News

VTA scales back toll lane plans

Sales tax measure calls for transit lanes in place of toll lanes on Highway 85

A controversial plan to construct toll lanes in the Highway 85 median could be abandoned, after city leaders made clear that the undeveloped strip of land dividing the congested highway ought to be reserved for transit rather than solo drivers in the increasingly crowded Santa Clara Valley.

In June, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) board of directors agreed to put a half-cent sales tax measure on the November ballot. If passed, the tax would generate $6.5 billion over 30 years, and would help to pay for myriad transportation projects throughout the region.

The resolution to put the measure on the ballot, which was approved on June 2, includes carving out $350 million in tax revenue to go toward improving traffic flow along Highway 85, one of the county's most congested highways. Recent studies show an "F" level of service during the morning commute on long stretches heading north through San Jose, Saratoga, Cupertino and Sunnyvale. Similar traffic gridlock backs up commuters in the southbound direction during the evening commute from Highway 101 down to Fremont Avenue.

The resolution itself, however, marked a big change in direction for the corridor. Until recently, the plan was to convert the existing carpool lane into an "express lane" that allows drivers with no passengers to drive alongside high-occupancy vehicles for a fee. In an effort to provide even more congestion relief and increase the capacity of the express lane system throughout the Bay Area, the plans also called for converting the median of Highway 85 south of Highway 280 into an additional express lane.

City leaders in the county's West Valley region decried the express lane plan, calling it an ineffective way to deal with congestion along Highway 85 and a far cry from the original intent to use the median for light rail or an alternative form of public transportation. A coalition of cities including Cupertino, Los Gatos and Saratoga joined forces and filed a suit against VTA demanding a full environmental impact report on the project last year.

To assuage the concerns, VTA board members agreed to create a policy advisory board made up of city council members from throughout the county, including the West Valley cities, San Jose and Mountain View, to review plans for the highway. The advisory board's recommendation made its way into the language of the sales tax resolution; it called for a transit lane rather than an express lane in the highway median.

The prospects of converting the carpool lane to an express lane along Highway 85 may also be jeopardy. At the June 2 board meeting, San Jose Mayor and VTA board member Sam Liccardo said many people had expressed confusion and lack of clarity on what express lanes were, and may not be willing to support paying for a lane with tolls. Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said he had been unaware that VTA was considering charging tolls on Highway 85 despite campaigning hard for the sales tax for more than three years.

"We could not support a toll lane on Highway 85," Guardino said. "We want that to be transit. I hope perhaps that might be sent back to the policy advisory board, but that has not been anything we have heard considered."

Liccardo suggested that VTA could look for alternative ways to pay for express lanes, and strike any mention of constructing the toll lanes using sales tax revenue.

"We've got a bit of an impasse, and I wanted to see, if there is an opportunity for us to get consensus around Highway 85 express lanes, if there is an alternative funding source so it doesn't have to be in this measure, which I think would be somewhat divisive," Liccardo said.

The VTA board unanimously approved the revised language of the sales tax resolution at the June 24 meeting. VTA Planning and Program Director John Ristow told board members at the meeting that although the sales tax would no longer provide funding for express lanes, it would ultimately be up to the board to decide which projects to approve on the corridor.

Over the coming months, VTA will be working with the policy advisory board on a future vision for Highway 85, and what exactly constitutes "transit" in the median of the highway. Options include express bus lanes, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or light rail, all of which could trigger years of studies and environmental analysis before construction can begin.

One of the tricky problems that has yet to be solved is how to build a transit lane that spans from Highway 87 in San Jose to Highway 101 when the 46-foot median essentially runs out north of Highway 280. A VTA staff report notes that any configuration would need to be assessed against the available right-of-way through Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Los Altos.

The other problem facing Highway 85 is the high cost of improving the corridor. One positive aspect of the express lane project was that it was relatively cheap – projected to cost below $200 million – and quick to construct on the 24-mile highway. Constructing a transit lane in the median and running buses on the corridor is expected to cost about $500 million, which is well above the allocation from the sales tax.

Other options, like BRT, would cost upwards of $1.1 billion, and light rail is estimated to cost closer to $3.8 billion, according to a staff report.

