BART Selects Parsons Transportation Team for Oakland Airport Connector

HegenbergerRd_P1_HRes3000px_small.jpgImage: BART

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 3.2mile 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.

  • Dave

    A pinched-loop system? Won’t that be really slow? And that kind of system requires that the intermediate station be EXACTLY in the middle, between the two “end” stations, since all the cars have to move and stop at once (the eastbound and westbound cars need to reach it at the same time.) Is that the situation, the Doolittle stop is exactly in the center?

    Maybe there’s something about this technology I’m missing. I suppose if it all works it would be very quiet and fairly efficient. Seems like it would require major downtime every so often to replace the cables or whatever.

  • This project gets worse the more you hear about it. I think someone has their hand in some of the MTA/BART board memembers’ pockets. There is NO other reason for this to be pushed through so fast and without looking at cheaper, BETTER options. Someone is pulling favors or paying someone off. I think the next step should be to look into all possible links between the contractors and the board. Anyone touching money in this project needs to be thoroughly checked out.

  • How can BART claim the rapid bus proposal keeps “morphing,” when BART’s own conception of this project has changed so dramatically? BART continues to claim, falsely, that the current OAC will perform exactly as promised in its 2002 EIR. But that document reviewed a substantially different (and better) project than the project that’s now on the table.

    Re: BART already studying a rapid bus project — although the 2002 document did consider an upgraded bus alternative, that alternative was not the same as TransForm’s, because it did not include any intermediate station. Yet it was compared to a fast Connector that drew significant ridership from two intermediate stations. BART has not conducted a valid study that fairly compares the current Connector to the better rapid bus proposal.

  • transbay , I have missed your updates. Hopefully you will have more time available soon.

  • ZA

    So a cable-car system should be cheap to operate, but also a breakdown on any one part of it may impact the entire system while trying to address it.

    It might be a lot cheaper for all concerned if they improved the existing bus connector with: new buses, better signage, nicer waiting areas (and Bus ETA/ETD information), better ticketing (mostly an information problem, again), and separated road space – including dedicated overpasses where necessary. A lot of this can be done with a new Airport Connector wing to the Coliseum station.

  • mikesonn: my apologies, I didn’t intend to neglect it for so long, but something or other keeps cropping up. Thanks for your note.

  • Hahahaha the video shows the trains zooming past cars! If the OAC’s top speed is 27mph, how fast are those cars going? 10-15mph?

  • SFResident

    How is this thing happening? It’s such a bad idea. I’m with mikesonn, there’s gotta be corruption. The people running BART can’t be *that* incompetent, can they?

  • transbay, totally understand. It is a busy world. You always have really in depth analysis so it’s nice to hear your point of view.

  • ZA, you’re worries about a cable system breaking down are unwarranted. Any fixed link transit line that is 7 km long would encounter the exact same problem, whether it be cable, streetcar, light rail or subway. Even BRT would have issues dealing with that. If you look, however at the Pearson Link facility, you see availability levels of above 98%. If you’d like to learna bit more about Cable Propelled Transit, check out

  • I’ve been studying monorails for over 20 years. Take it from me, there are numerous monorail builders that could build this line for a LOT less than $492 million. But then again, this is a porkulus project and the powers that be aren’t really that interested in doing the job for less.

    Kim Pedersen
    The Monorail Society

  • If people want to stick it to the Obama administration, they can put this expensive, stupid-ass project on the front page of every mail piece and kick the shit out of the stimulus program. What the fuck is wrong with the BART board these days that they can’t seem to handle spending money properly. Why don’t they just light the system on fire and burn it down, with the way they’re screwing up. This is worse than the Central Subway epic failure Muni is shepherding through the federal trough.

  • Dick Falkenbury

    The price of this three mile project is truly mind-boggling. Let us examine the project quickly; the trick is to count up the parts and divide into three million dollars.

    –There is a column every one hundred feet; in three miles, there should be about one hunded and eighty columns.

    –Bridging each pair of cloumns are two steel trusses of a not-particularly-difficult design.

    –There will be less than ten trains, with no engines, guidance (it’s not like they can be guided OFF of the track) and even no brakes. (That means the trains are little more than very long elevators, with seats.)

    –There are two very simple stations and a storage yard (again, since the trains have no engines, brakes or steering, maintenance should be pretty easy).

    The columns are all the same. They are using the same forms, the same holes, the same labor: they shouldn’t cost more than ten thousand. They really should cost a few thousand. My math isn’t too good but figure out the volume in square yards of a twenty foot tall, three foot in diameter cylinder and then double it for the footing. Multiply the square yards by $250 and you should have the cost of a single column. But lets stick with ten thousand dollars per stick and multiply by one hundred and eighty–the number of columns–and you get $180 million.

    Most–ninety percent–of the truss spans are the same. If you use already designed and engineered trusses (and they exist somewhere, trust me) and these would cost less than ten thousand for the pair or you call for new design and engineering–and they still cost ten thousand for the pair. Either way, you are in for another $180 million.

    The cars are big boxes with windows and seats. You can get a city bus for a million; but if you just want the ‘box’ without an engine, brakes, big road tires and steering–the box with seats–you can get it for a hundred thousand apiece. (This is probably where you are getting hosed.)

    Finally, the stations should not even be an item for the taxpayers. Have McDonald’s build one and Burger King build the other. Unless you just like getting the shaft.

    Actually, if you really want to save money, do what the federal government did in the building of the transcontinental railroad: give two companies the contract to put up the track and the columns. Whichever one puts up the most columns, at the least price per columns and still meets all standards, they get either a huge bonus or the revenue from the operations.

    Or better, let someone who is qualified build the whole thing on their dime and they get the revenue, the money from operating the station restaurants, the ground level retail at the Oakland terminal and all advertising money on the printed tickets, posts and rails. Or doesn’t anyone on the BART board have the guts to take a shot at this?

  • Missing from this piece is the latest revelation. This new “swift” system will travel at an average speed of 23.4 mph (slower than a strong cyclist) AND stop for 10-20 seconds in the middle so the vehicle can change from one cable to another. Apparently, unlike SF’s cable cars, they can’t switch cables while on the move.

    Transbay, thanks for the reality check, TransForm hasn’t changed one thing in it’s recommendation, which from day one was to ask BART to provide accurate information about a hugely expensive project. After months of denying it, BART staff confirmed that their current ridership assumptions are 4,350 daily riders…a mere 600 more per day than AirBART. This after months of telling the MTC, ACTIA, Oakland City Council and their own board, that this wasn’t the case, that they expected over 10,000.

  • Looks very similar to the new airport connector that opens at the mexico city airport last year

  • Mark

    Wow. This is one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard in my life. Don’t we have real transit lines with higher ridership than 4,300 a day that could use $492 million?

  • Dave

    The time from BART to the airport is quoted as being 14.5 minutes. Isn’t that LONGER than AirBART takes currently? I realize that AirBART times can vary depending on traffic, but I’ve taken it a bunch of times, and I’d guess it takes 10 minutes typically (though I’ve never timed it.)

    I’m a big fan of trains, monorails, gondolas, peoplemovers, etc… I think they’re cool, and this undoubtedly would be too. But “cool” isn’t enough reason to build something this costly. I’m just having a hard time understanding how it can be justified, except by the fact that federal money is available now.

  • Dave:
    Yes, the cable car is slower than bus. Except for niche applications, cable car technology stopped being used 100 years ago due to slow speed.

    May as well use this for BART-OAC vehicle:

  • Joel

    Gondellas people! Gondellas!


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