The highly anticipated BART expansion into downtown San Jose and Santa Clara is facing significant setbacks, with the project now expected to be completed a decade later than initially planned at more than double the cost, officials recently announced.
The six-mile, four-station extension into downtown San Jose and north toward Santa Clara is now projected to open in 2036 at a price tag of $12.2 billion, a far cry from the original target of 2026 and $4.7 billion. This is not the first setback for the ambitious transit project that has been in the works for decades. Those figures were bumped in 2020 to a 2030 opening at $6.9 billion.
“I know it’s taking a long time,” said Valley Transportation Authority’s (VTA) General Manager and CEO, Carolyn Gonot. “We don’t build as fast as other areas of the world. But once we finish it, people will reap those benefits and not regret having that project.”
In 2022, federal officials conducted an independent analysis and determined the timeline could stretch to 2034 with the budget swelling to $9.1 billion, blaming “overly ambitious” tunneling plans. The underground part includes a 4.7-mile single-bore tunnel through San Jose, the largest of its kind for transit in the country.
The four new stations will include underground stops at 28th Street/Little Portugal, Downtown San Jose, and Diridon Station, with an above-ground platform planned near Santa Clara’s Caltrain station.
Gonot maintained that despite the expanding costs, the project still fits within the allotted funding plan, which draws from local sales tax measures and state and federal funding. Officials said no future ballot initiatives would be needed to cover the gap and that revenue from the existing efforts was higher than expected.
“The project’s contractors will have to live within their means to get it done,” San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said in a statement, emphasizing taxpayers would not be asked to dig deeper into their pockets again.
Former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery, long a skeptic of BART’s plans to tunnel through downtown, said Wednesday that he wants to see Mayor Mahan and the city council conduct their deep analysis of the project before it proceeds further. “It’s so predictable,” McEnery said of the latest cost and timeline changes. “It’s something that I want the community to take a hard look at.
But Campbell Mayor Paul Resnikoff, who also sits on the board, said while the setbacks are frustrating, stopping the project entirely would be foolish. “We can’t just throw our hands up and walk away now,” he said. “Too much work has already gone into this, and people have been promised a completed BART ring for decades. We must push forward, even if it takes longer than we hoped.”
Once open, the extension will serve over 50,000 passengers on a typical weekday by 2040, bringing them to jobs and attractions around the Bay Area. With climate change accelerating, local leaders say giving people an alternative to driving is more critical than ever.
“At the end of the day, we’ll keep marching forward. We have to,” said Jason Baker, a trustee for Campbell Union High School District and former mayor of the city. “With climate change showing its face daily, we must keep going forward. That helps take cars off the road and reduce the biggest cause of pollution, the transportation sector.”
The San Jose extension is the second phase of BART’s expansion into Santa Clara County. The first phase opened in 2020, connecting Fremont to Milpitas and north San Jose. That part came in $120 million under budget, providing hope the San Jose extension could stay on track.
But the massive tunneling required to connect BART through dense downtown streets has proven far more complex, according to officials. Regardless, those who dreamed for decades of completing the South Bay rail ring remain determined to push ahead, even if it takes longer than expected.