BART Loses More Federal Funding for Oakland Airport Connector Project

OAK_rendering1.jpgImage: BART
As transportation planners and transit agencies around the country celebrated the announcement of the $1.5 billion in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER grants, yesterday, BART received more troubling news that could hurt the feasibility of its planned Oakland Airport Connector (OAC).

After losing $70 million in stimulus funds last week because the agency failed to satisfy the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) minority and equity standards for federal funding, BART lost another $25 million it was expecting from TIGER, money that was important for the agency to secure further federal loans to build the nearly $500 million OAC.

"Basically, it's just devastating," BART spokesperson Luna Salaver said about the OAC developments over the last week. "We had a triple-one project, a shovel ready project, and then it ran into this opposition that was using the Civil Rights Act make the region lose thousands of jobs."

To pay for the OAC project, BART had applied for a federal infrastructure (TIFIA) loan of $150 million, which required them to create a risk fund in case the agency later defaulted. BART anticipated using the $25 million TIGER grant for that risk fund, according to Salaver. The loss now has BART staff  scrambling to find more money or risk losing the loan.

"We're looking at different funding sources, but that is not set in stone," said Salaver. "There have been too many years of planning to just give up now."

Opponents of the OAC had consistently warned BART through letters and in public testimony at board meetings over the last year that the agency was not in compliance with FTA standards, but BART staff remained convinced the project would get federal funds.

"This goes to show you when people look at this project objectively, it doesn't pass muster," said John Knox White of TransForm, one of the organizations that filed the complaint with the FTA over BART's Civil Rights Act Title VI non-compliance.

"BART's lack of compliance with Federal Title VI means that all Federal funding is in jeopardy," said BART Board Director Tom Radulovich, who for years had requested that BART staff develop a thorough equity analysis, only to be rebuffed. "The stimulus funding has the most immediate deadline, but BART won't be eligible for either the Small Starts funding or the TIFIA loan without complying with Title VI."

Another concern weighing on BART staff is that the OAC contract bid will expire on March 22nd if funding is not secured, at which point the project would effectively be dead. What's more, FTA's civil rights review of the agency is not finished, as all of BART's policies and practices continue to be under close scrutiny.

"We're confused why this decision was made on BART," said Salaver. "The rejection of funds is usually a last-resort action, not a first-resort action. It seems that it's a different playing field."