On the eve of another significant vote to proceed with the contract to build the controversial Oakland Airport Connector, BART and project supporters received a positive indication from Federal Transit Administration (FTA) head Peter Rogoff of his agency’s commitment to give BART $25 million in New Starts funds for the project, a necessary step to close the funding gap resulting from the loss of $70 million in stimulus funds earlier this year.
BART staff had been scrambling to replace the $70 million denied to the agency for failure to adequately analyze the federal Title VI civil rights impacts of the OAC. Without the $25 million, BART would have had to proceed by borrowing more and increasing its already significant debt load on the airport connector.
In the letter [pdf], Rogoff reaffirmed to BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger that the FTA had set aside $24.9 million and would “process a grant after determining that BART has adequately addressed all of the Title VI deficiencies for the OAC Project. The grant will include conditions that allow BART to draw down the funds upon BART’s demonstration of completion of the Title VI Corrective Action Plan that was approved by the FTA on April 16, 2010.”
BART called a special meeting of its Board of Directors for today to address the looming contractual deadline with the Parsons/Flatiron team, who won’t delay the bid beyond September 21st, two days before the next regularly scheduled board meeting.
Board action is required before proceeding because Vice President Bob Franklin in July added conditions to a motion to proceed that required any change in funding to come back before the board of directors. Specifically, Franklin was concerned about the $25 million in New Starts money, $39 million from an airport passenger surcharge to be levied by the Port of Oakland, which runs the Oakland International Airport, and a $20 million state funding swap still to be authorized by the California Transportation Commission. The CTC has agendized the swap and plans to vote on the matter at its September 22nd meeting, the day after the Parsons/Flatiron deadline.
Franklin told Streetsblog, given the lopsided votes in favor of the project in the past, he believed the directors would vote to move forward with the project despite the funding gaps today. He said he would act to put in as many safeguards as possible and noted that if directors voted to proceed and the contractors started hiring, it will be that much more expensive to terminate the contract in the future should BART not secure federal loans or should the Port money not come through.
“I will see what I can do. I obviously don’t want to put the public money at risk. I will see if we can somehow add more protections,” he said.