Protect Bay Area Transit: Stop MTC from Wasting Stimulus Funds

23 Feb

As I mentioned yesterday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) will be voting this Wednesday on how to use federal stimulus funds. While they’ve scrapped one of their initial wasteful proposals, the Transbay Terminal train box, they are still proposing to use $70 million for the Oakland Airport Connector. V Smoothe summarized the proposed project and its history last week at OakBook:

BART’s Oakland Airport Connector is a proposed 3.2-mile elevated tramway that would ferry passengers from the Coliseum BART station to the Oakland Airport. Since the agency did not have enough funding to finance the project in full, they began seeking private partners to help build the rail line. All three interested parties dropped out of the project last year, citing concerns about profitability. At the time, BART officials said they would drop plans for the elevated train and begin exploring more affordable ways of providing a reliable connection between the station and the airport, such as dedicated bus lanes.

But then of course Congress passed the stimulus package, and MTC staff proposed to use $70 million of the funds to revive the Oakland Airport Connector project.

Now, I can understand why the Oakland Airport Connector is such a tempting project. I’m going to be taking BART to the airport this Friday evening, and a quicker and more reliable connection would save me a lot of time. The problem with the project as currently proposed is that it’s incredibly expensive, and like so many of BART’s projects, relies on ridership statistics that are entirely unrealistic. (They’re predicting that more people would use this connection than take BART to SFO!)

Another problem, as TransForm explains, is that the Airport Connector is not “shovel ready.” Meanwhile, transit agencies around the Bay Area are struggling, especially since the state has pulled all funding from public transit statewide. These local agencies, including AC Transit, desperately need these funds to continue providing an adequate level of service and to avoid raising fares. Even spread out among the regional transit operators, $70 million would have a huge impact.

The best part is that even if MTC decides not to provide this $70 million to the Oakland Airport Connector, BART already has sufficient funds to solve the problem of slow bus travel from the Coliseum BART station to the Oakland Airport. That solution is Bus Rapid Transit. BRT would take buses out of traffic and shuttle riders quickly and reliably to and from the Oakland Airport. And BRT could be completed in much less time and with far less money than the current proposed connector, shifting the $70 million to where it could make an impact now.

MTC staff seem pretty stuck on this idea so it’s up to us to convince the MTC that the needs of local transit agencies should take precedence over another pie in the sky BART proposal. Here’s what you can do, via TransForm:

Join us on Weds., Feb. 25th at 10am at MTC (101 8th St., across from Lake Merritt BART) in telling the Commissioners to direct new funding to critical public transit needs, not the costly Oakland Airport Connector. It’s important that we coordinate our message for maximum impact. Please let us know if you’re coming and get a copy of talking points by contacting Joel Ramos.

If you can’t make the meeting, email your comments opposing the use of recovery funds for the OAC to John Goodwin at MTC now at jgoodwin@mtc.ca.gov.

Eric at Transbay Blog agrees about the Oakland Airport Connector and provides more background on this project and the MTC’s funding proposal.

6 Responses to “Protect Bay Area Transit: Stop MTC from Wasting Stimulus Funds”

  1. The Overhead Wire February 23, 2009 at 12:24 pm #

    I don’t really see the trainbox as wasteful, apparently they are actually going to apply for HSR stim money instead of local transit money for it. I would hate to see the TBT need a retrofit because we weren’t thinking ahead and then watch it cost a ton more than it should have.

    The HSR funds provide a better timetable for it’s design and implementation than local money though.

    • Becks February 23, 2009 at 12:30 pm #

      That’s a good point and I now realize that I didn’t fully explain my position on that, since it wasn’t the focus of this blog post. I’m not opposed to MTC applying for specific HSR funds to fund the train box. I was opposed to using the general transit funds for the train box because I think general funding for local transit agencies is far more urgent than a train box that won’t be used for many years. I understand why it makes sense to build the train box now and not to wait, but not if that comes at the expense of local transit. Luckily, this is no longer an issue.

  2. Zach Seal February 23, 2009 at 7:00 pm #

    BRT is not a comparable solution to an elevated people mover for the Airport Connector. BRT would be cheaper but much slower. Even with a dedicated guideway, an at-grade solution would have to compete with cross-traffic and intersections along the way. Street light synchronization would speed up the trip somewhat, but you can’t stop cross-traffic every two minutes during rush hour. BRT in this case is a cheaper but much inferior solution.

    Also, I’m not sure it’s so unrealistic to predict more people would use the Oakland’s people mover than SFO’s. Oakland’s airport is more centrally located within the Bay Area. It takes TWICE as long to get from Embarcadero to SFO than from Embarcadero to Oakland airport on BART And Oakland’s airport is also in line for infrastructure upgrades and improvements through the Stimulus Package.

    • Becks February 24, 2009 at 4:34 pm #

      You’re correct that BRT would be slower than the proposed above grade plan. But it would still be considerably faster than the current bus, which gets stuck in traffic. I think it would be fast enough to serve its purpose. Also, it could be built more quickly, and I know that an improvement won’t come one day too soon for me and others who go to the Oakland Airport often.

      I think the ridership projections are high, especially in the long term. I know you won’t like hearing this Zach, but air traffic out of Oakland is likely to decrease once high speed rail is built. Most of OAK’s air traffic is due to frequent Southwest flights, many of which go to and from Southern California. I know I’ll probably never fly to LA again once I can take high speed rail. We need to keep long term issues like this in mind when projecting ridership and committing to expensive infrastructure projects.

      And if ridership is lower than expected, you and I both know what’s going to happen – BART will raise fares. It will become prohibitively expensive for many to pay the fares for the Airport Connector so they’ll just drive or take a cab instead.

  3. Becks February 25, 2009 at 3:08 pm #

    150 people showed up this morning to speak out against the Oakland Airport Connector, but our pleas fell on deaf ears. All commissioners voted in favor of funding the OAC, except for Tom Bates.

  4. Dave B. July 2, 2009 at 10:24 am #

    The BART connector seems like a big waste of $$. Doesn’t it just improve the bus time by FIVE minutes? And it will cost $5 (more than the current 2 or 3 bucks). Of course, the next time BART can’t balance their budget and the ridership goals proved unrealistic, the fee will go up to $10 in no time! Just look at the new, ridiculous rate increase to $5 for the SFO BART ride.

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