A key regional transit agency voted 11-5 at a contentious three-hour hearing today to reaffirm its support for using $70 million in federal stimulus funds to help BART build an elevated rail connector between its Coliseum station and the Oakland International Airport.

However, the support of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission depends on whether BART can address the Federal Transit Administration’s concerns about whether the 3.2-mile-long connector would have a discriminatory impact on minorities and low-income people.

The approval at today’s meeting, which was attended by about 300 people and included two hours of public comment, is contingent on BART submitting an action plan to the FTA by next week to correct any so-called “equity” deficiencies and for the FTA to approve that plan by Feb. 16.

The MTC will meet on the issue on Feb. 17 to see if the airport connector project is still on track.

If it isn’t, the MTC will re-direct the $70 million in stimulus funds to rehabilitation and preventive maintenance projects for various Bay Area transit agencies.

BART would still get $17 million for such projects, but the San Francisco Municipal Railway would get $17 million, the Santa Clara Valley Transit Agency would get $12 million, AC Transit would get $7 million and other agencies would also get funds.

BART’s airport connector project, which is projected to cost $492 million, has been discussed for more than 20 years and has been approved by BART’s board of directors, the Oakland City Council, the Port of Oakland’s board and other agencies.

The MTC initially approved allocating $70 million in stimulus funding for the project last year but took a second look today in the wake of a letter by FTA administrator Peter Rogoff alleging that BART has failed to analyze whether the project will have a discriminatory effect on minority and low-income communities.

Rogoff said BART must meet its concerns by March 5 or the Bay Area will lose the $70 million in stimulus money.

One of Rogoff’s concerns is whether low-income people could afford to ride on the airport connector.

BART hasn’t set a fare yet but it’s been estimated that it could cost $6 for a one-way trip.
The current shuttle service between the Coliseum station and the airport costs $3 each way.

BART spokeswoman Luna Salavar said the transit agency would still try to go forward with the airport connector if it loses the $70 million in stimulus money but the loss of that money might slow down the project if it takes long to find another source of money.

Current plans call for construction work to take three-and-a-half years and for service to begin in 2013.

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