Disclosure: I am again doing some work for TransForm on the Oakland Airport Connector campaign.
Tomorrow, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) has the opportunity to do the right thing and reallocate $70 million in stimulus funds away from the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) and to the transit agencies for maintenance. Whether they’ll do that or not, we don’t yet know, but one thing I do know is that the Bay Area blogosphere was on fire yesterday with bloggers urging the MTC not to gamble the region’s stimulus funds.
All of these bloggers asked readers to do a couple things:
- Email the MTC commissioners using TransForm’s online action page.
- Come to the MTC meeting tomorrow and the Rally for Justice and Jobs before the meeting (beginning at 9am at MTC headquarters, 101 Eighth Street, Oakland).
These blog posts are worth a read in full, but here are some of the highlights, that when strung together, tell the story in full.
If you haven’t been following the story, BART is not proposing an extension to Oakland Airport like the one to SFO. What they’re proposing is a $492 million people mover, that will move slower than traffic for much of the journey. For comparison, the new station in Dublin is being built for about $80-$90 million. So for much less money, BART could build a new station at 98th Ave. and implement a bus rapid transit system (BRT), thereby improving service for airport riders and local residents.
Last February, this issue sprang back from the dead when $340 million in stimulus (job creating money) became available. But here’s the thing, MTC never looked at whether the project was a good jobs creation vehicle.
In response to an email sent by Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan’s office, MTC acknowledged that:
MTC did not perform/release any reports related to projected jobs created from stimulus funding.
This fact, that MTC did not even consider the job creation potential of this project, was confirmed by KALW reporter Jill Replogle.
BART mismanaged their planning of the project, changing it extensively over the years without adequately reviewing the changes. The MTC gave a large chunk of the federal stimulus money it received to the project, because the MTC totally hearts BART. Some local transit advocacy groups complained to the feds. The feds took a look at the project and were all like, ‘Woah, we can’t give money to a project that hasn’t been thoroughly vetted under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,’ and told BART and the MTC to meet the Title VI requirements by March 5th or give up the money.
The Connector is dead, and BART is moving through the stages of grief, with denial the first step. Here’s a initial statement from BART Board President James Fang (Republican of San Francisco) to The Chronicle:
BART Board President James Fang said he was puzzled and distressed by the letter because he believed that “FTA was one of our strongest partners on the Oakland Airport Connector.” But he said he was confident BART could satisfy the FTA in time to capture the funds.
The next state of mortal grief is anger. We saw some of that in BART’s letter to the FTA, which said that “BART takes strong exception” to the idea that their policies favor rich suburban areas over poorer urban ones. BART appears to have moved on to bargaining, attempting to get a five-week stay of execution even though the inevitable federal rejection would cost the region its stimulus funding. Many expect a depressed BART staff when this comes to a head in at a meeting on the 27th. Seventy million dollars of the region’s transit funding depends on whether the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission will find acceptance of the Airport Connector’s demise on Wednesday.
However, there’s a silver lining. The Metropolitian Transportation Commission can vote this week to have the cash re-allocated to maintenance projects for Muni, BART, AC Transit and other looted transit agencies. Under the rules, this money cannot be used for big pay for anyone, only actual maintenance projects.
This would be a good thing in a time of budget crapola. Personally, I think that if we’re going to see the feds spend money, the least they can do is spend it on something that might actually be of use, instead of blowing out the deficit for something that doesn’t help.
Here’s the choice before the MTC Wednesday: give BART one last but impossible chance to save their Airport Connector and lose $70m forever, or keep the $70m for the region. The OAC, which becomes more expensive and less useful with every passing year, needs to be put out of its misery. Though the federal government won’t give the OAC a penny, BART has been willing to bankrupt every rival agency and steal from every available pot of money to fund their pipe dream, up to and including robbing their own seismic retrofit bond of funding to fix the Transbay Tube, so losing the FTA’s nod may not actually kill this zombie project.
Even if you ignore the fact that the redirection of the $70 million to system preservation among local agencies will save more jobs than the entire OAC project will create, this decision should be a no brainer. The risk of just throwing away $70 million in stimulus funds is too high. First, it makes the MTC look like incompetent morons, and undoubtedly will render us ill poised to receive competitive grants in the future. Second, the impacts of losing the money are just too devastating to justify.
This vote is a pivotal moment for the future of Bay Area transit: will MTC continue to stand by BART and its wasteful, suburban-oriented “blingfrastructure” project to cater to a few hundred new riders in 2020 in spite of the huge risks that now accompany it, or will they take a stand and prevent service cuts, fare increases, and hundreds of layoffs at transit agencies and support the needs of roughly 1,600,000-1,800,000 transit riders now? Nothing would be more embarrassing (and disastrous) for the Bay Area than losing $70 million in stimulus funds (well…other than actually building the OAC I guess). The bottom line is that this vote is MTC’s last chance to make the right choice–the choice that will increase transit ridership, improve service, cut our emissions and oil consumption, reduce congestion, and save jobs–and NOT fund the Oakland Airport Connector.