VTA awards $235-million contract for San Jose BART extension

Review will study a controversial “single bore” tunnel beneath Downtown

BART train. San Jose California (iStock)
(iStock)

The Valley Transportation Authority board has awarded a $235-million contract to build the San Jose BART extension while also launching a new analysis of its “single bore” tunnel plan.

(Valley Transportation Authority)

(Valley Transportation Authority)

The Bay Area transit agency awarded the contract, billed as the “foundational backbone” of the six-mile project, while approving an independent review of its controversial design, the San Jose Mercury News reported. The BART extension would run from East San Jose to Santa Clara.

The $235-million contract went to Kiewit Shea Traylor, a consortium of three construction companies that will develop the project design and set the stage for construction. The extensive tunnel-mining and station-building project is expected to cost billions of dollars and take years.

It’s not clear who will oversee the review and how much impact it would have on the design.

The VTA plan would mine one of the world’s largest subway tunnels with a single-bore instead of a more conventional dual-bore design.

Critics of the single-bore tunnel say it could compromise the rider experience and lead to ballooning costs. They also say it would run deeper underground — limiting entrances to stations and requiring riders to navigate a warren of escalators to descend from the street to BART trains.

Proponents of the single-bore design say it would avoid chaos on Santa Clara Street in Downtown by minimizing surface-level disruptions, while shallower dual-bore construction would require tearing up the street. They also say switching to a dual-bore would require new environmental clearances, adding years of delays onto the project.

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San Jose Mayor and VTA board member Sam Liccardo, along with VTA board chair Chappie Jones and board member Raul Peralez, called for an additional independent analysis to be conducted on the single- and dual-bore options.

The analysis, they wrote, should provide a “clear view of the trade-offs” between the two tunneling methods, including passenger safety, rider experience, cost, and construction delays.

The VTA board vote came as the six-mile, four-station BART extension through downtown San Jose faces criticism over a federal analysis that pegged the cost at $9.1 billion — almost double the original estimate.

It also followed a Bay Area News Group report of text messages from Liccardo and VTA’s Takis Salpeas, the agency’s lead on the project, that sought to withhold the federal cost figures from the public. They said secrecy was necessary at the time to prevent contractors from increasing their prices during the open-bidding process.

A Liccardo’s spokeswoman said the mayor’s call for a new review “does not constitute a ‘reversal’ because the single-bore design remains the Board-reviewed proposed project.”

In January, the VTA sought a judge’s permission to use eminent domain to acquire property for the BART extension.

[San Jose Mercury News] – Dana Bartholomew

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