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Bay Area’s Oakland Airport Connector Project Loses More Federal Funding

As transportation planners and transit agencies around the country yesterday celebrated the announcement
of the $1.5 billion in Transportation Investment Generating Economic
Recovery (TIGER) grants, BART received more troubling news
that could hurt the feasibility of its planned Oakland Airport
Connector (OAC).

OAK_rendering1.jpg(Image: BART)

After losing $70 million in stimulus funds last week because the agency failed to satisfy
the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) minority and equity
standards for federal funding, BART lost another $25 million it was
expecting from TIGER, money that was important for the agency to secure
further federal loans to build the nearly $500 million OAC.

"Basically,
it's just devastating," BART spokesperson Luna Salaver said about the
OAC developments over the last week. "We had a triple-one project, a
shovel
ready project, and then it ran into this opposition that was using the
Civil Rights Act make the region lose thousands of jobs."

To pay for the OAC project, BART had applied for a federal infrastructure (TIFIA)
loan of $150 million, which required them to create a risk fund in case
the agency later defaulted. BART anticipated using the $25 million
TIGER grant for that risk fund, according to Salaver. The loss now has
BART staff  scrambling to find more money or risk losing the loan.

"We're looking at different funding sources, but that is not set in
stone," said Salaver. "There have been too many years of planning to just give up now."

Opponents
of the OAC had consistently warned BART through letters and in public
testimony at board meetings over the last year that the agency was not
in compliance with FTA standards, but BART staff remained convinced the
project would get federal funds.

"This
goes to show you when people look at this project objectively, it
doesn't pass muster," said John Knox White of TransForm, one of the
organizations that filed the complaint with the FTA over BART's Civil
Rights Act Title VI non-compliance.

"BART's lack of
compliance with Federal Title VI means that all Federal funding is in
jeopardy," said BART Board Director Tom Radulovich, who for years had
requested that BART
staff develop a thorough equity analysis, only to be rebuffed. "The
stimulus funding has the most immediate deadline, but BART won't be
eligible for either the Small Starts funding or the TIFIA loan without
complying with Title VI."

Another
concern weighing on BART staff is that the OAC contract bid will expire
on March 22nd if funding is not secured, at which point the project
would effectively be dead. What's more, FTA's civil rights review of
the agency is not finished, as all of BART's policies and practices
continue to be under close scrutiny.

"We're confused why this decision was made on BART," said Salaver. "The rejection
of funds is usually a last-resort action, not a first-resort action. It
seems that it's a different playing field."

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