BART Approves Oakland Airport Connector, Punts on Unpopular Fare Rollback

The project that just won't die ... won't die
BART's board today tabled the vote on the fare rollback no one wants and approved the Oakland Airport Connector no one needs.

By an 8-1 vote, the board approved the revamped $483 million connector project, which was dealt a staggering blow when federal authorities yanked away $70 million in February. San Francisco-area board member Tom Radulovich was the only commissioner to vote against the project the first time around -- and it was the same today.

Minus that $70 million gift, BART now plans to apply for state funds, borrow from the feds, and borrow from its own reserve fund. And while BART officials claim the connector project will not siphon money away from the rest of the system and will fund itself, Radulovich doesn't buy it.

"That's hooey," he says. "They've admitted it will come out of BART's general fund. They are taking a considerable chunk and they won't say exactly how much."

In addition to $23 million from the general fund over the next 30 years -- which will ostensibly be replaced -- the connector will be funded by alotting the project some 40 percent of all the fare money for rides to or from the Coliseum Station.

​"People who are going to a ballgame or live in the neighborhood -- their money is no longer going to support the system they are riding on but will now support the system they may not be riding on," says Radulovich.

The Oakland Airport Connector plan approved by the BART board today is contingent upon some $46 million in passenger facility charges being approved by the Port of Oakland and federal authorities. But if approval is not given, the connector is not dead: BART can still borrow $30 million and take $15-odd million out of its general fund.

(A final note: The feds yanked the $70 million from the project because they claimed BART didn't properly assess the impact it would have on neighboring minority communities. That the project's price tag quadrupled over the past decade while its anticipated ridership dropped by two-thirds was not officially a factor).

Meanwhile, the temporary 3 percent fare rollback -- which a BART poll revealed that riders did not at all care for -- was tabled at the request of board president James Fang.

Fang needs six votes to pass his pet rollback initiative. With the defection of board member Joel Keller to the "no" camp today, he has five. If Fang can win over Keller, Radulovich, Gail Murray, or Thomas Blalock by the next meeting, BART riders will get the small, temporary fare reduction they don't want. If he can't, then the money will either go into the system's underfunded reserve fund or be otherwise alloted.

While that $2.3 million move is up in the air, the BART board today approved putting $750,000 toward seat replacement on 50 cars and $1 million into its operating reserves.  

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