After more than 50 years of providing transportation solutions for the communities it serves, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is embarking on its largest and most ambitious initiative to date—the VTA BART Silicon Valley Phase II project. Beyond providing six miles of rail transit through San Jose and the city of Santa Clara, the $9.3-billion project represents innovative thinking rarely seen among U.S. transit authorities. The project, which is being developed in partnership with future operator Bay Area Rapid Transit, will leverage progressive design-build contracting to deliver the tunneling package. The second-largest tunnel-boring machine ever deployed in the U.S. will create the first single bore tunnel for a transit project in the country. Given the authority’s eye toward innovation and its ability to work with its industry partners to make its vision possible, ENR California named the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority its 2023 Owner of the Year.

Congestion Management Mission

VTA serves 15 cities in Santa Clara County as well as commuters in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a congestion management agency, VTA provides bus, light rail and paratransit services. Additionally, it designs, constructs and maintains transit infrastructure. VTA is also a funding partner in regional rail service, including with Caltrain, Capital Corridor and the Altamont Corridor Express.

The BART Silicon Valley Extension, the largest project in the agency’s history, is being delivered through a partnership between VTA and its future operator, BART. As project sponsor, VTA is funding, designing and building the project, all to BART facility standards. The $2.3-billion, 10-mile Phase I of the project completed in 2020, delivering service between Fremont and San Jose. Phase II will start construction in 2024 with completion scheduled for 2033. When complete, the agency will own all the infrastructure and BART will operate the heavy rail system.

Phase I project

The $2.3-billion Phase I project was completed in 2020.
Photo courtesy of Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority

On the Forefront

Carolyn Gonot, general manager and CEO of VTA, says Phase II of the BART Silicon Valley project symbolizes the authority’s willingness to apply cutting-edge approaches to transportation challenges. “We want to be on the forefront,” she says. “We looked at the single bore option to understand why other agencies hadn’t attempted it. We found that most of it was the fear of risk as a public agency. But we saw other risks that we could avoid, like utility relocation. Our board was willing to take that risk and bring in 21st-century tunneling technology.”

The authority’s innovative approach needed to be met with interest from the construction community to take on such a unique megaproject. Although VTA originally considered using a design-build method for the five-mile tunneling portion of the project, feedback from the industry was mixed. The team ultimately chose to let the project under a progressive design-build project—the largest project of its kind to use that method.

“We want to be on the forefront.”
—Carolyn Gonot, General Manager and CEO, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority

In May, a $235-million contract package for the tunnel and trackwork was awarded to Kiewit Shea Traylor, a joint venture of Kiewit Corp., JF Shea Construction and Traylor Bros. Matt Scott, managing partner of the KST joint venture, says the use of progressive design-build helps reduce some risk for the construction team, encouraging it to be more innovative in design and construction without sacrificing quality, price or schedule.

“The procurement that VTA used for this huge project is one of the most forward-thinking paths I’ve seen any client take,” he says. “They considered the industry, the community and BART to put together a procurement that the industry would bid on, that VTA could administer and that the community and BART would accept. VTA’s willingness to listen to the marketplace and their partners will change the outcome and make this project overall very successful.”

In addition to the KST joint venture, the project team includes a joint venture of Mott McDonald and PGH Wong Engineering providing general engineering services and a joint venture of WSP USA and HNTB providing program management services.

The tunneling and trackwork package is one of four on the project. Three additional packages are scheduled to be awarded next year, according to VTA, including a systems package, station construction and a new railyard and maintenance facilities. The entire Phase II project is expected to complete in 2033.

BART Silicon Valley line

Phase II will add four new stations to the BART Silicon Valley line, including one in downtown San Jose.
Rendering courtesy of Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority

Reaping Results

Although early in Phase II, the team’s approach is already paying off. While the original procurement didn’t anticipate it, Scott says the team added a six-month “innovation period” to work through budget issues, schedule concerns and BART requirements early in the process.

During that time, the team decided to expand the tunnel size to just over 53 ft in diameter, allowing a side-by-side trackway with a center platform, rather than vertically stacked stations. Mid-tunnel facilities in the original design were eliminated. One of the stations, which will be awarded under a separate procurement, called for cut and cover trench construction. KST was able to include that portion of work under its tunneling contract, eliminating the need for large open trench work.

“The beauty of progressive design-build is it gives us a chance to work together with the contractor to bring better definition, improvements and innovations into the project early before we really pin it down to a lump sum fixed price,” says Gary Griggs, chief BART Silicon Valley program officer.

Sarah Hersom, program manager with the WSP and HNTB joint venture, says her team started work on Phase II while Phase I was still under construction. The team was able to leverage lessons learned from the first phase when developing the program for Phase II. “We were building off all the experiences of Phase I, especially as it got into the testing and commissioning phase,” she says. “It allowed our team on Phase II to set processes and organization in place early on with the end in mind.”

Part of that effort was the program manager’s partnership with both VTA and BART. “There’s a core team focused on BART engagement,” she says. “We have BART staff integrated with the project team, thinking about the end stages of the project early on.”

Phase II

Phase II will include a five-mile-long tunnel underneath San Jose with underground access at two stations.

Developing Solutions

Although the BART project is the largest in the authority’s history, VTA is actively engaged in numerous other transportation projects. VTA’s Transit Capital Program is comprised of nearly 70 projects, covering a wide range of assets. The cost to complete all projects in the program is estimated to be about $800 million. The largest of these projects is the Eastridge to BART Regional Connector project that is the lone light rail transit extension project with a total cost estimate of a little over $500 million, making it the second-largest individual capital project under development by VTA.

Griggs, a former executive at Parsons Brinckerhoff with international transit experience, has worked with VTA on projects in the past. When offered the opportunity to work on Phase II eight months ago, Griggs joined the VTA staff. Although he spent his entire career in the private sector, including 25 years with Parsons Brinckerhoff, Griggs says he welcomed the chance to be part of an innovative team working on a once-in-a-lifetime project. “I’ve spent my whole career trying to foster public transportation,” he says. “Transit is in my blood, so any chance I have to take on a project like this, I’ll jump at it.”