Board Members Predict Even Feds' Threats Can't Derail Oakland Airport Connector

What will it take to derail BART's half-billion dollar planned extension to Oakland Airport? How about the price quadrupling while the anticipated ridership dropped by two-thirds? Nope. How about the predicted commute time actually being slower than the existing shuttle system? Nope.

Well, how about the chairman of the Federal Transportation Authority agreeing with neighborhood activists that BART blew off requirements to undertake an "equity evaluation" -- and stating, in writing, that if BART and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission still choose to apply $70 million in federal stimulus money toward the Oakland Airport Connector, there's a "considerable risk" the money will evaporate?

Well, members of both the BART and Metropolitan Transportation Commission boards told SF Weekly that even this threat would almost certainly not be enough for the MTC to step back and use that $70 million in federal largess to pump up moribund transit systems such as BART, Muni, or AC Transit. No, the much safer bet is that the MTC, which meets today, will stay the course, and attempt to apply the $70 million toward the Oakland Airport Connector -- and risk losing the whole thing.

"This is a project that has a life of its own," said Supervisor Chris Daly, San Francisco's representative on the MTC. His fellow board members "Don't want their pet project derailed. Even though the advocates have been right on the issue, it's difficult to derail this project because it's politically juiced." Political favors both regionally and as far as the nation's capital will be called in before this project's backers are willing to cede an inch, he predicted.

Meanwhile, when BART board member Tom Radulovich was asked why he felt BART would be loath to drop the much-maligned project, he answered "I don't know how dumb my colleagues are. I don't think we've plumbed those depths."

BART, continued the outspoken Radulovich, gets "stuck on stupid -- we set on a course of action and continue on no matter how much the facts change."

It should be noted that Radulovich and Daly voted against the connector from the start. Radulovich was the only member of the BART board to do so.

It was BART's lack of effort in assessing the impact of the proposed connector on the poor, minority communities living near the airport that led to the Feds' dramatic step of threatening to yank stimulus money. Yet many of the complaints made by civil rights advocates about the iniquity of using federal dollars to fund an expensive airport extension while core transit services are slashed echo broader complaints that the connector is simply a lousy project that costs too damn much.

"Even my colleagues came up to me after board meetings and whispered about how 'This is a crappy project, I don't know why we're doing it.' And they voted for it," said Radulovich. "We need to go back to square one and deliver better benefits to riders for lower cost. At some point, when you find yourself in a hole, you've got to stop digging."

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