Feds say no to BART's Oakland airport extension

February 13, 2010 12:12:07 AM PST
You will not be taking BART all the way to the Oakland International Airport anytime soon. A civil rights issue may put the project on hold indefinitely. BART wanted $70 million in federal stimulus money to build a new connector linking BART right to the airport.

BART was so close to making the Oakland airport connector a reality. The project was only months away from breaking ground, but now there is no telling if it will ever be built.

"BART is extremely disappointed and dismayed," says BART's general manager Dorothy Dugger.

For Dugger and the rest of the transit agency this day marks a huge setback. A project they have been pushing for decades, the Oakland airport connector, has been stopped dead in its tracks -- now that it is $70 million short.

"Without a solution to close that funding gap, the project cannot go forward," says Dugger.

The reason for the shortfall is simple -- the head of the Federal Transit Administration wrote it will no longer provide $70 million in stimulus money for the half-billion dollar project.

Three advocate groups complained the three mile airport connector would only service those who can afford to fly. The money, they say, could be better spent on other transit projects benefitting minorities and the poor.

Attorney Richard Marcantonio worked on the complaint for nearly a year.

"The Federal Transit Administration has I think for the first time in the context of federal stimulus dollars said that a project is not shovel ready until it's fair for everyone in the community," says Marcantonio.

BART though, does not see it that way. They say a percentage of the jobs, the project would have created, was set aside for the disadvantaged.

"With unemployment at 17 percent in Oakland and 30 percent in the building trades, these jobs are badly needed in our region," says Dugger.

Air travelers expressed their disappointment. Frequent fliers have long been wanting for a system more reliable. Right now, travelers must take a bus from the Coliseum station to the airport.

"It's crowded, it's inconvenient and I think it limits the ability for the Oakland airport to funnel more business travelers," says air traveler Mike Cavanagh.

Others though are taking the news in stride.

"The bus works fine for now and I'm sure there's better ways the stimulus money could be spent," says air traveler Shannon Sullivan.

As for that $70 million in stimulus money, it will likely be slit among the various transit agencies throughout the Bay Area.