Oakland Airport Connector now in the hands of the Port Commission

29 May

UPDATE: There’s an excellent column about this issue in Saturday’s Contra Costa Times.

A couple weeks ago, the BART board made a terrible decision by approving the wasteful overhead Oakland Airport Connector (OAC). As dto510 wrote, quoting Director Radulovich, they mortgaged the system for “blingfrastructure.” But the OAC is still not a done deal because several sources of funding need to fall into place for the project to be fully funded.

The next stop for the OAC is the Oakland Port Commission Aviation Committee meeting this Monday, June 1st. The committee will vote on taking the first step on funding the OAC to the tune of $44 million. In the grand scheme of this half billion dollar project, $44 million might not sound like that much, but let’s look at this amount in context.

When the OAC project was first proposed, it was touted as a $130 million project. I couldn’t find out how much BART had hoped the Port would commit at the time (if anything), but it was clearly less than $44 million. Colleagues who have been involved in this process longer than I have told me that as the price tag of the OAC rose, BART kept going back to the Port, asking them for more and more money. The Port Director kept saying yes, but the Commission never actually voted on the $44 million, and I guess BART just assumed they’d come through in the end.

The Port Commission should emphatically vote no on this funding. A lot has changed in the past few years. Traffic is down both at the airport and at the port, which means that the Port is in a much worse financial position today. To pay this $44 million to BART, the Port will have to borrow the money, and with interest, the total cost to the Port will be $70 million. Ultimately, this $70 million will come from the $4.50 per passenger fee that they currently charge to airport travelers.

This might sound reasonable, except that the Port has other projects for which it needs funds from those passenger fees. One major project is the renovation of Terminal 1, which right now is set for a five year renovation schedule. Shifting the $70 million to the OAC would push this back to a seven year schedule. The Terminal 2 (Southwest) renovation project has been a huge success, and there’s no reason we should have to wait 7 years before Terminal 1 looks like this:

Terminal 2

Besides the economic reasons for rejecting this project, the Port commissioners should look at how the project has dramatically changed. The Port has a fact sheet up on its website from 2002 about the OAC, which has these fun facts:

  • The Connector will be a seamless connection between BART and the Airport. What that means is that the Connector is part of the BART system, so riders don’t have to pay a separate fare when transferring between BART and the Connector.
  • Riders will save a considerable amount of time over the current bus connector between BART and the airport, especially when there are major events at the Coliseum complex and during peak travel periods at the Airport…
  • A design/build contract for the Connector is scheduled for award in 2004 and the system should begin operation in 2008.

These facts were true in 2002, but they’re no longer true. The connection won’t be seamless and will cost an additional $6 fare, paid separately from the BART fare. At its best projections, riders would save a few minutes with the OAC, and when factoring in the long walks, it could even take longer than the current bus. And I think it’s pretty clear why the last fact isn’t true.

The Port Commission should vote no on funding the OAC and should recommend that BART do a serious study into a rapid bus option, like the one TransForm proposed. The Oakland Airport could benefit from an improved BART connection, but the OAC is not the right choice.

Here is the info for the Port Commission meeting, if you’d like to attend and speak:

What: Port Commission Meeting on the Oakland Airport Connector

When: Monday, June 1st @ 3:30pm

Where: 530 Water Street in Oakland (accessible by the 72, 72M, or 72R buses)

If you cannot make it to the meeting, but want to tell the Port Commissioners to vote against OAC funding, please send an email via TransForm’s action page. You can find a pre-written message there, but I encourage you to take the time to personalize the email, as non-form letters are always more effective.

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

One Response to “Oakland Airport Connector now in the hands of the Port Commission”

  1. S Raney May 30, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    PRT surpasses APM

    Personal Rapid Transit promises a superior solution to Automated People Mover for the Oakland Airport Connector, winning on cost, speed, service area, Oakland economic development, BART ridership, Airport improvement, long-term jobs, in-fill development, visual impact, risk, and AC Transit enhancement. A web page details the arguments: http://www.cities21.org/OAK_OAC.htm

    I know of one person who will make public comment in favor of PRT at the June 1 Port Aviation Committee meeting.

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