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."

  • patrick

    BART sounds like a Scooby Doo villain… “I would’ve gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids.”

  • bring on Sven!

  • @ John Murphy – why do you hate jobs?

  • @mikesonn Why do I hate Jobs? Because I’m a PC and Windows 7 was my idea!

  • shanan

    Can anyone articulate what the core opposition to the project was? Was it that it was a wasteful use of 500M dollars? Was it that BART is disproportionately over-funded compared to other regional transit operators?

  • Ben

    @john that was one of the nerdiest comments i have read in a while, thank you 😉

  • @John Murphy – classic.

  • patrick

    @shanan

    There were several different reasons

    The reason it’s had federal money revoked was due to violations of civil rights laws, basically it was screwing poor people for the advantage of those better off.

    It was also a very flawed project from a transportation perspective: It cost $500 million, provided pretty much the same trip time, doubled the ticket price, and would have had no more ridership (and if BART’s history of overestimating ridership came true again it would have actually significantly reduced ridership).

    There were alternatives proposed that would have addressed both the civil rights issues, as well as the transportation issues, but BART & the MTC refused to accept the proposed alternatives.

    The issue of MTC favoring BART over all other transportation providers is a separate issue that wasn’t specifically why so many people were opposed to the OAC project.

  • mcas

    @shanan: The project was stupid and a waste of money. And, the reason they didn’t do a Title VI analysis is because they know this project disproportionately affects the suspect classes in East Oakland– and fails to provide them any positives, since there would be *no stops* between Coliseum and Airport flying 3.5 miles overhead (brown and black) people’s houses and communities…

    So, it’s a big, dumb project that is racist. Unfortunately, the legal action was the only way for activists to stop it…

  • patrick

    here’s a link to a pretty thorough description of how the OAC went from a reasonably priced and beneficial project in 2000 to a horribly overpriced and worthless project in 2010:

    http://transbayblog.com/2009/07/21/disconnect-the-connector/

  • Andy Chow

    I called this karma. Two years ago, MTC and BART engineered a deal to steal funds from Dumbarton Rail to Warm Springs. These agencies need an awakening and they deserve this.

  • Alan from Berkeley

    Let’s also remember that just “completing” the required Title VI analysis doesn’t get BART off the hook. BART’s dirty little secret: had they done what they were required to (but deliberately chose not to), it would have revealed serious impacts that could only be mitigated by building the alternative BRT project — which by the way is faster, lower-fare, way cheaper and actually serves its local community with at least one intermediate stop.

    It may have been no coincidence that the FTA gave the other potential East Bay BRT project (center cities of San Leandro, Oakland and Berkeley) the only High rating among 35 projects nationwide to receive 2011 funding under Small Starts. The implied message: “Coulda been you, BART.”

    Time to change OAC to HOC, as in House of Cards.

  • Hey guy’s, I think I heard the Central Subway’s pretty racist too. Heard it’s not too fond of some particular ethnic minority. Let’s go take its money, too!

    Aw shucks, it’s too late, isn’t it… :-/

  • “There have been too many years of planning to just give up now.”

    This statement from the BART spokesperson is very telling. It means the OAC has gone from mega-project to white-elephant status.

    In other words, the original rationale for the project is gone — the only reason to continue now is because they’ve wasted so much time/money on it.

    This cancelation also needs to be put into context:
    OAC was planned back in the 1990s along with a whole bunch of airport expansion projects. Back then, air travel in the Bay Area airports was “projected” to increase enormously. Hence, we got plans for new runways, terminals, BART connectors, expressways, parking garages, etc. Some of those projects (regrettably) were built, but most were shelved once it became apparent that late 1990’s air travel projects were way off.

  • Sven

    And, here we go again… It has been a week since FTA Administrator Rogoff, a former senior staffer for our own beloved Senator from Oakland (look it up, it surprised me, too), sent his letter rejecting $70M of stimulus money for the Oakland Airport Connector based on a Civil Rights complaint by Public Advocates.

    Things that are clear —

    Project opponents, who have unsuccessfully opposed construction of the project for years, killed the project in the name of Civil Rights.

    All of the major Civil Rights advocates in Oakland SUPPORT the project.

    Death of the the OAC will take with it thousands of construction jobs in Oakland, where unemployment is 18% and construction unemployment is 30%.

    The $70M in stimulus money that was to go to the project will be spread around the region, including $16M for purchase of new buses. So nearly 25% of the $70M will leave the region. The bus manufacturers in Winnipeg, Canada and Lier, Belgium thank you. They need the jobs.

    All of the buses to be purchased will consume carbon-based fuel. OAC was pollution-free.

    The other 3/4 of the money will be spread around the region for miscellaneous maintenance and facilities improvements.

    MUNI will get $17M to rebuild LRV boogies and preventative maintenance. At about the same time, MUNI unions defeated a requested change to work rules that would have save MUNI $15M. It appears they got the message. Because of Public Advocates and Transform, they didn’t have to make any concessions. The MUNI unions thank you.

    Other money will be distributed to provide transit assistance to low-income suburbs Marin and Sonoma Counties. The poor folks in Mill Valley, Tiburon, and Sausalito thank you.

