BART Moves Ahead With OAK Connecter Despite Civil Rights Violations

HegenbergerRd_P1_HRes3000px_small.jpgImage: BART.
Even though BART is not in compliance with the Federal Transportation Administration's (FTA) Title VI civil rights regulations, the agency has sought funding from numerous local, regional, state and federal outlets to continue the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) project, a three-mile elevated tramway that would connect the Oakland Airport with the Oakland Coliseum Station.

Internal documents obtained by Streetsblog (and The Bay Citizen, which reported on the matter this morning) revealed an internal scramble by BART staff and an array of local and state transportation agencies to come up with money to replace the $70 million in stimulus funding the FTA denied BART because of its failure to demonstrate a suitable fare analysis for the OAC project.

While BART staff acknowledged they were working to replace the funding at a board meeting on May 28th, General Manager Dorothy Dugger said there was nothing specific to report to the public or the board, despite a request by TransForm and BART Director Tom Radulovich to reveal in greater detail where staff was seeking funding.

When asked why BART wouldn't release more information about the possible sources, Dugger told Streetsblog, "It is a work in progress. When a full funding plan is developed we'll bring that back to the board for their review and consideration. We're working with funding partners in the region and the state to see if we can identify funding to replace the stimulus funds that were lost."

But according to internal documents dated May 18th, BART worked out an extensive funding plan for the OAC, now with a price tag of $484,136,000, and with numerous scenarios for filling the gap left by the FTA deficit.

Line items in the funding plan include: $10 million from an Alameda County Congestion Management Agency funding swap, $12,801,000 from The Public Transportation Modernization, Improvement, and Service Enhancement Account Program (PTMISEA) created by Proposition 1B, $10 million from the Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority (ACTIA) in another funding swap, $10 million from BART's Capital Bond Reserves and between $10 and $20 million in a funding swap from the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account (CMIA), a regional fund for improvements to the carpool lane network, among other projects.

As for how BART would secure the funding, the documents show BART is looking to take advantage of low construction costs and working with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to free up money from various projects, theoretically banking on the assumption that those costs would remain low enough in the future to make up for the swaps, or convincing other agencies to be liable for cost overruns.

In one email, MTC staffer Kenneth Kao provided very specific language suggestions to help BART convince Caltrans' District 4 boss Bijan Sartipi to approve a $10 million funding swap related to the Mission/I-880 interchange in Fremont as part of the CMIA. Although Kao acknowledged the move would leave a funding gap for the interchange project, he expected the CMIA savings could be used to fill it when needed.

The ACCMA funding swap was based on $15 million CMIA savings from the I-580 carpool lanes, though ACCMA would be responsible for any cost overruns if they should occur in the future. Another potential source of funds was BART's Earthquake Safety Program, from which OAC staff hoped to draw up to $14 million.

Compliance with Title VI

OAC opponents are crying foul over this latest development, arguing it undermines the public process and shows BART is going forward with the project come hell or high water.

"That's the value of public participation," said BART Director Radulovich. "You make your public process transparent, but BART doesn't know how to do that."

"They're presenting something that has a contract already, there is no impacting the project," said TransForm's John Knox White.

According to BART spokesperson Linton Johnson, there is nothing unusual about the funding process, "nothing under the table."

"There are always discussions of the process, but in any funding package, staff does the initial legwork before they present it to the public," he said. "When the opponents say this isn't above board, I'd say this is representative democracy at its best."

OAC opponents also contended that BART hadn't learned anything from the Title VI review. In response to the FTA's concerns, BART has held numerous public meetings in the BART district counties over the past few months, presumably to get public input on BART's civil rights deficiencies.

"Has Title VI changed the way BART does business? As far as we can tell the answer is no," said Radulovich. "It means we have more meetings, meetings where we don't listen to people. Nothing about this process is likely to change thanks to Title VI."

Radulovich also claimed that a growing divide has developed internally among BART staff, with a number of people upset the project is moving forward at the potential expense of improvements such as seismic safety.

"A lot of people inside BART know this is a pig in a poke," he added. "They know it's not going to pan out like its boosters say it's going to work out."

Radulovich contended that the public meetings should be about showing the feds that BART is open to public feedback, but they fail because they aren't taking public input back and significantly altering the project to reflect the public's concerns.

Johnson countered by saying the FTA had only told BART to address its fare analysis on OAC and that the agency was doing as much. There was no requirement for BART to alter the project.

"These public meetings aren't designed for OAC, they are designed to fulfill an FTA requirement on any future project," added Johnson.

BART staff could take the funding plan to its board as early as next week, when the directors meet in a special session.