TRANSPORTATION SOLUTIONS DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND
16 Monte Cimas Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941
May 14, 2004
Mr. Tom Fitzwater
VTA Environmental Planning Department
3331 North First St., Building B
San Jose, CA 95134-1927
Re: DEIS/R for the Proposed BART Extension to Milpitas, San Jose and Santa Clara
Dear Mr. Fitzwater:
TRANSDEF is an environmental organization dedicated to the improvement of regional planning for land use, transportation, air quality in the Bay Area. The fact that the Silicon Valley Rapid Transit Corridor is not currently served by high-capacity transit is evidence of the failure of the Bay Area to prioritize its transportation investments. Rather than identify this corridor for improvement back in 1988, the region squandered its resources on an extraordinarily expensive extension to SF0, now suffering from low ridership. TRANSDEF board members and our allies intensively criticized that project during the 1994 RTP process. We also criticized the proposed BART extension to San Jose, et al during the 2001 RTP process. Should this horribly ill-conceived project somehow actually get built, we are convinced that our criticisms will prove to be equally prescient.
We submitted comments on March 22, 2002 in response to the Notice of Preparation for this environmental document. We attach them to these comments, and incorporate them by reference. We insisted at that time that the Major Investment Study was flawed in its rejection of less expensive rail transit options. That MIS and this DEIS/R are obviously advocacy documents, written with the intention of supporting a specific outcome. The document preparers have violated their professional responsibility to honestly evaluate the project with the aim of achieving optimal performance at the lowest cost.
Advocacy for the BART extension resulted in the cancellation of the fully funded Fremont-South Bay commuter rail project. That project would have been providing transportation benefits had it not been the victim of a political establishment that, by canceling commuter rail, demonstrated it had goals other than providing transportation. At a minimum, the DEIS/R should have carried that project as a full alternative.
Other reasonably feasible alternatives that would be required to be studied in an unbiased DEIS/R include passenger rail on the historic Southern Pacific Milpitas alignment. Elimination of all conventional-gauge rail alternatives necessitated a dramatically more expensive project than can be justified by the MIS or DEIS/R.
The TRANSDEF NOP comments note that the extraordinary cost of the proposed BART extension turns its planning process into a mini-regional transportation plan. That makes it imperative that the BART extension be compared to a High Speed Rail project using the Altamont alignment. The use of state funds to build the latter would result in $2 billion in local funds being available to provide additional transportation benefits within Santa Clara County. A High Speed system using the Altamont alignment would allow use by ACE and other commute services within the Bay Area, thus improving on the productivity of the state's investment in track. (By contrast, the currently preferred High Speed Rail alignment to San Jose would have no other uses.) Honestly studying the cumulative effects of an Altamont HSR alternative with a $2 billion package of cost-effective Santa Clara County transit investments would be very instructive in the public policy debate now underway. It is clear that a variety of alternatives cited here were responsive to the project's Purpose and Need, and were thus impermissibly rejected.
The EIR for the 2001 RTP (p. 2-12) had the following striking findings:
Daily Vehicle Trips
Fremont-South Bay Corridor 2025 Project: 241,227
Same statistic, but without BART-San Jose: 243,215
Silicon Valley Corridor 2025 Project: 5,456,875
Same statistic, but without BART-San Jose: 5,462,300
The RTP data indicated that a BART extension to San Jose, et al would produce little in the way of benefits to the region. "All differences in vehicle trips at the corridor level comparing Project B [i.e., no BART-SJ] to Project alternative [i.e., includes BART-SJ] are negligible (<0.3% in all corridors)." (Table 2.1-9, p. 2-12) No differences were found in regional travel times between an RTP with the BART-SJ project and one without it. (Table 2.1-7, p. 2-10) It would appear that these data provide more useful information than the entire vast DEIS/R.
In particular, TRANSDEF disbelieves any assertion of improved traffic conditions (LOS) or air quality because of BART. The phenomena of latent demand and induced demand both guarantee that any travelers using BART will be replaced by others who had previously been deterred by the level of congestion, or who moved to the area because it had recent transportation improvements.
Table 2.2-7 in the EIR for the 2001 RTP (p. 2-29) had the following striking findings:
2025 Project w/BART-SJ & Central Subway
2025 Project (without BART-SJ or Central Subway)
As the table indicates, the BART extension to San Jose, et al produces a small regional reduction in NOx, but generates more of the other criteria pollutants. Because of BART's design as a park-and-ride system, the extension will cause additional driving to its stations, as indicated by the finding that AM Peak Period Total VMT would be 25,008,511 with the BART project and 24,972,000 without it. (Table 2.1-10, p. 2-13.) It is unlikely that the Muni Central Subway played a role in this phenomenon, due to the prevalence of passengers walking from their homes in the neighborhood, rather than driving, to the train. This increase in criteria pollutants is a significant environmental impact that requires mitigation.
