BART’s plan to build an elevated rail connector between its Coliseum station and the Oakland International Airport has a discriminatory impact on minorities and low-income people, civil rights and transportation equity advocates alleged today.

The Rev. Scott Denman of the Genesis Interfaith Regional Project, an Oakland-based faith and values group, said BART’s $522 million plan to build the 3.2-mile long connector and charge up to $6 for a one-way trip “is Robin Hood in reverse.”

In a conference call with reporters, Denman said Bay Area transportation officials are planning to use $70 million in federal stimulus funding for BART’s airport connector project “to help those who can afford airplane tickets” instead of using the money to help fund bus service that would help low-income people get to jobs and medical appointments.

Denman said, “It’s obscene. It’s like buying lunch for a rich kid with a full stomach.”

BART directors, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and other local and federal agencies have approved the airport connector, which has been discussed for more than 20 years.

But the Federal Transit Administration threw a monkey wrench into their plans last week by threatening to withhold the $70 million in stimulus funds because BART has failed to analyze whether the project will have a discriminatory effect on minority and low-income communities.

BART has until March 5 to evaluate and address the FTA’s concerns.

The MTC, which directs transit funding for the Bay Area, is scheduled to decide on Wednesday whether to re-affirm its support for the $70 million in federal funding or whether the money should be re-directed for other transit projects.

Mark Brenman, a former senior policy advisor for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the FTA’s action “is precedent-setting because it’s the first time that transit funds have been withheld for equity reasons.”

Brenman said the FTA’s action is based on Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating in their programs and activities.

He said, “Transportation is the glue that holds America together and federal money shouldn’t favor one group over another.”

The FTA acted after Genesis and two other activist groups, TransForm and Urban Habitat, filed a complaint alleging that BART failed to evaluate whether the airport connector project would provide low-income and minority communities with a fair share of the project’s benefits.

The groups are represented by Public Advocates, a San Francisco-based nonprofit law firm and advocacy group.

Bob Allen, Urban Habitat’s transportation and housing program director, said that instead of spending $522 million for the airport connector project, BART should develop a rapid bus system between the Coliseum station and the Oakland airport at a cost of only about $60 million.

The savings could be re-invested in other transit projects, Allen said.

BART spokesman Linton Johnson strongly disputed the assertion that the airport connector project will have a discriminatory impact on minorities and low-income people.

Johnson said, “This project goes through Oakland, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation and will put people to work.”

He said the project’s language requires that 25 percent of the construction jobs be given to Oakland residents.

“There’s no greater civil right than having a job,” Johnson said.

He said the project also calls for a job training program for low income and minority workers so they can be qualified for future construction jobs as well.

Johnson said the airport connector “exemplifies what stimulus money is all about, which is putting people back to work.”

He said that although airport connector opponents say that it will cost $6 each way to ride the elevated train, the cost for the ride hasn’t yet been determined and $6 would be the fare only in “a worst case scenario.”

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