A project development schedule for improvements on Highway 85 show that the next two years will be primarily dominated by a lengthy environmental clearance of the transit lane project. Construction is expected to begin by the summer of 2020.

Comments

50 people like this
Posted by VTA will say anything - do another
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jun 29, 2016 at 5:34 pm

The VTA will say anything about its plans but will do whatever it likes if voters are so gullible as to approve another sales tax increase in November. The VTA would borrow billions more based on that additional revenue stream and promptly pad the pockets of its employees, consultants. vendors and contractors. It is not about transportation but money and power. Take a look at the column "Milestones" about some of the VTA's boondoggles and doubletalk in the current issue of THE SANTA CKARA WEEKLY.


1 person likes this
Posted by Can't read, huh?
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 29, 2016 at 7:51 pm

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]
They complain that VTA is trying to spend vast amounts of money, yet in the article above, it states that VTA's preferred option , the express lanes, is being blocked by the cities! The west valley cities would prefer a center transit land like the one we will have on El Camino.

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


36 people like this
Posted by VTA will say anything - do another
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jun 29, 2016 at 9:32 pm

Many VTA employees may not be able to read but the point of the first post is that the VTA bureaucracy and its rubber-stamp board of politicians will back off from any project that could cost votes UNTIL AFTER THE ELECTION. Then, if the tax measure has been approved, the VTA could and would DO WHATEVER IT LIKES. You may hope most voters can't read. But most of those who do read about the VTA's record of arrogance, deception, waste and mismanagement, will be voting NO.


26 people like this
Posted by VTA is not trustworthy
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2016 at 2:35 pm

It's become abundantly clear that VTA has become a politically manipulative entity that has one interest: having YOU pay the bill for all their internal waste.
Only a fool would vote for a 4th VTA tax to be tacked nto the existing 3 we are already paying. I wish I could take my vote back from the last time.

There is nothing wrong with buses or transit improvements. The problem is with the wasteful, shameful VTA who is incapable of performing projects that make a difference. They love to spend the millions upon millions of our money because that ends up as paychecks for VTA employees, but if you want RESULTS, VTA is not going to make it happen because they have proven they cannot.


10 people like this
Posted by I_Save_Money
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jun 30, 2016 at 3:14 pm

VTA never met a project it didn't like. The " trains to nowhere " is a good example. When RTD wished to have light rail, NOTHING got done until the public oversaw the Board of Directors. After that, some board members quickly left and things started working and light rail lines were completed.
How about a ballot issue to publicly elect Board of Directors members for the VTA? Taxation WITH Representation! Now where have I heard that before?


3 people like this
Posted by Toll surprise
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jun 30, 2016 at 4:22 pm

And I thought I had missed reading the fine print about the toll lane. Turns out Carl Guardino didn't even know?

Classic VTA.


3 people like this
Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 30, 2016 at 5:45 pm

Why would anyone want to covert express lanes which carry two people per car except for cheaters to toll lanes which could carry only one person if they can afford to toll, creating less people moved per hour.

Some sort of train system would move more people per hour as an addition.


3 people like this
Posted by Amazing
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2016 at 1:02 am

VTA wants to have a dedicated center lane for buses to improve the moving of people and the NIMBY's oppose it. VTA wants to NOT put in a dedicated public transit center lane on 85 and the NIMBY's oppose it too!

I guess that is another nail in the coffin in the anti-public transportation argument. These guys don't have a CLUE. They simply oppose taxes and change. Very simpleminded people.


28 people like this
Posted by Its all about wasteful VTA
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2016 at 11:25 am

You have not been paying attention one bit. People are opposed to the wasteful agency with the proven track record of squandering our money and failing on their big projects. VTA wastes money then fails. That is why people are opposed.
The only way to change people's minds is to list all the "Wins" VTA has brought us with all that money they have taken from us. That list has been GLARINGLY absent from the proponents of VTAs projects.


8 people like this
Posted by Un-amazing
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 1, 2016 at 6:44 pm

Moderator, shouldn't you remove those comments with insults under the terms of posting? Those comments with insults i.e.: calling posters "simpleminded" and the earlier one inferring "cognitive problems". All other posts have presented factual, informative information and these are only degrading and insulting.


