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Inter-City Rapid Bus Transit on the Fast Track By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Tuesday March 07, 2006

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) wants to get rolling on a rapid bus route through Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro. 

But to do so, it must shelve other projects, including an enhanced bus service in Oakland.  

MTC’s planning committee said Friday that it will prioritize plans to develop an 18-mile AC transit Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line running from downtown Berkeley BART along Telegraph Avenue and to International Boulevard in Oakland and East 14th Street in San Leandro. 

The commission is pursuing a new source of funding to move forward with the $175 million project, already two years behind schedule. 

Alix Bockelman, MTC director of programming and allocations, said the commission will lobby Washington for an additional $75 million from the competitive Small Starts program, which encourages small, low-cost transit projects.  

AC Transit initially expected to fund the project through sales tax, regional transportation improvement funds and Federal Transit Administration dollars. 

“We’re proposing to move AC Transit from a less secure funding source to a more secure funding source,” said MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger.  

The line will speed commuters through Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro in 12 minutes or less. Slated for completion by 2010, it will designate 33 new bus stations and replace car lanes with dedicated bus lanes along some stretches of road. 

The latter feature has been a bone of contention for Telegraph businesses and residents who say the dedicated bus lanes will make traffic unbearable and negatively affect commerce along the street.  

But Josh Weisman, representing the Transportation Land Use Coalition, said he’s pleased to see the project moving forward. 

“There is common support for it, I see that it is needed,” he said.  

Honing in on the Bus Rapid Transit line was part of the commission’s larger attempt to streamline regional transit projects. According to a resolution approved by the planning committee Friday, MTC also plans to work on a $180 million ferry project that will designate new services in Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond and elsewhere. 

Other points of focus in the East Bay include an elevated transit line from the Oakland Coliseum BART station to the Oakland Airport, and improvements to the Capitol Corridor train between Oakland and San Jose. 

But in order to get the work done—and to offset a $2.3 billion shortfall—commission officials say they have to table other projects. An enhanced bus service project along Hesperian, Foothill and MacArthur boulevards in Oakland will be put off.  

AC Transit said that does not eliminate the possibility of developing the line in the future. 

AC Transit Representative Mary King said, “AC Transit remains committed to the enhanced bus route.”