BART staff has announced the selection of the Parsons/Flatiron development team for the construction of its Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) and will ask its board today to approve the $492 million dollar contract to build the 3.2–mile elevated people mover. Due to the recession and lower construction costs, the OAC proposal comes in at $60 million less than BART had originally assumed it would cost when federal stimulus funds jump started the then-defunct project early this year.
The elevated people mover will be built by Parsons/Flatiron with technology from Doppelmayr Cable Car, a Swiss/Austrian company known for manufacturing chair lifts and ropeways. The proposal would build a pinched-loop system, where all cars move together in a loop along elevated trussways instead of the taller guideways used in the San Francisco Airport extension and other airport people movers like Newark and John F. Kennedy Airports.
TransForm, a long-time opponent of the more expensive fixed-guideway OAC, will continue to protest spending so much money for a system that could cost double the current fare of $3 on the AirBART bus system. TransForm and other advocacy groups will be present at the meeting this morning to ask BART’s board to reconsider a surface-level Bus Rapid Transit system, which they argue was never considered seriously alongside the current proposal.
BART spokesperson Linton Johnson said his agency had already considered a rapid-bus proposal similar to TransForm’s: "A rapid bus proposal was studied as part of the environmental documents and did not meet all the needs of the community and the purpose of the proposal."
Johnson added, "TransForm’s proposal keeps morphing. They make it up as they go along."
A number of other questions raised by advocates and by political leaders from Oakland remain unanswered, including whether or not BART will ever build intermediate stations. In the Parsons proposal, a Doolittle Maintenance and Storage Facility will be constructed at Hegenberger and Doolittle, with the expectation that the station could become a full station sometime in the future.
How much the fare will be for the new service (estimates are $5-6 each direction, though the board will ultimately decide that once the system is constructed) and whether BART will have to dip into core system revenue to maintain a lower fare, as advocates and Oakland political leaders demand.
BART is still seeking a $150 million TIFIA loan from Washington DC and will use the money to cover any cash flow issues, even though it will likely be significantly more than needed if construction costs remain as low as the bid price. It’s still uncertain whether the balance of this money would be used for construction of the Doolittle Station or whether BART would return it to lower debt obligations.
Late Update: TransForm’s John Knox White responded to BART’s comments,
TransForm’s position is the one thing in this process that has remained steady: BART needs to provide accurate information about a terribly slow project that is using massive amounts of public funding and possible alternatives. It should have been BART staff, not community advocates, who released key information about this project. Instead, we had seven months of spin from BART until the final minutes before the vote, when they corroborated our information regarding fares, ridership etc.