1 person likes this
Posted by @monta Loma
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2016 at 1:01 am

Adults are speaking here! Please go put on your "big boy pants" and then maybe come back and participate.


9 people like this
Posted by Oh PLEASE!!
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Jul 2, 2016 at 1:25 am

To "Can't read, huh?":
I guess YOU can't COUNT. I realize the VTA asks (pays? requires?) employees to post here, pretending the VTA is somehow positive and working well, but do you REALLY think you're fooling anyone? Why are there minimal or no "likes" to your comment, and those negative of the VTA get so many? Simple math proves your statement that "the anti-bussers are the minority here", is crushed pretty badly!

The VTA is 20th century technology trying to force itself on the 21st century, and fails. You will not only be replaced much cheaper by Lyft and Uber - but when they get into ride-sharing, you're as good as done. The articles I've read on self-driving cars, and future carpooling with them - are even more advanced and make more sense than ever. Then (and soon) people will leave their point of origin and go to their destination when they want - and directly. No more trekking to bus stops, waiting for busses and walking to connection bus stops to wait and then climb aboard another bus to finally get somewhat near your destination.

Until then, VTA would be wise to sell it's expensive, energy guzzling double busses and just send around 12 person vans. You could perhaps take people where they want to go and do so more frequently. However - that would remove the massive smorgasbord of funding you've been gorging yourselves on for decades, and you wouldn't want that. I guess the three taxes we ALREADY pay for VTA aren't ENOUGH for you? Well - remember that word "enough" because you're going to be hearing it a lot - and you'll especially hear it concerning your latest tax-grab the VTA trying to foist on the taxpayer in November.

I repeat: ENOUGH.


Like this comment
Posted by PA resident
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2016 at 8:05 am

A family member has had cause to use VTA buses in the past week. He was very impressed with the service. It was awkward at first, but now that he has got the routine going, he finds it the best way to get where he wants to go.

I am saying this because for some people it does work well. The big problem with VTA service is it suits few people but those it suits do appreciate it. What VTA should be doing is (a) looking at what people may find suitable as an alternative means of commuting and (b) advertising to those who may use it as an alternative means of commuting and (c) making it more user friendly to get people started.

The teething troubles were to do with the website being confusing for finding the information needed and straight forward information about clipper cards. If you don't know the routes and you don't know the jargon the website is hard to navigate. The website needs to be easy for newcomers and visitors to understand as those who use it frequently already know what they are looking for.


2 people like this
Posted by Likebot
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2016 at 9:24 am

To answer the question, "Why does there seem to be a surge of 'likes' when this repeat poster writes about a big conspiracy of VTA to destroy the planet?" This was determined to be the result of this same multi-poster executing a keyboard macro to hit like over and over again. We have seen some of his posts with over 200 "likes"!! It's a hole in the system that this individual is gaming.

This is more proof that the anti-bus coalition has its back to the wall. Their ill-informed opinion that few in the area share can not be defended with facts or logic, so that leaves no option but to use fraud. You've been caught!

Now I'm DEFINITELY voting to fund public transit!


8 people like this
Posted by mvresident2003
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 2, 2016 at 5:07 pm

mvresident2003 is a registered user.

Oh @likebot, you so silly. While that may have been the case in several threads it certainly doesn't explain the overwhelmingly typical response of those who post factual, informative posts AGAINST more VTA taxes and against senseless ridiculous plans like removing ones from ECR.

And to take it a wee bit further, it's amazing how one only has to have real life discussions (with real life people, not faceless posters posting under numerous names) and realize that clearly the majority are not supportive of any additional taxes by VTA. I've yet to talk to ONE person supporting this additional tax. Just ONE! Try it yourself!


5 people like this
Posted by mvresident2003
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 2, 2016 at 5:10 pm

mvresident2003 is a registered user.

