Oakland Airport Connector Lives to Be Controversial For Another Day

The regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission moments ago voted to stay the course, applying $70 million in endangered federal funds not to the Bay Area's moribund transit agencies but a controversial, half-billion dollar proposed BART extension to Oakland Airport.

"Closer than I thought, but we ... still lose," said MTC commissioner Chris Daly of the 11-5 vote.

The federal funding became an issue earlier this month when Peter Rogoff, the director of the Federal Transportation Administration, wrote a sternly worded letter to both BART and the MTC. In it, he ruled BART had blown off a required "equity evaluation" of how the proposed Oakland Airport Connector will impact the poor, minority communities residing nearby. In Rogoff's words, to continue pushing for the $70 million in federal stimulus funds to be used for the connector -- and not local transit agencies -- presented a "considerable risk" of losing the money outright.

Civil rights activists' complaints that it is immoral to fund a prohibitively expensive conveyance for airline passengers that does nothing for neighborhood dwellers dependent on a withering public transit system dove-tail with transit activists' charges the connector is an ill-conceived, costly debacle.

The Federal Transportation Administration has given BART until March 5 to address concerns regarding the "equity evaluation." At today's MTC meeting, according to Daly, the commissioners required BART to submit an "action plan" regarding the Feds' concerns by Feb. 16; the MTC will meet again shortly thereafter to assess BART's progress. Should BART fail to submit the plan, or if the MTC is unsatisfied with the submission, the $70 million in stimulus funding may be distributed to starving local transit agencies such as BART, Muni, and AC Transit. 

Along with Daly, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, Anne Halsted, Sue Lempert, and Jake Mackenzie voted, unsuccessfully, to distribute the $70 million to local agencies immediately. 

"It was pretty obvious that my perspective was not going to win," said Halsted after the vote. She, however, predicted this money would eventually go to the transit agencies, and not the airport connector. "It doesn't look to me like MTC and BART will get their act together to stem the tide. And I am really not willing to lose that money."

In other news, yes you'll be paying six bucks to cross the Bay Bridge, too.

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