The Oakland Airport Connector project received a rather rude wake-up call from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in a letter dated January 15th where both BART and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) were advised that funding was in jeopardy. The FTA had received a complaint filed by Public Advocates, Inc. on behalf of Urban Habitat, TransForm and Genesis that the OAC project was not compliant with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The FTA decided to review the project taking into account the issues raised in the complaint which included: degradation of existing bus service along the Hegenberger Corridor, impact on persons of color and low income in favor of wealthier airport users, the astonishingly high cost for the new service at $6.00 one way, the complete lack of any intermediate stops, the fact that Alameda County voters approved a Measure B in 2000 that supported the connector at a fare of $2.00 and a cost of $130 million (it’s now $500 million) and included two intermediate stops, and that alternate modes such as Bus Rapid Transit were not only not studied but actively and willfully squashed by BART.
This last item is perhaps the most troubling. California Public Records Act requests from TransForm revealed that a report regarding the bus alternative was sent to the four qualifying OAC bidders by Thomas Dunscombe (OAC project manager) with a desire “put holes in” the bus alternative. He went on to say “that another delay by the Board and we are practically dead.”
The FTA took all this into account and sent a strongly worded letter to both BART and the MTC. This letter said that they were not in compliance with Title VI, there was no time left to be in compliance and that not only would the Bay Area be in jeopardy of losing $25 million in New Starts” funding, but could also lose some $70 million in ARRA funding that would then go to another region.
The FTA noted that BART failed to document four key areas: 1) A policy for what constitutes a major service change 2) Impacts of a Major Service Change 3) An analysis of remaining alternative modes including travel time and cost and 4) Documented evidence of the steps taken to seek out minority and low-income populations regarding service changes.
Under the rules of the ARRA grant procedure, BART has until March 5, 2010 to satisfy the above issues. The FTA warns that “If BART were to fail in any respect … to meet its deadlines… the FTA would have to de-obligate the ARRA funds… and would be prohibited by law from re-obligating those funds to projects in the San Francisco Bay Area.” (Italics courtesy of the FTA).
In short the MTC is being told in no uncertain terms that it may lose $70 million in ARRA funds if it continues to try and support the OAC. BART held a press conference and tried to put a happy spin on things, by rounding up supporters and claiming the issues with the FTA were “minor.” BART went on to say they were pulling out the big guns (Diane Feinstein and the like) to put backroom pressure on the FTA.
The MTC meeting on January 27th in Oakland will be pivotal. There the MTC will have to decide if it will continue to support the controversial OAC at the risk of losing $70 million in funding. Opponents of the OAC will be out in force once again arguing that the $70 million could be applied to prop up existing transit and not wasted on shiny but useless new projects.
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