I should clarify; when I say "that may have been the case in several threads" I'm speaking about one recently where it was obvious someone was playing a game and "liking" an inordinate amount of times likely using a dime macro as you suggest. But clearly the majority of posters are against anything new from the VTA, you can't seriously think anyone believes otherwisr


1 person likes this
Posted by Bus rider
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 2, 2016 at 8:52 pm

Of course we need to pay to build out, improve and maintain public transportation in the valley! I can't believe the hyperbole against these projects. Almost everyone I talk to are perfectly fine with letting busses and other shared transportation options have the center lanes. It's the most efficient option by far.

Thanks to whomever outed the keyboard warrior that fraudently bumped up the likes on some of the posts. I was confused by the response, as it was contrary to my own experience talking to friends and neighbors here. I'm glad that our city council reflected the sentiment of the community by voting their support! Now, let's be good citizens and pay for it.


7 people like this
Posted by VTA will say anything - do anothet
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jul 2, 2016 at 9:35 pm

And the VTA employs posters.


4 people like this
Posted by Krusty
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2016 at 10:25 pm

It seems to me that as long as VTA requires 100% tax subsidies for a all startup capital costs and all ongoing capital expenses and also requires 90% tax subsidies for operational costs, tax payers simply can't afford VTA in the long run (or even the short run). To this add the fact that most trips on VTA take at least 3-4 times as long as a trip by auto even at rush hour, and you end up with a pretty dismal picture. For example, a typical trip from my home to my local shopping center takes 8 minutes by car and 31 minutes by transit (each way according to Google maps, including substantial walking).


Like this comment
Posted by Subsidies
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2016 at 10:44 pm

Krusty raises interesting points:

1. VTA requires subsidies for both capital and operational expenditures.

The interesting point is while bus service is mostly subsidized by taxes, it is roadways that are 100 PERCENT taxpayer subsidized. So perhaps public transit is not so bad after all from an economic perspective.

2. The buses take much longer to travel on El Camino than a car.

That's a VERY good point. That is why giving buses a dedicated center lane will more than HALVE bus commute time with only a very small increase to automobile commute time. (This has been supported by a traffic study which was then independently validated.)

Thanks for raising these important points Krusty!


3 people like this
Posted by Krusty
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2016 at 9:29 am

"Subsidies" certainly misstates my points.

To the his/her point that "roadways that are 100 PERCENT taxpayer subsidized", I don't believe this is disingenuous and not even close to the truth. The roadways are often originally created by the developers of an area and not with taxpayer dollars. Those same roadways are then largely maintained by user fees. In fact, this is an additional subsidy of transit, which pays neither the original capital costs of road construction nor the user fees needed to maintain those roadways. I've seen some claim there is a subsidy of roadways because that real estate is removed from the property tax base, but I believe that is a bogus argument as well. Roadways increase the value of property made accessible by those roadways such that the total property valuation for the aggregate area is greater than it would be were no roadways present.

To the his/her point about buses on El Camino, I never once mentioned El Camino. No part of my travels start or end on El Camino. So increasing the speed of buses on El Camino would be of no benefit to me. I recognize that it may be of benefit to some, and I certainly don't begrudge that. I simply question the cost/benefit analysis of BRT and all other VTA projects and whether we can afford the total costs of all of the projects and unfunded future obligations that are created by these projects.


1 person likes this
Posted by Krusty
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2016 at 9:38 am

Sorry, typo in previous post and no apparent "edit" function in this forum. Post should read:

"Subsidies" certainly misstates my points.

To the his/her point that "roadways that are 100 PERCENT taxpayer subsidized", I believe this is disingenuous and not even close to the truth. The roadways are often originally created by the developers of an area and not with taxpayer dollars. Those same roadways are then largely maintained by user fees (gas taxes, license fees, truck weight fees, etc.). In fact, this is an additional subsidy of transit, which pays neither the original capital costs of road construction nor the user fees needed to maintain those roadways. I've seen some claim there is a subsidy of roadways because that real estate is removed from the property tax base, but I believe that is a bogus argument as well. Roadways increase the value of property made accessible by those roadways such that the total property valuation for the aggregate area is greater than it would be were no roadways present.

