmental Planning
Building B
3331 N. First Street
San Jose, CA 95134

via email svrtc.deis-eircomments@VTA.org

Re: draft Environmental Impact Statement and
draft Environmental Impact Report,
Silicon Valley Rapid Transit Corridor

May 13, 2004

Dear Mr Fitzwater:

The Regional Alliance For Transit, RAFT, is a transit advocacy organization. We support the comments on the draft EIS/draft EIR that have been submitted by the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund and by BayRail Alliance. RAFT also submits the following comments on the proposed Silicon Valley Rapid Transit Corridor (the Project).

The feasibility of the Project’s capital financing plan is questionable.

This assertion is contained in the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts Report, released in February 2004. The Project must have a capital financing plan that is not of questionable feasibility.

VTA has not produced a financing report on the Project that reflects current economic conditions and which demonstrates VTA has the ability to pay for the Project’s construction. The VTA board memorandum entitled Sample Plan/Major 2000 Measure a Projects and Potential Revenues, dated October 1, 2003, states “The second scenario was to complete BART preliminary engineering and then place the project on hold for 5 years until the funding was available to build the project more efficiently. The final design phase would commence in 2010 and the project would be completed in 2019. This scenario, which also maximized bonding utilization, resulted in a negative cash balance starting in fy 2014 and this did not take into account the DTEV....” In other words, VTA will run out of cash four or five years after construction begins and five years before construction is finished. Numerous other financing scenarios have been distributed to VTA’s governing board over the past year, and not one of them indicates VTA can pay for the Project’s construction costs.

All of the financing scenarios distributed to VTA’s governing board over the past year indicate VTA is counting on a “New Starts” financial contribution from the Federal Transit Administration. The Project is rated “Not Recommended” by the FTA, and therefore should not be eligible to receive any New Starts funds. The feasibility of any financing plan that includes New Starts funds is questionable.

The hoped–for New Starts contribution to the Project is over $830 million. The FTA states in the New Starts Report that “FTA notes that, historically, more than $500 million in New Starts funding has rarely been provided to any single major capital transit investment project.” Even if the FTA changes the rating on the Project to “Recommended” the Project is unlikely to receive an amount of New Starts funds over $500 million, requiring an alternative source of funding for at least $300 million. No alternative source has been identified.

There is no discussion of whether another mega-New Starts project, BART to SFO, and which has an uncompleted Full Funding Grant Agreement, and yet another mega-project seeking New Starts funding, Muni Third Street Light–Rail Transit (LRT) Phase 2/New Central Subway, will reduce the annual amounts of New Starts funds the Project may receive. Both are located in an adjacent urbanized area and are under the jurisdiction of the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization. The Project’s financing plan should assume a significant annual reduction in receipts of New Starts funds. This change makes the financing plan’s feasibility even more questionable.

Further, the interest costs associated with funds that must be borrowed to build the Project are not accounted for in the financing plan. Our estimate is that total interest charges will be over one half billion dollars. The financing plan is inadequate in this regard, and interest costs and the amount of borrowed funds must be shown.

The feasibility of the Project’s operating financing plan is questionable.

This assertion also is contained in the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts Report, released in February 2004. The Project must have an operating financing plan that is not of questionable feasibility.

The Project’s operating financing plan apparently ignores VTA’s Environmental Justice responsibility to its low–income and minority bus riders.

VTA has pledged a minimum payment to BART each year the Project is in operation of $48 million, and the amount may increase each year. The funding source for the pledge is TDA funds, which are used for VTA bus and light rail operations today. VTA’s draft Short Range Transit Plan, published in January 2001, states “...rider income levels also vary by mode, with light rail users reporting higher income levels than bus riders,” and, “the ethnicity of VTA riders varies by mode...nearly half...of all light rail riders were White/Causasian, whereas White/Caucasian accounted for only 30% of all VTA bus riders.” RAFT is unable to determine if VTA intends on cutting light rail service, or bus service, or a combination. VTA must identify the level of existing bus services that will be eliminated to pay the funds to BART.

The Project is not viable unless another project, generally known as “BART to Warm Springs,” (Warm Springs) is also constructed.

The capital financing plan of Warm Springs is also of questionable feasibility. $145 million is expected to come from operating profits on the new BART to SFO extension. This extension does not have an operating profit, and in fact has a much larger than expected operating loss. This capital shortfall of the Warm Springs extension must be a part of the analysis of the Project.

Warm Springs also is dependent upon receiving $68 million in Regional Measure 1 toll bridge revenues. There is a $400 million cost overrun on a state-owned bridge at Martinez, Contra Costa County that was disclosed in the press this week. The funding source to cover the overrun is Regional Measure 1 toll bridge revenues. There must be an analysis of whether this new priority commitment will impact Warm Springs, and thus, the Project itself.

The Project is not the best alternative for the corridor.

VTA has opposed the study of the Altamont Pass alignment by the California High Speed Rail Authority. The draft EIS/EIR states “the overall purpose of transportation improvements in the SVRTC is to: Improve public transit service in this severely congested corridor by providing increased transit capacity and faster, convenient access throughout the San Francisco Bay Area Region, including southern Alameda County, central Contra Costa County, Tri-Valley, Central Valley, and Silicon Valley.” RAFT believes the Altamont alignment of High Speed Rail satisfies the overall purpose of the Project, and that it does it better in terms of travel time. Further, the right of way for High Speed Rail would be on the west side of I-880, where the job centers of Silicon Valley are located. And, importantly for a transit operator that has an enormous financial problem, with the Altamont alignment VTA would be able to allocate the $2 billion in Measure A funds to other projects or to maintaining the operation of its existing bus and light rail service. The Altamont alignment of High Speed Rail is a better alternative than the Project and its study should be supported by VTA.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the Project.


M. Kiesling
for RAFT