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Port of Oakland plans to give $70 million for Oakland Airport Connector

on June 19, 2009

The Port of Oakland commissioners early this month five to one to authorize Port staff to apply for $70.4 million in airport Passenger Facility Charges for BART’s Oakland Airport Connector. This gave BART a virtual go-ahead for its half billion-dollar plan to offer light-rail service between Oakland International Airport and the Coliseum BART station.

The airport connector will cost $12 for the round trip between the two stations. At present, passengers can take a bus for a $6 roundtrip fee.

“This is a project for the future,” said Carole Ward-Allen, District 4 BART Director who spoke at the meeting.

BART has been proposing the 3.2-mile elevated tramway for years and most recently tried to interest a private investor, but that failed when the economy began to decline and ridership fell off.

The plan got revived when Congress passed the stimulus package this spring, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission staff proposed using $70 million to resuscitate the project. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission will get $341 million from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.

However, to qualify for the grants BART has to present a robust assessment of the project’s net benefits, and the project’s benefit-cost ratio.

The BART board last week approved $150 million loan to finance the Oakland Airport Connector project. However, cash strapped BART still had to ask the Port of Oakland for an additional $44 million to demonstrate a healthy finance plan to present to the transportation commission.

The Port of Oakland boardroom was packed with more than 70 stakeholders including many BART officials, local labor union members and merchants who see the project as a potentially big boost to the local economy.

“The connector makes sense,” said Barry Litvinsky, a local labor union member. “It is about regional dynamics and we must meet the competition.”

He was referring to the connector’s ability to bring more travelers to the Oakland International Airport, which in 2008 had 11.7 million passengers, compared to the 34 million passengers that used San Francisco International Airport.

Others said that the project will create jobs and cited California’s 11.5 percent unemployment rate.

“The unemployment rate of construction workers stands at 25 to 30 percent, the project will bring jobs to these people,” said Arthur Dao, the deputy director at Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority.

According to the American Public Transportation Association’s job creation formula, the project should create and/or support up to 13,000 jobs for the region.

The meeting, which started at 5 p.m., failed to elicit many objections but those residents who objected argued that the project and the ride it will produce is too expensive.

“It will cost $12 dollars per person for a round trip, it is not going to be affordable for someone who has a family,” said Joel Ramos, a San Francisco resident who uses Oakland Airport more often than San Francisco Airport. “It will affect the airport workers, too, because there is no talk about providing special shuttles, as SFO has just started talking.”

Some people argued that it is a waste of money at a time of recession.

“As a senior citizen, Rapid Transit System to the airport is more practical,” said 65-year old Karen Smulevitz, an Oakland resident for 43 years. “Besides, a recession is not a good time to spend.”

But those who wanted the project prevailed.

“An Airport connector is a world wide trend,” said Drothey Dugger, BART General Manager.

In contrast to the heated debate on the floor, the Port Commissioners had few questions and voted quickly to approve it.

However, Margaret Gordon, the second vice president stressed that this is the last time the Port of Oakland will fund BART for this project, and criticized the board for the connector’s budget, which has more than doubled from $130 million since 2000 when

Oakland Airport Connector was approved with the passage of Measure B.

“Seventy million dollars is a one time funding. No more over cost, or no more asking for more money,” Gordon said.

If Federal Aviation Administration authorizes Port of Oakland’s application for PFC fund by, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission will review this plan, and will submit the application to U.S. Department of Transportation on September 15th.

1 Comment

  1. V Smoothe on June 19, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    This post has a significant number of serious factual errors, chief among them that the premise of the story is totally incorrect. The Port Board did not grant approval to the Airport Connector at this week’s meeting, nor was the question of doing so even on the agenda. The vote was on whether or not to apply for a PFC from the FAA, and the Board had the option of committing the funding to the Airport Connector, which would make the later, necessary approval, nothing more than a formality.

    However, they elected not to do so, and instead voted to apply for the PFC with no commitment to funding the Airport Connector, and furthermore directed BART to study alternatives to the proposal.

    It is very disturbing to see such grave inaccuracies in a project of the UC Journalism School

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