Common sense says build BART to downtown San Jose

Common sense says that a generational transit investment with multiple strong public approvals and that has been thoroughly studied time and again by independent experts at local, state and federal transportation funding authorities is finally ready to be built.

One of the most remarkable aspects of completing BART to San Jose is the strong public support the project has enjoyed over the past two decades. At three separate elections in 2000, 2008 and 2016, Santa Clara County voters have overwhelmingly approved taxing themselves to bring regional mass transit to the South Bay, most recently with 72% of the vote.

No other major civic improvement in our area has received such an endorsement — not the 1988 election that barely approved the San Jose Arena with 53%, not even the comprehensive improvements to San Jose parks, libraries and fire and police facilities voters approved by at least 67% in 2000 and 2006 when I was mayor.

Asking for another study now is magical thinking by critics who have a vested interest in trying to avoid inevitable but manageable short-term inconveniences to their own businesses and thereby shortchanging our residents and businesses from long-term benefits.

Or perhaps suggesting more studies fits one popular definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

I remember what the critics were saying before the arena vote 35 years ago: It would cause too much traffic. Where would people park? Who would use a costly white elephant with no identified tenant? With more faith than evidence, that project turned out to be a success, and I tip my hat to community leaders who nudged it through with their vision despite the facts.

Fortunately, bringing BART to San Jose doesn’t require that kind of leap of faith by either current politicians or the public.

There have been countless engineering, environmental and financial studies, all required to secure funding from the state and federal governments. These studies have found the project to be a sound investment, and their technical information has been essential to fine tune the project.

VTA is the project manager, not BART itself, and they have already demonstrated their capabilities by successfully bringing home the first phase of the project to the Berryessa station. The next phase through downtown San Jose will be challenging, but I am confident that VTA and its commitment to ongoing community engagement will deliver the final piece of the system.

And it is a system. Foolishly stopping the project now, or even just delaying it with unnecessary studies, brings no benefits to anyone, except perhaps to a handful of people who will never be persuaded. It would be like leaving a shoeshine stand after just one of your shoes has been polished.

During the lowest point of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Bay Area voters approved bonds to build the Golden Gate Bridge. “Common sense” critics at the time said we couldn’t afford it, and we didn’t know how to build it.

The bridge was a bold vision, and it was creatively and effectively carried out by a new public agency that had no record at all for building anything, much less an iconic structure that now symbolizes the dreams of our region.

I’m proud of my part in our decades-long effort to finally close the transit loop for the Bay Area. I’ve actively participated in those countless meetings, debates, compromises and breakthroughs that have brought us to this point, unlike latecomer critics who were absent when policymakers and citizens were making key decisions.

We are finally close to the finish line for bringing BART to the South Bay. I am looking forward to when the people and businesses in San Jose and Santa Clara County finally get what they have long been promised and for what they have willingly paid for.

Ron Gonzales is a former mayor of San Jose.


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