The RTP EIR provides a strong evidentiary basis to challenge the modeling in the BART DEIS/R, which claims that "The Baseline and BART alternatives would reduce VMT in the region, which would reduce regional PM10 emissions when compared to the No-Action Alternative. (4.3-13) Clearly, the DEIS/R modeling conflicts with the RTP EIR modeling.
A likely reason for the difference in modeling outputs is the use of improper land use assumptions for the project's horizon year. The 2001 RTP EIR used the approved ABAG Projections numbers. TRANSDEF was unable to find a statement in the DEIS/R identifying the source of land use projections. However, this issue was explored in depth in an infamous San Jose Mercury article published October 12, 2000, "BACKERS OF EXTENDING BART TO S.J. RELY ON AMBITIOUS PROJECTIONS A STARTLING VISION OF DOWNTOWN S.J. EXTENSIVE DEVELOPMENT WOULD BE NEEDED TO MAKE NUMBERS WORK." The story (attached below) identifies how BART ridership would have been unacceptably low (and therefore cost per new rider unacceptably high) unless the land use assumptions for downtown development were pumped up to an entirely unrealistic number. As far as TRANSDEF knows, these are the same land use assumptions used to hype the ridership number up to 83,585 per day in this DEIS/R. To fully air this issue, provide a table of population, jobs, dwelling units and square feet of commercial development projections for each of the cities in the Corridor for the horizon year (breaking out Downtown San Jose as a separate number) for the following: Projections 2002, Projections 2003, DEIS/R 2025. Identify the source of the DEIS/R 2025 land use assumptions. Provide a thorough explanation as to why the assumptions are reasonable. Be sure to credibly refute the Mercury article's implication that the land use assumptions were/are a fraud.
Another major flaw of the DEIS/R is the failure to provide completed station area plans for each of the stations. "All of the proposed station sites along the BART Alternative alignment would have the potential to accommodate joint development in the future." (4.12-21) "Potential" isn't good enough. When a region invests its funds on the scale proposed by this project, it needs to know that the local jurisdictions have committed to make their land use plans compatible with high-capacity transit. The actions of Fremont approving a Wal-Mart in the vicinity of the planned Warm Springs station, and South San Francisco approving a Costco store near their BART station demonstrates the folly of post-hoc planning. A strong market has been discovered for transit-oriented development. Those local decisions create significant regional impacts by pushing what otherwise would have been transit-oriented development out into greenfields as sprawl. This results in more regional VMT, ozone precursor emissions, PM10 and loss of habitat and agricultural resources through the conversion of open lands to urban uses.
To mitigate these potential impacts, a measure is needed that no funds will be released for final design or construction until plans are completed and adopted for each of the station areas by their respective jurisdictions. These plans, in aggregate, must result in BART ridership equivalent to the 83,585 average daily transit trips projected for 2025. (4.2-7)
BART extensions have never been built without serious cost overruns. Provide a table of past BART projects, with their cost at EIR certification time and final completion cost. Given this data, justify why a 70% or higher contingency has not been added to the estimated project cost.
In providing an estimated cost, include the cost of debt service. In reviewing the farebox recovery, cost per passenger and cost per new rider, TRANSDEF was struck by the utter lack of reality to the numbers. Are you people smoking crack? Provide a full explanation of the methodology used, along with the worksheets, in calculating these numbers.
The Mercury News raised the issue 'is the low ridership worth the cost?' in its May 9, 2004 cover page story, "BART advantages in doubt." Clearly, without studying less costly alternatives, policy makers are unable to make an informed and responsible decision about a very large amount of public funds. That is the very purpose of CEQA-providing adequate information to decisionmakers about environmental impacts, before large amounts of public funds have been committed. Due to unwise leadership at VTA, over a hundred million dollars has been committed, prior to the certification of an environmental document. This is precisely the situation CEQA was intended to prevent.
TRANSDEF urges VTA to stop the waste of funds by halting preliminary engineering of this ill-conceived project. We request that VTA exhibit intellectual honesty by withdrawing the DEIS/R and beginning the study of reasonable, financially feasible alternatives. We firmly believe that San Jose should have excellent rail service, and are prepared to assist that effort in any way we can. However, we are convinced that the proposed BART extension, if the EIR is certified and the project approved, will never result in excellent rail service, and will instead become a civic nightmare.
/s/ David Schonbrunn
(NB: mtcwatch.com is not providing the attachments here.)