The twin-bore design would mean the demise of a downtown that has finally caught its stride
Mercury News March 5, 2018
By Raul Peralez
The story of the San José Downtown Association’s origin has been shared with me numerous times. In 1986, while the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) was expanding light rail through the heart of downtown San José, the impact on the local business community was so horrific that business owners banded together and gave birth to the Downtown Association, demanding relief from the onslaught of construction impacts shuttering doors on mom-and-pop businesses.
While it may seem like ancient history for many, this story continues to resonate with me as I consider my vote as a VTA director to certify the Environmental Impact Reports and project description for BART Silicon Valley Phase II. In 2016, our taxpayers placed their trust in us as public agencies to bring BART to Silicon Valley’s urban core and essentially create for the first time a full public transit loop around the Bay Area. We are now approaching the terminus of our design process only to come to an impasse on the required five miles of underground tunnels through downtown. Twin-bore tunnels would require an estimated 91,000 square foot hole in order to drop down the station box on Santa Clara Street between San Pedro Square and City Hall. VTA staff has worked diligently to demonstrate to our BART counterparts that single-bore tunneling technology is a safe and sound alternative comparable to their twin-bore preference. Following a nationwide peer review, VTA dug even deeper to meet all the safety requisites demanded by BART and meeting or exceeding those in their current infrastructure.
So let’s be clear: in a few weeks, both VTA and BART will either approve an innovative and safe single-bore project that will not require our public right-of-way along Santa Clara Street to be torn up, or surrender to the twin-bore status quo that could potentially cause reprehensible damage to our businesses and the demise of a downtown that has finally caught its stride.
Some may call me melodramatic but I have seen firsthand during my short time here in office how a public transit project gone wrong can ravage a business corridor. Three years ago, business owners were banging at my door, infuriated at how their businesses were plummeting due to the Bus Rapid Transit project that left the streets their customers depended on in complete disarray. Mind you, that project only encroached a few feet beneath the street surface. I cannot begin to fathom the damage a 40-foot deep by 1,400-foot long void would cause, just so we could accommodate twin-bore tunnels, when really we could achieve the same safe result with single-bore. Those who have invested time, talent and treasure into our downtown deserve better.
Downtown San José has worked tirelessly for decades under many waves of leadership, including my predecessors, Mayor Sam Liccardo and Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, to create a business ecosystem that would attract people to come live, work and play in the Bay Area. Whether it be living in one of our developing high rises, such as MIRO, working at the new WeWork Valley Towers, or frequenting a trendy bar or restaurant at our world-renowned San Pedro Square, downtown San Jose has created a buzz attracting the likes of Google and Adobe to double down in Silicon Valley. Our region will continue to thrive only if our business environment also thrives. Performing open-heart surgery through the capital of Silicon Valley’s prime business corridor would not only be counterintuitive, it would literally be a buzzkill.
Raul Peralez represents District 3, serving downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, on the San José City Council. He is a member of the VTA Board of Directors.