Since the late 1990s, transportation and community leaders, businesses and residents have aspired to bring regional transit service into Silicon Valley, the high-technology center of the world. In November 2000, Santa Clara County, Calif. voters approved a 30-year, half-cent sales tax to raise funds for an extension of the regional Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system from Fremont to San Jose. The following year, a major Investment Study/Alternatives Analysis by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) confirmed that extending BART to Milpitas, San Jose and Santa Clara provided the best transit option for I-880 and I-680, two heavily congested north-south regional corridors in the region.
In November 2001, VTA and BART entered into a Comprehensive Agreement for the 16-mile BART Silicon Valley Extension. Under this agreement, VTA is overseeing the construction and BART will operate the extension upon completion. By 2005, VTA determined that the extension needed to be implemented in phases to secure federal funding. The first phase was to extend the BART system from a future station in the Warm Springs area of the city of Fremont. Known as the Berryessa Extension, this $2.3 billion Phase I includes a station in Milpitas and a second station in Berryessa.
In March 2012, VTA entered into a $900 million Full Funding Grant Agreement with the Federal Transit Administration. Construction on Phase I began in April 2012 and is expected to be complete in fall 2017. Completion of this initial phase will make the South Bay community’s vision a reality and link the population and jobs centers of Silicon Valley to the high-frequency, 104-mile BART system.
“This is the largest public works project in South Bay history,” says Nuria Fernandez, VTA’s GM/CEO. “Once built, the system will have the capacity to move more than 20,000 people per hour, which is the equivalent of a freeway with four lanes in each direction.”
To get the Phase I project underway, VTA awarded a $772 million design-build contract to the Skanska, Shimmick and Herzog (SSH) joint venture in December 2011. This contract included the design and construction of the line, track, systems and stations for the Berryessa Extension. Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc. (LAN), a planning, engineering and program management firm headquartered in Houston, and T.Y. Lin International Group were selected as designers under the SSH joint venture contract. VBN Architects and FMG Architects performed preliminary design for Milpitas and Beryessa Stations, respectively, while Anil Verma Associates Inc. was responsible for final design of both stations. LTK Engineering Services was contracted to assist with traction and control systems, and Hatch Mott MacDonald and Bechtel Infrastructure Corp. were selected to administer the contract.
The Berryessa Extension has many features that will enable commuters to have a safe, convenient and enjoyable travel experience. Sleek, new BART cars, manufactured by Bombardier Transportation, will quickly transport passengers every 7.5 minutes during peak periods at up to 70 miles an hour. The new cars feature a reconfigured interior layout designed to maximize seating, openness and comfort, more priority seating for seniors and people with disabilities, and wheelchair areas and bicycle racks in every car. Other features include interior and exterior digital displays, a better quality public address system with automated announcements, more doors to make boarding faster and easier, energy-saving lighting, and energy-efficient propulsion and regenerative braking.
The future Milpitas Station, located at the intersection of Montague Expressway and Capitol Avenue, will serve as BART’s gateway to Silicon Valley. Situated on a 27-acre campus, the station consists of a grade level concourse with below-grade, split-level boarding platforms spanning over 700 feet in length. A 260-foot pedestrian over-crossing bridge will provide a seamless connection to the existing VTA Montague Light Rail Station. The station also includes a six-level, four-bay parking garage that will accommodate 1,200 parking spaces.
The Berryessa Station, located between Berryessa and Mabury roads adjacent to the San Jose Flea Market, consists of a ground-level concourse with aerial boarding center platform 35 feet above ground. The station reflects the area’s environment with architectural and landscaping features that evoke a notion of water flow, natural habitat and San Jose’s agricultural past. The station features a curved canopy structure with unobstructed views, minimal use of solid walls, glass, open mesh panels and clear sightlines to give a feeling of openness, continuity and safety. A stepped level, four bays wide parking garage will provide approximately 1,150 parking spaces. Both station campuses include bus transit centers to connect with VTA services, private shuttle and passenger drop-off/pick-up areas, and convenient bicycle and pedestrian connections and storage spaces.
“The two stations were designed almost like monuments,” says Brad Nystrom, Skanska’s deputy project director. “They are architecturally spectacular and are going to have a big impact on the local skyline.”
The Berryessa Extension will be an attractive alternative for commuters traveling on I-880 and I-680, two congested corridors that connect residential areas in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Joaquin Counties to numerous high-technology and other employment centers in Silicon Valley.
The project is vital to Silicon Valley’s future. For every dollar spent on construction, operations and maintenance, approximately four to 10 dollars will be reinvested into the region’s economy. Already, the project has created thousands of design and construction jobs. Thousands more will be created to serve the increased work force spurred by development and job access.
Transit-oriented development opportunities have boomed around the stations with increased demand for housing, retail and office space. Near the Milpitas Station, more than 7,000 housing units, nearly a million square feet of office space and approximately 300,000 square feet of commercial space are planned for development. Similarly, adjacent to the Berryessa Station, more than 4,100 residential units and over 360,000 square feet of commercial, retail and office space is under planning and development.
In addition to connecting commuters to the existing BART system, when all 16-miles are completed, the project will provide a multitude of intermodal options. These include enhanced commuter connections to VTA light rail and buses, Caltrain, Altamont Commuter Express, Capitol Corridor and Amtrak, as well as planned connections to Mineta San Jose International Airport and high-speed rail.
