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August 21, 2012 > BART Oakland Airport Connector, a work in progress

BART Oakland Airport Connector, a work in progress

By Annie Yu

BART is currently in the process of constructing the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) for passengers wanting fast, reliable transportation to and from the Coliseum/Oakland Airport station and Oakland International Airport. Although currently AirBART shuttle is available, its travel and wait times are unstable due to unpredictable traffic congestion and large crowds on busy Coliseum event days.

The 3.2-mile-long OAC will replace the AirBART system with an automated train, elevated above normal traffic on Hegenberger Road. Passengers will be able to exit BART trains at the Coliseum/Oakland Airport station, walk upstairs and pass through a fare gate to catch the connector which will leave every four to five minutes and arrive within eight and a half minutes at the Oakland Airport. The Automated Guideway Transit system will include stations at the current Coliseum/Oakland Airport BART station and the other at the Oakland airport, with room for future construction of a stop near Doolittle Drive. Passengers leaving the airport board the connector and pass through a fare gate after they arrive at the Coliseum/Oakland airport BART station.

OAC project manager Tom Dunscombe estimates that the one-way OAC fare will be $4-$6. "It's certainly a good amount of money, but it's not an everyday commute," he said. "So when you compare it to any other way to get to the airport, whether it's taking a cab or driving and paying for [daily] parking, it's going to be a lot less."

The OAC concept has been explored since the 1970's but construction has been difficult to start. "Any of these big transit projects kind of take a minor miracle to happen," Dunscombe said. "The business and the local community really needs to feel like it's time and be behind it."

The BART board adopted the project in March 2002 and awarded a contract in the fall of 2010. Construction began that November with soil investigations and the demolition of a BART-owned building for future OAC facilities. In 2011, the construction team conducted utility relocation work and began construction of a maintenance and storage facility, the OAC BART station and guideway foundation. They also began reconfiguration of Hegenberger Road for the guideway foundation and column structures.

This year the team has done more guideway foundation and column construction as well as road reconfiguration. They are also currently working on building both stations, the maintenance facility, and tunnel and subway structures. The first 1,200 feet of the steel, six-mile-long guideway has already been placed on top of the columns.

The team still has a lot of work to do on the vehicles, cables, central control room and equipment that will run the vehicles in an automated fashion. Much of the electrical, mechanical and system components are being designed and fabricated now. The team must also prepare for a safety certification process by the California Public Utilities Commission before opening for service in 2014.

The $484 million project went through a financial crisis in 2010 when federal transportation officials revoked $70 million of funding, saying that BART had failed to comply with proper procedures under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. However, Dunscombe says the flaws were in BART's overall work and not in the OAC plan. "They used the deficiencies that BART claimed to have as a way of taking funding from the project," he said. "It was a highly unusual move... we [had] very close coordination with the FTA and it was a pretty stunning thing."

Now, $378.4 million of funding is from private, local, state and federal grants; the other $105.7 million from debt; BART will issue bonds.

The OAC has created jobs for local people, should increase BART ridership and contribute to growth at the Oakland airport. According to BART spokesman Jim Allison, about 800,000 passengers a year use AirBART. The OAC will have a much greater capacity; 3.2 million passengers annually.

Dunscombe says he is excited about the OAC because he believes in transit. "I think what we should be doing is connecting our urban core centers with our major destinations," he said. "We want to provide that opportunity [to] give the people like myself... every opportunity to leave our cars at home and get to these major destinations in a convenient way that, hopefully, will save them money and be a real asset to the Bay Area's transit system."

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