VTA moves forward with light rail extension to Eastridge

East San Jose residents received some long-awaited news. A proposed extension of the Valley Transportation Authority’s light rail linking the Eastridge Transportation hub with Alum Rock Station is poised to break ground.

In 2000, over 70% of Santa Clara voters approved a half-cent tax to expand light rail service to Eastridge. Nearly 20 years later, passengers and the voting public are still waiting. But officials say with Thursday night’s unanimous vote, it appears finally this will happen. 

“This is about as close to breaking ground of any project that I’ve ever seen,” said Santa Clara County District 3 Supervisor Dave Cortese.

That pronouncement is welcome news for VTA passengers, some of whom are literally growing old while waiting for a light rail line at Eastridge.

“Bringing the light rail here, it’s going to be worth it. Because a lot of people ride the light rail that go to work,” said passenger Linda Mock.

Currently, commuters must take the VTA number 522 bus to Alum Rock, then transfer to the light rail. Thursday, VTA’s board unanimously approved a new environmental impact report for completing the two and a half mile link. The new plan changes where the tracks will lay.

“The board had to approve another round of the environmental impact report because the scope of the project had changed. The project was a mix of at-grade as well as elevated rail. And the new project now outlines a completely elevated rail system,” said VTA spokeswoman Holly Perez.

Officials say the change is not inconsequential. Nearly two decades ago, Santa Clara voters passed Measure A to fund the near half billion dollar extension. But sales tax money lagged during the boom-to-bust cycle of the early 2000s.

“Money slowed down, it trickled down to much, much less than we expected. And all the while this project kept getting pushed back, and pushed back,” said Cortese.

He says the BART Extension from Warm Springs to Berryessa Station has given VTA’s growth new urgency. Now that the new environmental impact study is approved, and money allocated, the next step is to reposition utilities and then break ground. Some regular riders say service can’t come soon enough. 

“I think we need more public transit here. It’s gonna get a lot of the vehicles off the road, and subsequently reduce traffic,” said Ken, a VTA passenger who did not want to give his last name.

Another step toward reducing traffic is the BART extension. VTA turned control of the BART extension tracks and communications equipment over to BART. Now, that transit agency can energize the lines and begin testing cars on the tracks, which will take six months. The goal is to have BART trains running to Berryessa by the end of this year.

The VTA extension to Eastridge is projected for 2025.