Bay Area stimulus money stirs controversy

February 25, 2009 7:03:11 PM PST
Nearly $500 million is being doled out by Bay Area transportation officials. But there's some strong disagreement about where some of these funds are going.

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In all, the Bay Area will receive $1.8 billion in federal stimulus funds for transportation projects.

Even though a plan to build a BART extension from the Coliseum Station to the Oakland airport will use only a small fraction of that money, the project has some people in the East Bay very upset.

From filling potholes to repairing sidewalks, the Bay Area is about to start putting some of that Washington stimulus money to work at home.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission decided which of the hundreds of local shovel ready projects will receive $490 million in federal funds.

"Every agency, every transit agency, every city, every county will walk out of this room with more money than when they walked in. No one's going to lose," said MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger.

But not everyone is cheering about how the windfall is being spent.

A plan to use $70 million of the stimulus money to build a three-mile BART extension from the Coliseum Station to the Oakland International Airport drew angry protests.

East Bay bus riders wanted the transit agency to use the money to improve AC Transit service and avoid a proposed fare hike, but their pleas went unanswered.

"I don't want to see any money taken from public transit," said bus rider Steve Geller.

"We don't need star trek to the airport," said Transform Executive Director Stuart Cohen.

The other projects are less controversial and desperately needed.

About $10 million will go toward a one-mile concrete barrier on the notoriously dangerous Vasco Road, and $19 million for metering lights on the traffic clogged Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County.

The bulk of the money covers upgrades to Bay Area public transit systems -- $270 million in all for cable car improvements, new SamTrans buses and maintenance on BART trains.

But in these tough economic times, for some, it's still not enough.

San Francisco supervisor Chris Daly sits on the MTC Board.

"More should have been done to bail states out because the net result here for transit it a net reduction, if you include California's budget and the federal stimulus," said Daly.

AC Transit didn't walk away empty handed. The bus system is slated to collect more than $25 million in stimulus funds for preventative maintenance.

There is a catch with this money -- in some cases, transit officials have to award the contracts to get these projects going as soon as September of this year, not very much time in the world of transit bureaucracy.

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