BART Airport Connector Hits Snag

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Monday February 15, 2010 - 12:16:00 PM

BART’S $492 million Oakland Airport connector plans hit a road bump Friday after the agency failed to convince federal authorities that it could complete studies showing the project’s impact on minority communities in a timely manner. 

A letter from Federal Transit Administration Administrator Peter Rogoff said that the FTA had rejected BART’s plan for complying with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which would result in the loss of $70 million in stimulus funds. 

A statement from BART said that “this letter cites no substantive deficiencies in BART’s latest draft action plan to correct Title VI deficiencies identified in a December 2009 audit. Instead, the basis of the FTA Administrator’s rejection rests solely on the fact that BART’s plan contains a timetable with an end date beyond Sept. 30, 2010—the deadline for awarding stimulus fund grants.” 

According to the statement, BART submitted its original draft action plan, which committed to meet the mandated standards before the September deadline, to the FTA Jan. 28. However, FTA staff asked BART to plan for a longer timetable following its review. 

The FTA letter also mentions a Sept. 30 funding disbursement deadline. Federal guidelines dictate that American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money must be awarded to a specific project before that date. The funds can be spent over a five-year period. 

“BART is extremely disappointed and dismayed that FTA will not use its discretion to allow stimulus funding to the Oakland Airport Connector while BART is working to remedy Title VI deficiencies,” BART General Manager Dorothy W. Dugger said in a statement.  

“BART’s commitment to Title VI and Civil Rights is strong and abiding and we are fully committed to completing and correcting any deficiencies in our program. The action plan we submitted to FTA makes that clear.” 

Title VI implementation regulations dictate that its enforcement relies on mending problems voluntarily, with funding denials as a final, not preliminary step in the process. 

BART's airport connector has run into problems in the past, with equity groups lobbying for the money to be awarded to struggling transit agencies. 

“Longtime opponents of this project are using the Civil Rights Act to stop the Oakland Airport Connector project and the thousands of jobs it will bring to this region, many of which would be held by minority workers,” Dugger said. “Access to jobs is also a Civil Rights issue.” 

The project has received support from Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and the Oakland City Council, among others. 

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who is with the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, has said that he is in support of giving the stimulus money to other transit agencies which are in dire need of the funds. 

Dugger said that the proposed project’s contractor has promised to hire disadvantaged businesses for 20 percent of the construction work and 33 percent of the professional services. 

BART officials said they were committed to completing a final plan that would meet FTA’s satisfaction.