BART officials will be working over the next six weeks to address civil rights issues raised about its Oakland Airport Connector project by the Federal Transit Administration, which could withhold stimulus funds for the project if the agency does not take corrective action.
Officials from BART and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission were sent letters Friday from the FTA about the $522 million project to build a 3.2-mile-long rail connector between the Coliseum station and the Oakland International Airport.
At issue is Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating in their programs and activities.
FTA administrator Peter Rogoff wrote that BART’s reports on the connector have failed to analyze “whether the project’s improvement and the service reductions would have a discriminatory impact” on minority and low-income communities.
BART officials have until March 5 to evaluate and address the concerns laid out in the letter or else the agency could lose $70 million in stimulus funds for the project.
BART spokesman Linton Johnson said today that BART officials were initially scratching their heads about what was “admittedly a strongly worded letter from the FTA.”
However, BART officials met today with members of the FTA to discuss a course of action, and the talks “really provided a clear path forward for federal funding for this project,” Johnson said.
Members of local public transit advocacy groups say that BART and MTC officials are unlikely to meet the March 5 deadline.
Wynn Hausser of Public Advocates, a San Francisco-based nonprofit law firm and advocacy group, said the agencies are “playing craps with taxpayer money” by continuing with the project.
“I think all you need to do is look at past performance by either BART or MTC and see if they’ve ever been able to do due diligence in a short amount of time, and that’s a no,” Hausser said.
Public Advocates filed a complaint last year on behalf of three public transit advocacy groups, TransForm, Urban Habitat and Genesis, asserting that BART failed to evaluate potential discriminatory impacts of the airport connector.
The groups claim the project would have a discriminatory impact because it would replace the existing AirBART bus service, which charges a fare of $3 each way, with a rail service that could cost twice that much.
John Knox White of TransForm said his group is “hopeful the MTC will reprogram the money to existing services instead of trying to force this project through.”
White said he hopes the MTC will address the issue at its next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 27.
He said the groups are hoping the MTC will decide to reallocate the money and not risk millions of federal dollars not coming to the Bay Area at all.
“We really hope the MTC will do the right thing now, and start spending this in a way that saves jobs tomorrow, not possibly creating jobs sometime,” White said.