February 3, 2010 > Metropolitan Transportation Commission votes for Oakland Airport Connector
Metropolitan Transportation Commission votes for Oakland Airport Connector
Submitted By Linton Johnson
The commission for the Bay Area's transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency voted 11 - 5 on January 27 to keep $70M in Stimulus funds with the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) Project. However, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) will revisit the issue at a special February 17 meeting.
Bay Area transit policy experts and community advocacy groups Genesis, TransForm and Urban Habitat, represented by Public Advocates Inc., filed a Title VI Civil Rights administrative complaint with the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) against BART last fall. The complaint cited BART's failure to evaluate whether the half-billion dollar OAC Project would provide low-income and minority communities with a fair share of the project's benefits.
BART officials have assured MTC commissioners they are confident BART will successfully meet the remaining compliance issues the FTA outlined in a January 15 letter. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act governs, in part, how transit agencies reach out to low-income, minority and limited English proficiency communities when making service and fare changes.
"We think the OAC is one of the best regional projects for the Bay Area," said BART Board President James Fang at the MTC meeting. "This project will create jobs and stability in Oakland. I'm confident we'll meet the schedule that MTC has put together and we're going to work very hard with FTA to get this thing done."
"According to our records, we've had no prior Title VI findings or deficiencies in any of the triennial FTA audits of our activities over the past decade," BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger said. "This audit did, however, raise deficiencies and we're now addressing them. We've been engaged actively with FTA headquarters staff over the 7 working days since we received the Administrator's letter. The schedule that MTC staff is recommending is aggressive for all parties. We're committing the time and the resources to meet our schedule."
"We have work to do regarding Title VI and we'll keep working until we've all requirements. At this moment, the project is more than a simple connection to an airport. It's a major infusion of badly needed economic nourishment into a depressed economy. It'll bring us one step closer to a greener Bay Area. It's the chance to place Oakland's airport on a par with other international cities."
OAC does what Stimulus funds are designed for
The OAC project does exactly what Congress asked of Stimulus-funded projects, viz. it will create 2,500 - 5,200 job opportunities for the area, which are of vital importance to the region's economic recovery. These include jobs in the construction, electrical, steel fabrication and other building trades experiencing unemployment rates in excess of 30 percent. It will leave a legacy transit connection that will carry thousands of daily riders to the Oakland regional airport, punctually and without pollution and traffic congestion. The project will significantly enhance the airport's national prestige as one of the few in the country with a coveted world-class, transit connection, which will allow the airport to attract businesses that will help drive the East Bay's future economic growth.
"The OAC makes Oakland a much more attractive option and puts Oakland on an equal footing with SFO," said BART Board Member Joel Keller. "Now business travelers think of SFO as the airport that serves San Francisco; soon Oakland will be seen as the airport that serves the rest of the Bay Area. That's for the long-run. The short-run, this project provides thousands of job opportunities."
Widespread support for the Connector Project
On January 20, BART officials responded to the FTA's Title VI letter and announced their commitment to meet FTA requirements. A broad coalition of advocates joined BART officials to voice their support for the project.
"We support the project because it will improve Oakland Airport's service and competitiveness, stimulate the economy by creating local jobs and local economic benefits and improve the environment by reducing the number of cars and busses on the road," said Omar Benjamin, Executive Director of the Port of Oakland, one of more than a dozen representatives who spoke.
"25 - 30 percent of our members are unemployed," said Andreas Cluver, Secretary-Treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County which represents more than 40,000 union workers. "This project is an opportunity for them to return to work and save their homes and communities, which are at risk. This project also has a landmark Project-Labor Agreement containing strong local hire language and funding, which will provide opportunities for many disadvantaged residents to get into the trades."
A quarter of the construction work will go to Oakland residents and there will be job-training programs to create opportunities for under-skilled workers.
Over the past decade, BART has worked diligently with the FTA to meet all its requirements and as a result, the FTA has approved numerous actions to move this project forward. As recently as December 2009, the FTA informed BART it had approved the project for what's called "pre-award" authority to continue advancing the project. It also invited BART to complete the steps to secure the award of $25M in federal New Starts funding and of $70M in Stimulus funds.
The MTC, BART Board of Directors, Oakland City Council and Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners have consistently voted in support of the project. All are comprised of, or appointed by, locally-elected officials who seek out and represent the interests of the region's residents and diverse communities. Furthermore, the OAC project continues to enjoy strong support from many other local business organizations, trade unions and community and citizen groups around the Bay Area.
Project cost $60M less than expected
The total cost of the project is $492M which is $60M less than the $552M BART estimated in April 2009. A competitive bidding environment led to lower-than-projected costs.
For more information, visit www.bart.gov
Construction begins in mid-2010; 3.5 years to complete
Creates up to 5,200 job opportunities
8 min 12 sec travel time between Coliseum BART & Oakland Airport