Mountain View Voice

News - May 28, 2010

VTA inches toward faster Mountain View light rail service

by Daniel DeBolt

Taking light rail from Mountain View to San Jose could be much faster under plans in the works at the Valley Transportation Authority.

On May 6, the VTA board of directors approved a set of short- and long-term plans to increase the county's light rail ridership by 10,000 riders by 2018. The system, which reaches deep into east and south San Jose, currently has 35,000 daily riders.

In Mountain View, a $28 million double-track extension would replace the single track into downtown Mountain View from Whisman station, allowing express train service into downtown that would skip unpopular stops, making trips 20 to 30 percent faster. Light rail trains would run every seven minutes under the plan, instead of every 15 minutes.

City council member Margaret Abe-Koga, who also happens to sit on the VTA board of directors, said it currently takes her 34 minutes to ride light rail from downtown Mountain View to the Fair Oaks stop in San Jose. But under the plan, that trip time could be cut down by 30 percent.

"The time becomes comparable to driving, especially in rush hour traffic," Abe-Koga said.

However it is uncertain when the improvements in Mountain View would happen. The VTA hasn't really even begun the engineering for the Mountain View double tracking, calling it a long-term plan. It is one of many light rail improvements on a wish list that totals $250 million. But Abe-Koga has asked VTA staff to consider a more practical "mid-term" solution. Express service could connect just north of downtown at Whisman station, she says, which would not require double tracking into downtown.

Under current plans, VTA transit manager Kevin Connolly told the City Council Tuesday that express trains leaving downtown would stop only at Lockheed Martin before reaching the Old Ironsides station in Santa Clara. He said the VTA will be studying Abe-Koga's request for a mid-term solution.

The operating costs for light rail are expected to increase by $3 million in the next few years and will eventually add $6 million to the current $38 million operating budget.

The changes are being proposed after a VTA study found that Santa Clara County's light rail system lags behind many similar systems in the United States in terms of ridership, Connolly said.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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