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(Published in the San Mateo Patch on April 8, 2012)

With so much attention on high-speed rail, road congestion, high fuel prices and population growth, it’s easy to overlook one of the most important and history-making transportation projects in the Bay Area.  On April 12th the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) breaks ground on the BART Silicon Valley Berryessa Extension Project that begins in Fremont and will eventually end in Santa Clara.  This is the second-biggest public works project in the Bay Area after rebuilding the Bay Bridge, and will expand the BART system into Milpitas, San Jose and Santa Clara. 

VTA is responsible for funding, designing, constructing and overseeing the Project, while BART will operate the train service and maintain the equipment and stations.

For me, April 12, 2012 marks the beginning of a project that will enable us to finally traverse the entire Bay Area in a nearly seamless loop.  Between Caltrain, BART and VTA, San Mateo County residents will be able to travel entirely by public transit and also link more easily to Amtrak, the Capitol Corridor, and other transit connections.  When the entire project is completed, Diridon Station in San Jose will be the largest transportation hub in Northern California.

The project will be completed in two phases:  Phase 1, the 10 mile Berryessa Extension, begins south of Fremont and includes two new stations at Milpitas and North San Jose.  Phase 2 includes a 5.1 mile long subway tunnel through downtown San Jose and ends at grade in Santa Clara near the Caltrain station. 

In 2000 Santa Clara County voters approved Measure A which authorized a ½ cent sales tax to construct the largest infrastructure project in Silicon Valley.  However, funds were also needed for operations and maintenance costs, and in 2008 voters approved Measure B, a 1/8 cent sales tax.  Last month VTA received a $900 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration enabling the extension to begin.  The second phase will commence as additional funding is secured.

This project is critical for convenience, commuters, and connectivity as over the next 25 years both population and job growth are projected to increase.  If you’ve ever experienced the South Bay’s highly congested highways, particularly the I-880 and I-680 corridors, you know what I mean.  Finally, we’ll have some transit solutions.

This enhanced mobility is also especially important to expanding employment.  Whether we live in San Mateo County or in the East Bay, both employers and employees will have increased options.  The new stations will also spur economic development and transit oriented communities.

The Project also symbolizes an impressive amount of long-term collaboration between transportation authorities, county agencies, political and business leaders, and voters. 

All of us Peninsula residents are part of Silicon Valley, and this Project increases our mobility, enhances our environment, boosts our economy, and most importantly helps maintain our region’s reputation as one of the world’s leading locations.

NOTE:  The Groundbreaking will take place Thursday, Apr. 12th at 2pm at 1404 Mabury Road in San Jose.  Senator Dianne Feinstein and other federal, state and local officials will participate in the historic event.


Sharon Prager and Peter Cheng of Applied Development Economics presented Public Infrastructure Investment: How Aggregates and Infrastructure Construction Jobs will Restore California's Middle Class at the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association's 2011 Annual Education Conference in Monterey, California.


(Published in the San Mateo Patch on October 27, 2011)

During my daily walk at San Mateo's Seal Point Park under bright breezy skies and dive bombing, fish hunting pelicans, a remarkable display of skill, courage and commitment is being undertaken by the personnel upgrading PG&E's 120–160 foot power towers. In a collaborative effort that most companies could only dream of, PG&E and its contractors Henkels & McCoy and Rogers Helicopters are going about their daily work with such dexterity and expertise that those of us below are inspired to admire!

As the helicopter's distinctive rhythm draws eyes upward, most of us stop exercising to stare in amazement — bike riders and boaters, kids and dogs, joggers, and young men extending phone cameras. Cargo is flying across the Bay extended below the helicopter. Reaching the top of the tower, and with precision positioning, the helicopter hovers as the workmen replace the large overhead conductor. Over and over again the helicopter delivers tower parts, tools and ladders. Sometimes the workmen too — I once watched enviously as they were whooshed across the water dangling in the helicopter's sling up towards their aerial perch.

Casually talking to a workman watching from the hill, I learned that these are 230,000 volt towers and that the helicopters are being used to install or replace the overhead conductors. Teams of highly skilled (but without fear of heights) personnel do the fitting and fixing, often working weekends as well.

According to PG&E's website, all this work is part of the Russell City Energy Center Interconnection Project to upgrade power lines and existing substations in Hayward and San Mateo. The project will improve service reliability and no electrical service will be impacted during the multi-month project.

I couldn't help musing that this area's extreme "tech" focus often excludes other trades as having importance and value. Industries that we count on every moment of our lives are often ignored as inconsequential or suffer from an image that's dull and dated. Yet there is no business, no residence, and certainly no tech industry that doesn't depend on infrastructure. Clearly we'd have no economy without electricity! Whether broadband or bridges, sidewalks or sewers, or even San Mateo's wonderful parks, our communities depend on reliable infrastructure.

So to all those working so quietly for our quality of life, I salute you and your talents whether in construction, engineering, helicopter flying, or experience using materials and processes that complete such impressive infrastructure projects.

After all, I know of few other industries where people put their "lives on the line" to provide us with power.

Copyright(c)2011 Sharon Prager. All rights reserved.

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