Mountain View's vision of a futuristic transit system to ferry tech employees to and from work is getting canned, at least for now, after City Council members voted Tuesday to defer the item indefinitely.
The city has studied building an Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) system for more than a decade as a solution to its traffic woes, the most likely candidate being some kind of elevated track connected to the downtown transit station. But the idea has been criticized for being outrageously expensive and unrealistic, and in recent years has been put on the backburner.
Another $850,000 study of AGT got delayed twice in 2020, and is now officially mothballed. In voting on the city's priorities through June 2022, council members largely agreed at the April 27 council meeting to nix AGT entirely from the city's work plan.
AGT was one of several items on the chopping block at the meeting, as council members sought to pare back an increasingly long list of priorities for the upcoming year. Also getting deferred is the city's soft story seismic retrofit program, which cost more than expected, and a citywide program to reduce the use of gas-powered leaf blowers and other landscaping equipment.
Previously described as a "pod car" system or personal rapid transit, AGT had been championed by former council members Mike Kasperzak and, more recently, John McAlister. But with McAlister now termed out of council, the project didn't have any vocal fans ready to defend the pricey endeavor. Studies have found the project could cost over $70 million per mile to construct, and the city has yet to find a way to pay for it.
Though AGT won strong support from the largest employer in the area, Google, no one came up to bat for it at the Tuesday meeting. Resident Albert Jeans encouraged council members to give up on AGT entirely because of how infeasible it is — even a single straight shot from the Mountain View Caltrain station to Google's headquarters would cost $300 million. It might make sense for a large city like San Francisco or San Jose, he said, but it's not clear how Mountain View benefits from such a huge project.
"This is too big and too expensive for a city of our size," he said.
Councilwoman Alison Hicks said there are plenty of transit alternatives that the city can support in the interim, and recommended taking a cautious approach to a large undertaking like AGT until the city better understands traffic patterns after the COVID-19 pandemic and work-from-home restrictions.
Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga said she was fine discontinuing work on AGT for a couple of years, and that there are new regional projects on the horizon -- including a reimagining of light rail -- that might make a bigger difference.
"I'd like to see where those go and how we might be able to connect to those types of projects rather than spending $1 million of our own money on the next phase of this study," Abe-Koga said.
Skepticism has been a major hurdle for AGT for years. In 2019, the proposal to pursue a second study on the project narrowly squeaked by on a 4-3 vote. Two of those votes in support, former councilmen McAlister and Chris Clark, have since termed out of office.
Though the City Council was quick to dump AGT on Tuesday night, council members did make a push for new priorities in its place. The city will be testing the waters on a ballot measure for a hotel tax hike, along with new zoning plans for properties along the Moffett Boulevard corridor. The laundry list of new priorities will be approved at the upcoming June 22 council meeting.