Metropolitan Transportation Commission votes in favor of Oakland Airport Connector


Metropolitan Transportation Commission votes in favor of Oakland Airport Connector

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

At today’s meeting BART officials assured MTC commissioners they are confident BART will successfully meet the remaining compliance issues the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) 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 today’s 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.”

“On a day when the headlines are filled with President Obama's push for jobs, this region has a project which will deliver critically needed jobs.” BART Board Member Carole Ward Allen told commissioners. Ward Allen has been working on this project for 25 years. “We have work to do regarding Title VI, and we will keep working until we have met all requirements. At this moment in history, the project is more than a simple connection to an airport. It is a major infusion of badly needed economic nourishment into a depressed economy. It will bring us one step closer to a greener Bay Area. It provides us the chance to place Oakland’s airport on a par with other international cities.”

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.

“The OAC makes Oakland a much more attractive option and puts Oakland on an equal footing with SFO,” BART Board Member Joel Keller said before the commission. “Now business travelers think of SFO as the airport that serves San Francisco; soon Oakland will be seen as the airport that serves the rest of the Bay Area. That's for the long run. The short run, this project provides thousands of job opportunities. It helps put our people to work, providing roofs over their heads and food on their tables. I am proud that this project also includes an historic project labor agreement which ensures that 25% of the construction work will go to Oakland residents and ensures that job training programs are created to provide opportunities for under-skilled workers.”

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.

Omar Benjamin, the Executive Director of the Port of Oakland, which runs the Airport, is one of the more than dozen representatives who spoke. “We support the project because it will improve the service and competitiveness of Oakland Airport, stimulates the economy by creating local jobs and local economic benefits and improves the environment by reducing the number of cars and busses on the road,” Benjamin said.

“We’re looking at 25 to 30 percent of our members who are out of work sitting on the bench,” Andreas Cluver, Secretary-Treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County said.

Culver’s union represents more than 40,000 union workers. “This project represents an opportunity to put more of them back to work and save their homes and communities, which are at risk. Additionally, this project has a landmark Project-Labor Agreement containing strong local hire language and funding, which is going to provide opportunities for many disadvantaged residents to get into the trades.”

Over the past decade, BART has diligently 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 Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the BART Board of Directors, the Oakland City Council and the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners have consistently voted in support of the project. All are comprised of or appointed by local elected officials who seek out and represent the interests of the residents and diverse communities of the region. Furthermore, the OAC project continues to enjoy strong support from many other local business organizations, trade unions and community and citizen groups around the Bay Area.

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

For a video of BART Board members and others speaking on behalf of the project at the MTC meeting, go to BARTtv.