SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- The final countdown has begun. The nearly 20-year wait by San Jose area residents for BART service is less than 24 hours away from coming to an end after a ceremonial first trip to mark the opening of the new Berryessa Station Friday.
Work crews put a few last-minute cosmetic tweaks to the new station early Friday as officials prepared for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Safety testing, final construction and the meticulous process of adjusting time schedules to take into consider the extra travel for trains to complete their journey on the South Bay extension have been underway for the last month.
The CPUC also had to approve public service on the line. That has all been completed and officials from BART, the city of San Jose and Santa Clara County rode the first train on Friday.
"We celebrate what we can accomplish when we work together," said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
One of those on board was former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales who gave the project its first big push back in 1989.
"My 24 years in public service taught me that if you have a dream and a passion that you know will benefit the community, you will find creative solutions and new partners to reach your goals," said Gonzales.
Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, was known for his 100-hour workweeks on multiple BART-to-San Jose ballot measures over the years.
"This is like a baby that took 25 years to finally be born, and what a great day," said Guardino.
Officials said running trains to the new Milpitas and Berryessa stations will mean 13 added minutes of travel time on the Daly City - Berryessa (Green) and Richmond - Berryessa (Orange) lines. The 10-mile, $2.3 billion Berryessa project extends BART service
from the Warm Springs District in Fremont through Milpitas to the Berryessa area of North San Jose.
The extension is BART's first foray into Santa Clara County and gives the transit agency a total of 50 stations and roughly 130 miles of
South Bay commuters who have been looking for alternatives to the clogged rush-hour freeways can attest to the frustrations from the delays and missed deadlines of the project. Originally, the extension was supposed to open to the public in the summer of 2018.
The opening happens at a brutal time for public transportation. The vast majority of commuters are still working from home due to the lockdown.
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which built and owns the ten-mile track extension, is losing about $18 million a month in fares and sales tax revenue.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, BART, Muni and other Bay Area transit agencies have reported historic drops in ridership. BART's average weekday ridership nosedived during the pandemic -- down 93%. That drop has left a $600 million crater in the transit agency's budget this fiscal year and next.
Ridership expected to take at least another year to recover, but BART General Manager Robert Powers says ridership is trending up.
"I think things are going to be okay, we are already starting to see that. We carried 40,000 people yesterday, and at our low, we were at 24,000 so ridership is already starting to come back up," said Powers.
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