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Unlock the Gridlock

“On your Mark. Get Set. Stop.”

For tens of thousands of frustrated Silicon Valley residents, this describes our daily commute. Fortunately, we have a choice: We can curse the congestion, or create the solution.

We choose the latter.

For three-plus years, our organizations have worked with public and private citizens to build a bold plan for transportation solutions to benefit the entire county. Concurrently, Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) engaged hundreds of residents from Palo Alto to Gilroy in stakeholder discussions.

Both efforts have focused on three key goals: Countywide traffic relief, cost-effective transit options, and significant improvements to crumbling roads.

The VTA issued a “Call for Projects” and all 15 cities responded. Nearly $48 billion in improvements were submitted and priorities were set. That inclusive process led to a list of $6.3 billion in projects that could be funded through a transportation measure on this November’s ballot.

The key improvements include:

  • Repairing streets, fixing potholes in all 15 cities in Santa Clara County. The condition of our local roads hits us with a “hidden tax” from increased fuel, vehicle wear and tear and blown tires that cost, on average, $1,723 each year.

  • Finishing BART to downtown San Jose and Santa Clara. The first 10-mile segment from Fremont to Milpitas and San Jose is running a year ahead of schedule and nearly $100 million under budget. The segment from Berryessa to the East Side, SAP arena, San Jose State and Santa Clara University will serve 90,000 weekday passenger trips.

  • Improving bicycle and pedestrian safety, especially near schools. Most car trips are five miles or less. By building more bike and pedestrian paths, we help replace four-wheels with two-wheels.

  • Increasing Caltrain commuter rail capacity and improving safety at grade crossings. Along with efforts to electrify the system, other improvements will double the ridership capacity from 62,000 to nearly 120,000 daily trips.

  • Relieving traffic on all nine county expressways—Almaden, Capitol, Central, Foothill, Lawrence, Montague, Page Mill/Oregon, San Tomas and Santa Teresa/Hale. They are the workhorses of our road system, with half of Santa Clara County residents using expressways daily. The improvements will literally turn red lights to green.

  • Easing gridlock at key interchanges on 85, 280, 101, 237, 880 and 17. You may have noticed: Most of our freeway traffic problems aren’t a lack of lanes but back-ups created by cars weaving to get on and off the freeways. Interchange improvements make for safer, and faster, commutes.

  • Enhancing transit service for seniors, students, low-income workers, and the disabled. In Silicon Valley, we often forget that tens of thousands of our friends, co-workers, and neighbors are less fortunate than we are. More than a quarter million are transit-dependent—primarily seniors, people with disabilities, the working poor, and students. We must improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our core transit system.

Traffic relief, better transit service, and rebuilding broken-down roads are all important. Equally important are accountability and transparency. VTA is considering placing a measure on the Nov. 8 ballot to fund these specific improvements with a half-cent sales tax. We support this not only to tackle our transportation needs, but also because it locks in the funds solely for these improvements. Coupled with independent, annual audits overseen by a Citizens Watchdog Committee, dollars are directed where they're intended.

It’s time we unlock the gridlock. It’s time we give a green light to traffic relief.

Emmett Carson is CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Michael Engh, S.J., is president of Santa Clara University and a board member of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. This piece was written for the Mercury News.

Traffic on the Nimitz Freeway. Photo by Waymond C and used under a Creative Commons license