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[whitespace] Work begins soon on light rail extension to Campbell

VTA taking first steps in $300 million project starting this spring

Campbell--After years of planning, light rail is coming to Campbell.

Construction is set to begin in spring on the first phases of the new Vasona Light Rail line into downtown Campbell and later to the edge of Los Gatos.

The existing route runs from the Almaden Valley through downtown San Jose and into Santa Clara. A new extension through Sunnyvale and into downtown Mountain View opened a year ago.

There are seven stations planned for the new Vasona line. The route will follow an old Southern Pacific right-of-way that's still used a couple days a week for freight trains.

The tracks head west out of downtown San Jose, cross I-280 and follow the Southwest Expressway to Hamilton Avenue. They cross over Highway 17 and run through downtown Campbell, then follow Winchester Boulevard south to Highway 85, where the light rail line will end.

Preparation begins this spring to build a tunnel for the extension, with construction of the actual light rail expected to begin next November. Service is expected to begin sometime in the fall of 2004.

The extension, known as Phase 1 of the Vasona Light Rail Project, is largely the brainchild of the Valley Transportation Authority and has a total cost of $256.5 million. Independent from government agencies since the late 1990s, the VTA focuses on all transportation-related issues in the county.

In the case of the Vasona project, the VTA is working closely with the county. The policy advisory board for the project consists of several elected officials from Campbell, San Jose and Los Gatos, among others. Representatives from the West Valley area also serve on the VTA governing board.

Funding for this project, along with others such as the Tasman East light rail extension, road improvements and highway upgrades, emerged out of Measures A and B in November 1996. Measure A dealt with specific transportation improvements needed in the county, while Measure B put into place a 9-year, half-cent sales tax that would provide the $1 billion needed to fund all the proposed improvements.

Phase 2 of the Vasona project is still in its initial stages. The current plan is to extend the light rail further south along Winchester Boulevard to the Vasona and Hacienda junction at Highway 85 in Los Gatos. An additional two stations are included in this plan. The estimated cost of Phase 2 is $40 million, bringing the total of the Vasona project costs to about $300 million.

Since the 1980s, the Campbell-Los Gatos area has been a subject of scrutiny by the VTA.

"It was a congested corridor with few travel opportunities," says VTA's Vasona Project Manager Mark Robinson. Highways 87 and 17 offer few possibilities for expansion, and there are insufficient routes from the West Valley to downtown San Jose.

VTA's solution was to explore alternative transportation--the light rail. An estimated 8,000 to 9,000 people will ride the Phase 1 addition daily. Extending light rail service into the area is expected to alleviate congestion and pollution, as well as improve traffic flow.

Currently the light rail system, which opened in December 1987, covers a total of 28.4 miles. Another extension will expand service to Milpitas when it opens this spring.

According to VTA spokesperson Lupe Solís, approximately 30,000 county residents currently take advantage of the various riding options, such as daily passes, tokens, monthly passes and Ecopasses purchased by companies and distributed to employees at no cost.

A set of open-house meetings were held recently to inform the public and address concerns. VTA's Robinson says, "We set up stations within the meeting hall for design, right-of-way, environment and other issues." Those who attended were encouraged to ask questions at each station. Another set of meetings will be held in the spring, with at least one to be held in Campbell, with a construction emphasis.

According to Robinson, "The secondary benefit of investment...is redevelopment in communities." He cites the Tasman West area, which he says has experienced economic renewal for businesses near the new station since its opening.

Robinson urges all commuters to give the light rail a try, once it opens. "It can't go everywhere that everybody wants it to... [but] you'll be surprised. It's convenient, comfortable, relaxing. It's an efficient, reliable system."
Gloria I. Wang

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