Advocates Upset Stim Money Could Still Fund Oakland Airport Connector

Air_BART.jpgHow will you get to the Oakland Airport in 5 years?

The debate over how to spend the federal transportation stimulus money at the regional level is heating up and may boil over tomorrow morning at the next Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) meeting. 

As we reported here two weeks ago, the nine-county Bay Area will get nearly half a billion in stimulus funds for transportation.  MTC staff originally proposed spending much of it on rehabilitation and operations, with $145 million for two capital expansion projects, the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) and the Transbay Terminal train box.

Now that the final stimulus numbers are in from Washington, with transit funds lower than expected and high-speed rail money much higher than expected, MTC staff has scrapped the proposal to build the train box from the formula funds. 

Transit and social justice advocates are concerned, however, that OAC is still on the table. They argue that it is not a good use of funds, and that the $70 million dollars proposed by MTC should go instead to transit operations.  Genesis, a local affiliate of the Gamaliel Foundation, will hold a rally and press conference before the Wednesday meeting to decry the proposal, calling it a moral issue that deprives AC Transit bus riders of service and threatens fare increases.

AC Transit, for its part, admitted that the stimulus money would be helpful for combating the $57 million budget deficit it expects to run by end of 2010, but said that the agency has been considering fare increases and service cuts since spring of 2008, well before the stimulus package was a reality. 

"The more money we get to close the budget gap, the less severe the consequences will be," said AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson.  "It’s not a matter of any one source of money completely satisfying our needs, but every nickel counts."

Given current transit operator funding ratios, AC Transit’s share of
the the $70 million proposed for the OAC would amount to less than 2
percent of its total budget.  Transform provides the overall breakdown:

  • AC Transit – $6.65 million
  • BART – $16.94 million
  • CalTrain – $2.66 million
  • GG Transit – $2.45 million
  • Muni – $17.43 million
  • Sam Trans – $2.03 million
  • VTA – $12.25 million
  • Small Operators – $9.8 million

MTC spokesperson Randy Rentschler argued that it’s a policy choice, but not a moral one.  "To a certain extent, we need to be grateful to have this argument.  The federal stimulus money is a one-time deal we weren’t expecting a couple months ago and the challenge is how much we put into current consumption and how much we put into the future.  We’re borrowing from our kids, so how much do we want to leave to our kids."

Carli Paine of Transform suggested that the current elevated train option for OAC is not the most cost-effective way to spend the stimulus funds and said that the MTC should "step back and look at the alternatives," adding the current proposal is "not a good use of funds, not good governance."  Paine suggested the MTC revisit at-grade BRT options for the connector that would do better at opening the Hegenberger corridor with access to all the points of interest between BART and the airport.

In the long run, Paine admitted, the fiscal stimulus spending debate shouldn’t distract from the pressing need to reestablish the State Transit Assistance (STA) program so that municipalities across the state can rely on steady funding.  She said Transform recently opened an office in Sacramento for that purpose with a goal of building a new alliance of groups to join in the effort to develop long-term solutions to fund public transportation.

Wednesday’s MTC general meeting will start at 10:00 am at 101 Eighth Street in Oakland, above the Lake Merritt BART Station.  Genesis will hold its press conference immediately before the meeting, at 9:30 am.

Flickr photo: isaacgertman

  • theo

    The point of the Oakland airport connector is to save the airport, which is struggling and losing carriers to SFO. The biggest problem with OAK is poor transit connectivity.

    If something isn’t built soon, the slow decline of OAK will cost the port of Oakland a lot more than not building the connector will save AC transit.

    I don’t understand this “BRT proposal.”

    AirBART is already non-stop service between BART and the airport, and there’s rarely traffic in the airport area. Yet it’s still slow, uncomfortable, and unreliable.

    Is the plan to add more stops to AirBART and maybe add some signal priority to offset the delay? Sounds pointless.

    If you’re going to fix AirBART, forget about BRT. Just add a boarding zone across San Leandro from the BART station, connected via the existing pedestrian overpass and a bus turn-around on one of the industrial lots just north of the station. This would allow AirBART to use Hegenberger the entire way, shortening the trip and eliminating the sickening roller-coaster weaving.

    I still don’t think that would change people’s opinions about OAK.

    Just build the tram.

  • bikerider

    Theo: you don’t understand the “BRT proposal”, but made up your mind against it anyway?

    The BRT proposal is for exclusive transit-only lanes with signal prioritization. In terms of door-door travel time, it is actually as fast (if not faster) than the 1/2 BILLION PeopleMover(tm) because it drops passengers directly where they need to go (i.e. front entrance of the terminals, rental areas, etc).

    Incidentally, Rentschler’s comments (as usual) are appalling. The higher operating and depreciation costs of the PeopleMover precludes considering this as any kind of infrastructure “investment”. More properly should be termed “liability”.

  • theo

    bikerider: I think you misunderstood me.

    I was unclear about the BRT proposal because it really seems worse than the no-build alternative. It adds extra stops to the existing slow bus service. I don’t see how signal prioritization and exclusive lanes (on a nearly empty expressway) would make up for that.

    I’m also skeptical that an electric PeopleMover with no operator will have higher operating costs than a diesel shuttle bus fleet with drivers. And that depreciation is a problem — a public private partnership should be able to deduct it from taxes, and wear from the BRT buses would also depreciate the value of Hegenberger Rd.

    Well, it passed anyway. So Oakland will have a first class airport connector to a third class airport. I for one will be more likely to use OAK once it’s built.