    $25M of TIGER funds that were headed to the Bay Area will go somewhere else, and create jobs there. The folks in Honolulu, LA, Chicago, or where ever thank you.

  • Carwil

    @Sven

    Hmm… where does all the money for the OAC come from…

    “There are several other sources of funding: Measure B ($89 million distributed by ACTIA), the State Transportation Improvement Program ($21 million), the State-Local Partnership Program ($20 million), bridge tolls ($31 million Regional Measure 1, $78 million Regional Measure 2), reprogrammed BART seismic retrofit funds ($50 million from RM2 and Proposition 1B), the Port of Oakland ($44 million), and the FTA’s Penta-P program ($25 million). If you were doing the math, you know that that even these sources do not cover the entire the cost, so BART will also pursue a TIFIA loan (up to $150 million) to cover the remainder. This puts BART on the hook to pay back the debt with fare revenue.”

    Looks like most of it stays right here, all though the Bay loses $95 million in Federal cash and saves $150 million in future debt. Any reason to suppose that Bay Area cash can’t be spent on things with a lower cost-per-job than the OAC? (And by that I mean less capital costs not lower wages.) Like, say, preventing service cuts in regional transit, or building the RapidBART bus alternative that TransForm has been doing the math on for the past two years?

    And why the hell should each community be held hostage to the “your dollars will go elsewhere” argument that gets thrown around every time a project can no longer be justified on its own merit. Don’t we have a corresponding interest in seeing that turkey-like projects in Denver or Houston or wherever have their money redistributed towards us?

  • Jean Paul

    The civil rights angle is bunk on it’s face: TransForm is comprised of a bunch of white, male, middle-class liberal environmentalists who could not stop OAC on the merits of any practical argument.

    “Civil rights” was the last loophole they had. TransForm lucked into an administration that is overcompensating on race equity issues after years of having the issue ignored by Republicans.

    A perfect, lucky storm.

  • patrick

    Sven, why are construction jobs (most of which would likely not been filled by residents of Oakland) more important than the operator and maintenance jobs that will now be saved?

    Why are the construction unions more important than the Muni union?

    Oh, and by the way, all the MTC & BART have to do is redirect the funds for the OAC to other more valuable projects (like a station at 98th Ave, or the BRT project that is far better than the OAC.

    The contra costa crossover project is creating 200 jobs for $38 million. Repurpose the OAC money for projects like that and you create 2600 jobs. The crossover project will actually result in improved BART service, as opposed to the OAC which would have harmed it and caused fare prices to rise.

    If MTC & BART were too arrogant to have a backup plan in case funding for OAC fell through, then any jobs lost are entirely their fault.

  • Sven

    Patrick,

    In principle, I have nothing against nothing against the MUNI driver and mechanic unions. But in a time of financial crisis in SF, a willingness on the part of the unions to give a little to help solve a serious problem seems short sighted. And I think I read where they will be getting an 8% raise this year.

    What do you have against construction workers? Please don’t say they are “temporary” worker. That is such an ignorant argument!

    “All that MTC & BART have to do is redirect the funds for the OAC to other more valuable projects” Patrick, you must live in a fantasy world. To construct any project takes many years of planning, EISs, public meetings, negotiations with funding partners, etc. Just look how long the East Bay BRT project has been in planning, and it is still years from construction.

  • jaded

    Honestly, I voted for the original project back in 2000. It was going to cost $100M, connect the airport and have a few intermediate stops. Over the course of the past 10 years, the project cost has quintupled, the intermediate stops were eliminated and the final plan doesn’t even consider the Terminal 3 under construction. If you were to hypothetically take the OAC you pay $12 to walk further, walk outside in inclement weather, and not even be close to the Southwest terminal. That is too expensive for little benefit. I live in the middle of Oakland, taking the OAC would cost me approximately $18 round trip. I’d rather take Bayporter or park offsite. LEss walking and less waiting.

    I would rather hold out for a truly seamless project with intermediate stops. If we are spending $500M it better be worth it.

    As for the “thousands of jobs,” BART admitted the actual constucion will create roughly 800 direct jobs. That is nowhere near thousands. We ae better served by improving transit services, and improving transit in our urban core where the ridership exists.

    The Lamorinda people BART mistakenly thinks will take the OAC will probably stay in their cars, and we would have spent $500M for few riders.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Advocates Want Oakland Airport Connector Funds for Transit Operations

|
Image: TransForm With the civil rights imbroglio between BART and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) making news last week, a problem that could imperil $70 million in federal stimulus funds obligated to the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC), advocates are calling on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to give the stimulus money to cash-strapped transit operators […]

Oakland’s Stimulus Flap: A Shot Across the Bow for Transport Equity?

|
The Obama administration’s warning that the Bay Area has jeopardized federal stimulus funding for its Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) project could have national consequences for other urban transit proposals that risk harming low-income riders, civil rights and transit advocates predicted today. The proposed Oakland Airport Connector train. (Photo: BART via Streetsblog SF) Several Bay Area […]

The Oakland Airport Connector: BART’s Little Engine that Could?

|
The fatigue is palpable, but the battle over BART”s Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) is nowhere near its conclusion. That’s the message coming out of yet another marathon hearing today at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the region’s transportation planning body, over the merits of the airport connector, which I would argue has now become the […]