http://mv-voice.com/print/story/print/2007/03/30/auditors-blast-vtas-finances


Mountain View Voice

News - March 30, 2007

Auditors blast VTA's finances

Macias says report confirms what many observers knew already

by Daniel DeBolt

When the scathing audit of VTA's finances was released last Friday, Mayor Laura Macias and many others felt it affirmed things they'd noticed all along: out-of-control spending and service decisions made for political reasons, rather than to meet actual ridership demands.

Macias, herself a current Valley Transportation Authority board member, said the audit is being taken very seriously by the agency, including the nine suggestions the audit provides for the VTA to pull itself out of financial difficulties. Chief among them: The agency must once again focus on its core services.

Macias cited examples of some of the VTA's problematic decisions, such as cutting service on important bus lines like the 22 and 522 along El Camino Real while adding light rail and bus lines that are rarely used, such as the Vasona light rail line.

The audit backs up these observations.

"The board has approved capital projects and transit service plans that were political solutions to address the needs of local jurisdictions at the expense of the region's transportation needs," the auditors wrote. "As a result, VTA has built transportation systems and has transit service plans that have low ridership and are expensive to operate and maintain."

As a result of the report, Roger Contreras, the agency's chief financial officer, resigned. Meanwhile, board members admitted last week that they took risks in committing money to a proposed 16.5-mile extension of BART from Fremont to San Jose without knowing where all the funding for it would come from.

It is estimated that the VTA will need $4.7 billion to finance and build the project. After county voters failed to approve the Measure A sales tax last November, it became unclear where much of that money would come from. Now VTA board members, including San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, seem to be open to the idea of a shorter BART line that would end at Berryessa and cost half as much.

Former City Council member Greg Perry, who was Mountain View's representative on the VTA board at the time of debate over BART-to-San Jose, had called for a complete halt to the project because, he said, it drains money and resources from cities it won't directly serve.

Macias will serve out the rest of the year on VTA's board of directors after taking over for Perry in December. Mountain View representatives will then step down, and one of the two cities Mountain View shares the seat with — Palo Alto and Los Altos — will take over.

The audit was performed independently by the Hay Group, and was initiated by VTA's general manager, Michael Burns, who started the job 18 months ago.

VTA gives priority to Rengstorff rail crossing

One project Mountain View has discussed for years made it onto the VTA's priority list last February: an overpass (or "grade separated crossing") for the train tracks at Rengstorff Avenue.

The crossing is considered to be one of Mountain View's most dangerous. Over the last 15 years, there have been five accidents at the crossing, including one fatality. There have also been five suicides.

When complete, Rengstorff Avenue would cross under the railroad tracks, freeing car, bike and foot traffic and making the intersection much safer.

"It's great progress," said Joan Jenkins, city transportation manager. "It's a very expensive project. It will take considerable time to get the full funding."

The project, currently in preliminary design stages, ranks at No. 6 on a list of 49 projects that could take anywhere from one to 30 years to begin. Estimates put its cost at between $55 million and $75 million.

Macias said Sen. Diane Feinstein and Rep. Anna Eshoo have expressed interest in pursuing funding for the project.

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

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