Thursday, January 28, 2010

Commission votes in favor of Oakland Airport Connector

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The commission for the Bay Area's transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency voted 11 to 5 to keep $70 million in Stimulus funds with the Oakland Airport Connector Project. However, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission will revisit the issue at a special February 17 meeting.

At its Jan. 27 meeting, BART officials assured MTC commissioners they are confident BART will successfully meet the remaining compliance issues the Federal Transportation Administration outlined in a January 15 letter. Those compliance issues deal with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which, in part, governs how transit agencies reach out to low-income, minority and limited English proficiency communities when making service and fare changes.

"We think the OAC is one of the best regional projects for the Bay Area," BART Board President James Fang said at the commission meeting. "This project will not only create jobs, it will also create stability in Oakland. I am fully confident we will meet the schedule that MTC has put together and we're going to work very hard with FTA to get this thing done."

"According to our records, we have had no prior Title VI findings or deficiencies in any of the triennial audits conducted by the FTA of our activities over the past decade," BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger said. "This audit did, however, raise deficiencies and we are now addressing them. We have been engaged actively with FTA headquarters staff over the seven working days since we received the Administrator's letter. The schedule that the MTC staff is recommending is aggressive for all parties. We are committing the time and the resources to meet our schedule. We plan to submit a draft plan to FTA this week."

The OAC project does exactly what Congress asked of Stimulus funded projects - and that is it will create between 2,500 and 5,200 job opportunities for the area, which are of vital importance to the region's economic recovery. These include jobs in the construction, electrical, steel fabrication and other building trades that are experiencing unemployment rates in excess of 30 percent. It will also leave a legacy transit connection that will carry thousands of daily riders to the Oakland regional airport, on time and without pollution and traffic congestion. Finally, the project will significantly enhances the airport's national prestige as one of the few in the country with a coveted world-class, transit connection, which will allow the airport to attract the businesses that will help drive the East Bay's future economic growth.

On January 20, BART officials held a news conference to respond to the FTA's Title VI letter and announced their commitment to meet FTA requirements. A broad coalition of advocates joined BART officials to voice their support of the project.

Over the past decade, BART has worked with the FTA to meet all its requirements and as a result, the FTA has approved numerous actions to move this project forward. In fact, as recently as December, the FTA informed BART it had approved the project for what's called "pre-award" authority to continue advancing the project. It also invited BART to complete the steps to secure award of $25 million in federal New Starts funding and award of $70 million in Stimulus funds.

The total cost of the project is $492 million - or $60 million less than the $552 million BART estimated in April 2009. A competitive bidding environment led to lower than projected costs

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