FREMONT -- To the naked eye, the BART tunnel underneath Lake Elizabeth is a claustrophobic mixture of dust, concrete and darkness, but regional leaders say they see something far more significant: a pathway to the future prosperity of Fremont, Silicon Valley and the entire Bay Area.
That vision was the focus of the ceremony Friday that celebrated the subway's completion in Central Park, where hundreds of people toured the tunnel.
Union City Mayor Mark Green noted that completing the project brought BART one step closer to Silicon Valley, where officials hope a station is built by the end of the decade.
"All BART stations are going to be much more valuable, now that they're going into not just San Francisco and Oakland, but also Santa Clara County," he said.
The $137 million Fremont subway project began in August 2009 and took three years to complete. Once the tunnel is in operation, it will take BART trains, traveling at an average speed of just under 70 miles per hour, about 50 seconds to pass through it.
The tunnel is about 1.25 miles long -- more than 20 percent of the 5.4-mile extension between Fremont BART and the Warm Springs/South Fremont station scheduled to open in 2015.
The Warm Springs extension's total budget is $890 million and has been funded by nearly 10 sources, including BART, state and local agencies, and Alameda County's Measure B, which residents approved to continue funding transportation projects through 2022.
The construction of a third Fremont station is proposed in the Irvington district. But officials are especially excited about Warm Springs, which offers 850 acres of available land that they envision as a high-tech hub for research-and-development companies, along with housing and retail.
Fremont Mayor Gus Morrison said the extension into south Fremont has been one of the city's top goals for at least 30 years.
"It's a development that could be the envy of the nation," Morrison said.
City officials want to add to the 35 cleantech companies that already exist in the area, and foresee adding 30,000 new jobs by the year 2040.
"This is the first of many steps in transforming the Warm Springs district into Silicon Valley's innovation hub," Fremont City Manager Fred Diaz said. "The city can connect Silicon Valley with top talent from the Central Valley, East Bay and North Bay."
Doug Tinney, a Fremont resident who was scheduled to take the subway tour, said he and his wife have used BART for nearly 40 years. The project's current construction is running near Tinney's home, creating a 25-foot-high hill of dirt visible from his window. But any inconvenience now will be worth it once a new station is built, improving access to Fremont, Tinney said. "It's one of those trade-offs," he said. "You have to have it."
Once the Warm Springs station opens, BART aims to complete extensions further south to Milpitas and in north San Jose by 2018.
Ken Yeager, chair of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, noted that, with what appears to be an improving economy, the timing is especially good for the project. Plus, bringing BART to Silicon Valley will only help ease the congestion caused by 500,000 vehicle trips a day expected to clog the highways between the East Bay and Santa Clara County by 2025.
"We need to get people out of their cars and build mass transit, so we can continue to attract businesses to this region," Yeager said. "This is a huge, huge step toward making that happen."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.