“The Berryessa Extension will allow commuters to circumnavigate the Bay Area,” says Sima Vajdani, PE, LAN’s vice president and business group director – Calif. “You can get on BART in San Francisco, come all the way down to Milpitas, transfer over to VTA at the Montague Light Rail Station, and then, hop on Caltrain at the Mountain View Station to go back to San Francisco.”
The project will improve access to employment, educational medical, entertainment and retail centers. At the Milpitas Station, BART riders can quickly go to nearby destinations such as the Great Mall of the Bay Area or transfer to VTA’s light rail system to reach major high technology employment centers, such as Google, eBay and Cisco Systems, as well as attend San Francisco 49ers games and other events at Levi’s Stadium. Directly adjacent to the Berryessa Station on its west side is the San Jose Flea Market, one of the oldest and largest markets in the country that attracts more than four million visitors a year.
The project also enhances connections to a number of higher education institutions, including San Jose State University, Stanford University and Santa Clara University. Finally, VTA in partnership with cities, local officials and community members have paved the way to a cleaner, greener future by taking cars off congested corridors and eliminating as much as 3,500 tons of greenhouse gases every year.
The Berryessa Extension has presented numerous challenges to the project team to date. Perhaps the biggest of them all has been building 10 miles of rail track through a high-commute corridor without adversely impacting the traveling public, residents and businesses. To solve this challenge, the project team has developed a multi-phased traffic control plan with an emphasis on maintaining traffic flow through the corridor and minimizing impact to adjacent businesses and residents. At each area of construction along the corridor, VTA has conducted extensive outreach to surrounding communities, providing advance notification of all construction activities and traffic impacts through mailed fliers, digital message boards and newsletters, email and website updates.
A case in point: The trench across Montague Expressway, a major six-lane east-west expressway in Milpitas, was built in three stages through a series of traffic lane shifts and reconfigurations, as well as lane reductions on weekends. For four months, all traffic on Montague Expressway was shifted to the north side of the roadway to allow trenching and bridge work on the south side. Subsequently, traffic was shifted near the middle of the roadway to create a safe work zone for the second section of the trench work. This was followed by construction on the north side of the road.
“We just can’t bring the heart of the Silicon Valley to a standstill,” says Fernandez. “Maintaining mobility in the corridor and still constructing the project on an aggressive schedule has been a tough balancing act throughout the project.”
The scale of the project has also presented a major challenge. To manage and fast-track the design, the 10-mile project was divided into 31 design units, including structures, guideway, trenches, intersections with public streets, utilities and utility relocations, traffic, track work, stations, wayside facilities, traction power, train control, electrical and communications. These design units were further broken down into discrete work packages as needed to provide better focus on specific issues and further accommodate the construction schedule.
“Even though this project runs through three cities, we have broken it down into disciplines due to its scale,” says Nystrom. “That way, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel for each location, which has allowed us to be more productive and attack the project systematically in smaller bite-sized pieces.” The Berryessa Extension corridor passes through numerous public and private utilities, including communications, gas, electric, sanitary sewer and water lines. As such, a major component of the project involved coordinating extensively with different utility owners to ensure their relocation designs didn’t conflict with the project team’s design plans. A robust utility production program was put in place that included an internal permitting process requiring signoffs daily before excavation.
“There are as many as 13 utilities owners, including Pacific Gas & Electric, Chevron and MCI, with major utilities in this corridor,” says Vajdani. “The project team spent two years just on utility coordination and relocation.”
In certain areas, the project team came up with creative design solutions to avoid utility relocations. For instance, at the Sierra/Lundy intersection in San Jose, initial design plans called for a shallow guideway trench that disrupted numerous utility lines and required the construction of huge siphons for storm water and wastewater. The design team developed a scheme whereby the track alignment could be lowered at the intersection and placed in cut-and-cover tunnel. This solution dramatically reduced disruption of the intersection during construction and eliminated the need for numerous utility relocations , as well as eliminated the need for the siphons, saving significant time and money for the project.
Noise and vibration mitigation has been a challenge as well. During construction, crews are erecting temporary noise and visual barriers, restricting construction hours, using alternate construction methods in vibration sensitive areas and monitoring vibration to ensure compliance with federal vibration criteria. To reduce noise and vibration impacts during future BART service, VTA and the project team are incorporating a number of mitigation measures, including installing 12,500 linear feet of sound walls and noise-insulating windows in 246 homes; mounting a thick layer of Tire Derived Aggregate materials beneath the track bed in some locations; affixing the rail track on a concrete slab with a resilient layer called a Floating Track Slab; and a carefully designed grinding, track inspection and vehicle maintenance program.
After more than a decade of planning, engineering and securing funding, the BART Silicon Valley Extension is well into construction and is on track to open to the public in fall 2017, several months ahead of the original schedule. In 2013 and 2015, the Milpitas Post voted the Berryessa Extension project as the “Best Example of Government Spending” for its Annual Reader’s Choice Awards.
The second phase of the extension will include a five-mile long subway tunnel through downtown San Jose and will extend the BART system from the future phase one terminus for approximately six miles, ending at-grade in Santa Clara near the Caltrain Station. Four stations are proposed for the second phase: Alum Rock, Downtown San Jose, Diridon, and Santa Clara. Construction of the $4.7 billion second phase is anticipated to begin in 2019, pending securing additional funding.
Bernice Alaniz is director, communications and public affairs, at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
Timothy J. Schmidt is sr. associate and director, Northern California, at Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc.