The Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority is considering asking voters to approve a sales tax that would help secure federal matching funds for a $6 billion expansion of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

The extension, which would be built by the authority and operated by BART, would complete a long-dreamed-of expansion to San Jose, the biggest city in the Bay Area and the heart of Silicon Valley. The proposed route would extend the system’s Fremont line on the east side of the bay by 16 miles, connecting San Jose to the rapid transit system that serves San Francisco and Oakland.

The authority already levies a half-cent sales tax approved in 2000 to help pay for the project, but federal transportation authorities say the county needs more money to pay operating costs for the new transit line and have refused to approve matching funds until funding is identified.

The half-cent levy, passed at the height of the dot-com boom in 2000, has yielded less revenue than projected, according to authority spokeswoman Bernice Alaniz.

“Interest is heightened now with the current attention on the environment and high gas prices,” she said.

The authority’s board will decide Aug. 7 whether to ask voters to pay as much as another quarter cent in sales taxes. The measure would raise up to $80 million a year and require a two-thirds majority to pass. The board is also considering a smaller eighth-cent measure. The tax increase would only go into effect if the agency can attract federal transit funding to help support the project, Alaniz said.

The authority currently has about $356 million of outstanding debt supported by the 2000 sales tax.

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