To the his/her point about buses on El Camino, I never once mentioned El Camino. No part of my travels start or end on El Camino. So increasing the speed of buses on El Camino would be of no benefit to me. I recognize that it may be of benefit to some, and I certainly don't begrudge that. I simply question the cost/benefit analysis of BRT and all other VTA projects and whether we can afford the total costs of all of the projects and unfunded future obligations that are created by these projects.


9 people like this
Posted by Ixnay on VTA
a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2016 at 3:37 pm

VTA is bad! Don't trust them further than you can throw one of their buses.

If you want to talk about wasteful subsidies, look at this idea to runnel BART from Berryessa to Santa Clara. What a waste!

No more taxes for VTA. The ones we have are collecting more and more as we go. That's enough
increase.


6 people like this
Posted by Darin
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2016 at 2:53 pm

Darin is a registered user.

Re: "Almost everyone I talk to are perfectly fine with letting busses and other shared transportation options have the center lanes."

Except that the BRT proposal doesn't dedicate the center lanes to buses and other shared transportation options. The BRT proposal dedicates the center lanes to only some of the buses, leaving the other buses and shared transportation options to use the remaining two lanes, along with everyone else. And then the BRT proposal includes bulb-out stops that will force the local buses to stop in the right-most traffic lane, blocking traffic and slowing down everyone in the remaining two lanes, rather than pulling out of traffic as they do now.

And FWIW, the bus users I know dislike the way the BRT proposal puts the pseudo-lightrail stops in the middle of the street, with the other stops on the right curb. They'd rather have all the stops on the right curb.


15 people like this
Posted by No Kidding
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2016 at 8:42 am

Darin wrote "And FWIW, the bus users I know dislike the way the BRT proposal puts the pseudo-lightrail stops in the middle of the street, with the other stops on the right curb. They'd rather have all the stops on the right curb."

No kidding. It's just common sense. Most 22/522 riders are not going from Palo Alto to Eastridge. They're maybe going one quarter of that distance. So they don't really care which bus comes along first. They will just jump in the first bus that comes along, which is a big pain in the butt with separated stops. People could get hurt running across traffic lanes if they see a bus coming and they're in the wrong stop.


1 person likes this
Posted by No Joke
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2016 at 5:13 pm

No kidding said: "So they don't really care which bus comes along first. They will just jump in the first bus that comes along, which is a big pain in the butt with separated stops."

He must be kidding. Most transit users want a faster commute and the BRT center lane option does just that. This is an uncontested reality and is aligned with all survey data and studies about how riders use transit. To argue otherwise demonstrates an ignorance of transportation engineering.


3 people like this
Posted by Krusty
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2016 at 9:13 pm

Perhaps with the large existing tax subsidies for VTA operations it would be cheaper to subsidize Uber and Lyft to provide the same $2 trips to consumers that would go from point-to-point when the rider wanted to go. Maybe they could use the VTA capital budget to buy Volts or Priuses for Lyft and Uber drivers.


7 people like this
Posted by Darin
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Darin is a registered user.

@No Joke

It depends where you want to go. Sometimes, you want the 522 because you're going a long way and it's faster. Sometimes you want the 22 because it stops where you want to get off. Sometimes you want whichever comes first, because the time you spend waiting for the next 522 will be more than the time you save taking the faster bus.

And sometimes, you get to El Camino Real using a feeder line, and it's a lot more convenient to transfer to the 522 when the stops are all on the right curb, instead of having pseudo-lightrail stops stuck in the middle of the street.

And no one denies that the BRT proposal would produce faster bus trips from Palo Alto to San Jose for the buses using the dedicated center lanes. The question is whether that improvement is worth the expense and the reduced effectiveness of transportation along ECR for everyone else (including local bus riders).


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


To post your comment, please login or register at the top of the page. This topic is only for those who have signed up to participate by providing their email address and establishing a screen name.

Fu Lam Mum shutters temporarily in Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 3,339 views

How Does Silicon Valley’s Culture Affect Your Marriage?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 753 views

 

2017 guide to summer camps

Looking for something for the kids to do this summer, learn something new and have fun? The 2017 Summer Camp Guide features local camps for all ages and interests.

Find Camps Here