Can Californians get to San Jose?
That spin on the old song might be the most important question facing the state’s transportation system. Transforming the Bay Area city of 1 million people into the state’s rail capital is dependent on bringing trains and transit into the 21st century.
Can all these plans stay on track in California?
San Jose is the capital of Silicon Valley and it has transportation expectations. San Jose is between California’s northern and southern borders. The Bay Area has rail links to both the Central Valley and the Central Coast.
Diridon Station is a Renaissance Revival rail hub where California’s transportation past, present, and future intersect.
Diridon is one of the most desired transportation dreams in the state. The most important junction in the high-speed rail plan is Diridon, where the regional rail lines to San Francisco meet the bullet trains going down to Bakersfield, and eventually Los Angeles. The western end of the ACE train is Diridon, and it is slated to be expanded throughout the Central Valley.
Diridon is part of the region. It is a major hub for Caltrain service that runs from San Francisco down the peninsula to Gilroy. It is the southern part of the Capitol Corridor. San Jose’s VTA light rail system is a key stop. It is the location of the decades-long, multi-billion-dollar effort to bring Bay Area Rapid Transit to San Jose.
The plans for the area around Diridon include a village of parks, thousands of housing units, millions of square feet of office space and a community center.
The transportation agencies of San Jose and California don’t seem to be able to carry the weight. Multiple failures of governance are taking place on Diridon with so many different interests and constituencies hanging hopes.
The high-speed rail plan is such a mess of delays, consultants, and overspending that state officials are only focused on a small segment of the project. High-speed rail will be reaching San Jose in 2031. It is a better bet that the project will be stopped by then.
There are reasons to worry about regional lines too. There are plans for the extension of the ACE trains into other parts of California. The extension to downtown San Jose is getting more expensive.
The six-mile, four-station project was approved by voters in 2000 and is shaping up to be one of the most difficult infrastructure efforts. Local officials insist on using an expensive and less proven method to build one of the largest subway tunnels in the US. A $4 billion project that was supposed to be finished by 2026 is now a $9 billion-plus project that won’t be finished until 2034.
San Jose should be focused on integrating transit at Diridon, not the debate over the BART extension. Caltrain, the high-speed rail authority and the city of San Jose don’t seem to be on the same page about how to remake the station to improve links There isn’t a clear plan for making Diridon and its surroundings a true destination. To help draw Californians to the station, it will need to be a beautiful place.
The current state of transportation in San Jose is more frightening than the planning troubles. The newer BART stations in San Jose are empty because of the Pandemic shifts.
San Jose’s light rail, which was shut down for months last year after a mass shooting, has been called a terrible system by the city’s own mayor.
When I rode the different VTA lines over the course of a recent weekday, few passengers appeared to be homeless. I was the only passenger on the plane. That was right. Driving is twice as fast as riding as the trains are so slow.
The transformation of San Jose into a transportation capital can take a long time. Californians have a stake in connecting us to San Jose.
The state has to take charge and remove regulatory barriers. The state granted exemptions to new sports stadiums in order to make the remaking of Diridon Station. The state should establish a single governing authority to take over the San Jose transportation hub and require high-speed rail and local agencies to defer to it.
A new Diridon with all connections humming must be in place before the end of this decade.
The way to San Jose is blocked by obstacles.
The article was originally published on Zcalo.