BART to Silicon Valley Passes?; Big Federal Bailout?; Seattle's University Link Gets Big Bucks

Looks like BART’s planned extension to Silicon Valley, with a series of stations in downtown San Jose, may in fact come through. For more than a week, it’s looked like the vote was close to the 66.67% needed for passage, but that it wouldn’t be able to make the cut. But a series of new tabulations, based on previously uncounted provisional ballots, have pushed the Yes’ majority up to 66.61% – and there are still 17,000 ballots left to count. If enough of those are in the Yes column, Measure B will pass, increasing Santa Clara County’s sales tax by half a percent and allowing for the funding of this extension. We’ll be including a large write-up about this extension on the transport politic if indeed Measure B passes.

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of municipal and state leaders are calling for more of the $700 billion federal bailout package to go to lower levels of government, rather than to the financial corporations or the auto industry, as currently planned. San Jose’s Mayor recently called for 2% of the bailout – that’s $14 billion – to go to his city so that he can invest in mass transit and other important infrastructure upgrades. Though this is obviously a preposterous demand – San Jose’s population is far less than 2% of the nationwide total, and the idea that the federal government would just grant a city $14 billion is ludicrous – the idea for an increasing percentage of the federal budget to go directly to municipalities and state governments is a reasonable one. An increasing fiscal problem will hurt lower levels of the government at a far more dramatic rate than it will hurt the federal government, which can take on increasing debts with little pain.

Hillary Clinton seems to agree; in a recent speech for the New York Public Transit Industry’s Conference, she argued that the federal government had a responsibility to spend more of its money on infrastructure improvements. She has recently asked that President Bush sign on for $410 million – not an especially large sum compared to China’s recently announced $550 billion in infrastructure spending – worth of infrastructure spending in the next few months.

Clinton is looking like a contender as President Obama’s Secretary of State, which would mean she would have to abandon her Senate seat from New York. This would be a disappointment for transit advocates from the Empire State, who have come to see the Senator as a reliable advocate for public transportation interests. That said, a Clinton Secretary of State would presumable push for more such funding in cabinet meetings.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s planned University Link, which will provide light rail service from the city’s downtown to the University of Washington, with an additional new station in the city’s Capitol Hill district, has received additional funding from the federal government, to the tune of $813 million. This basically ensures that the link will be constructed, because the vast majority of the remainder of the cost for this 3.5-mile link will come from local sales tax revenues, which are guaranteed for transit.

The University Link is an elemental part of Seattle’s transit program. The new sales tax just passed this November by the city’s citizens will allow for extensions from the University of Washington up to the Northgate district, so not having the University section would be problematic for the rest of the program being implemented.

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