A paper trail to BART

For now, this remains the way to get from BART to the Oakland Airport. Courtesy of Julio Cesar.

How the deal fell through: An annotated guide to the Oakland Airport connector

November 2000 – Alameda County voters approve a sales tax for a list of possible transportation improvements. A new link from the Coliseum BART station to the Oakland International Airport is included in this list. TransForm and other nonprofits begin working with BART on the project.

July 2001 – BART completes a draft of the Environmental Impact Statement on a new link from the Coliseum BART station to the Oakland International Airport. BART Proposes a train which would cost $200 million to build, and then $7.3 million annually to operate (by 2020). For comparison, the existing bus service would cost around $2 million to operate annually.

March 2002 – BART completes the final Environmental Impact Report. It finds that a train on it’s own dedicated track is the preferred option. The BART board votes to build it.

April 2007 – The Federal Transportation Authority issues a new “circular” clarifying how the Civil Rights Act (or Title VI) affects transportation projects across the U.S. Specifically, the changes require transportation agencies to conduct studies to see how service changes and fare hikes will affect low-income and minority residents, before they move forward.

November 2008 – BART had proposed to finance the project by partnering with a private company. By this time all interested companies back out, citing financial infeasibility. BART says the project is going "back to the drawing board."

January 2009 – Barack Obama inaugurated as president of the United States.

 

February 2009 – Obama signs the stimulus bill – the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The federal government gives the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (the regional transportation body above BART) the authority to award regional stimulus dollars. The MTC offers BART $70 million for the connector.

 

May 2009 – Noting that construction cost estimates have swelled to $490 million from the $200 million estimate in July 2001, TransForm offers an alternative plan. BART officials react in these emails, obtained by TransForm throught the Public Records Act.

 

June 2009 – Bob Allen of the nonprofit Urban Habitat informs members of the BART board and leaders of the MTC, of potential Title VI problems in the connector project. Allen explains that he thinks this project will not benefit low-income residents and that the cost of operating the connector will eventually force BART to raise fares on its main lines. He suggests that the new FTA rules on the Civil Rights Act require BART to study this matter before it starts construction. He receives no response from BART, but the MTC asks BART to address the concern.

 

July 2009 – In response to this MTC concern, BART staff attorney Byron Toma writes “BART has prepared the documentation required to satisfy the FTA requirements. BART has prepared the necessary Title VI Triennial Report (2007) in compliance with FTA Circular No FTA C 4702 1A.” In fact, BART had not prepared the documents necessary to comply with the circular, and the triennial report did not address the Oakland Airport connector, according to the FTA. BART board member Bob Franklin contends that Toma's letter was not intentionally deceptive; this reading requires some delicate parsing:

1. “BART has prepared the documentation required to satisfy the FTA requirements." This first sentence, Franklin says, does not imply that BART has prepared the documentation necessary to comply with the FTA's new circular: BART knew the connector was out of compliance with the circular but it assumed that it would not apply because it came out after the Environmental Impact Report was completed. Therefore, BART thought that it had met FTA requirements,

2. "BART has prepared the necessary Title VI Triennial Report (2007) in compliance with FTA Circular" This second sentence, Franklin says, does not necessarily imply that the connector itself is in compliance. It's simply saying the the triennial report is in compliance. But if this is true, it is unclear why this unrelated sentence is included in a letter specifically responding to concerns about the connector.

In other words, sentence one is talking about the connector but not the circular, and sentence two is talking about the circular but not the connector. A simpler (though less charitable) reading might infer that the language was tangled to obscure any possibility of a deficiency.

 

September 2009 – Attorneys from Public Advocates file a complaint with the FTA on behalf of Urban Habitat, TransForm, and the community organization Genesis. The complaint says that BART has not complied with the Civil Rights Act and has not shown that the connector would provide a net benefit to low-income and minority residents.

 

December 2009 – In response to this complaint, the FTA begins investigating BART.

 

January 2010 – The FTA issues a letter noting that “BART staff acknowledged iT failed to integrate Title VI” and that: “BART also admitted that it did not conduct an equity evaluation.” BART starts collecting the necessary studies.

 

February 2010 – TransForm presents documentation of its claim that BART painted an overly rosy picture of the connector. The FTA determines that BART will not be able to perform the necessary studies in a reasonable amount of time and withdraws the money. Documents from an MTC meeting show that the FTA will investigate the MTC for failing to notice that this project was not in compliance with the Civil Rights Act (see final pages). Middle pages indicate transportation projects that could be funded instead of the connector.

 

Board members react:

 

Joel Keller told KALW that staff had assured him that the FTA generally allowed transit agencies to conduct equity analysis while projects were under construction and he was surprised when the FTA said this was not the case.

 

John McPartland told KALW that he was caught off guard to learn that the project did not comply with the Civil Rights Act. “The staff was telling us we had crossed all our T’s and dotted all our I’s – but they found one we didn’t dot,” he said. Though McPartland had concerns about the cost of the project and of the fares required to support it, he ultimately thought it was a good project because it would help free residents from automobile dependence. As the Bay Area population grows and temperatures warm, McPartland said, the region needs bold transportation investment.

 

Bob Franklin had his concerns about the project, but voted for it. “This was split right down the middle with almost every group,” he told KALW. The FTA inquiry, Franklin says, will make BART stronger: “They have shown that this is a priority for them and this organization will comply and do everything necessary to comply with the FTA requirements,” he said. “You know to take into impact low income and minority citizens is fundamental to public transportation and it is something that this  organization will take very seriously – we have a  lot of energy to make right. So I think that we will address every concern the FTA has moving forward.”

 

Though Tom Radulovitch did not respond to KALW’s requests for comment, he offered a grim perspective to the SF Weekly.