BART board awards contracts for the construction of the Oakland Airport Connector
From the San Francisco Chronicle – Travelers bound for Oakland International Airport could ride the rails to their flights as soon as 2013 after BART directors on Thursday approved a much-debated, long-planned elevated people mover.
The BART board voted 7-1, with Director Tom Radulovich opposed and Lynette Sweet absent, to award $440 million in contracts for the construction, operation and maintenance of the 3.2-mile Oakland Airport Connector. Construction of the automated, driverless train system that would whisk passengers to the airport in 14 1/2 minutes is scheduled to start next summer and take 3 1/2 years.
BART’s board and regional transportation officials have longed to build a rail connection to the Bay Area’s second-busiest airport for nearly 40 years but there was never enough money. The faltering economy gave the people mover the boost it needed earlier this year: $70 million in federal stimulus funds to complete the funding package.
But the decision to roll forward as transit agencies, including BART, are cutting service and raising fares spurred opposition from transit advocates and others, who argued that the project would benefit a relative handful of affluent air travelers at the expense of those who need public transportation. Opposition grew this summer and fall, but the project won needed approvals.
Thursday construction trades workers, business groups and East Oakland community groups dominated the 3 1/2-hour meeting, arguing that the airport link would create needed jobs and put the Oakland airport in a better position to compete with San Francisco International Airport.
“This is going to have a very positive impact on a labor situation that is very dire,” said Andreas Culver of the Alameda County Building Trades Council. He said that 30 percent of construction workers in his council are out of work, and some have been for months.
Critics acknowledged that the project was likely to be approved but criticized BART for not providing sufficient information about the project, not updating ridership figures and not giving due consideration to alternatives, including a less-costly rapid bus service. BART estimates that 4,350 passengers a day will ride the people mover – an estimate it updated earlier this year.
John Knox White of TransForm, a transit advocacy group, called on BART to delay the decision and take a harder look at the project.
“You need to have the information before you can vote,” he said.
Radulovich, the lone vote against the people-mover project, said he was concerned that the cost of the project could place BART at increased financial risk and that it would take funding away from the core rail system.
A joint venture of Flatiron and Parsons will build the project, and operate it for 20 years. Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group will provide the modern cable-car system that will pull three-car trains from the Coliseum Station to the Oakland airport.
By Michael Cabanatuan
San Francisco Chronicle