OAKLAND, Calif. — It’s not dead yet.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit District board voted 8 to 1 Thursday to move forward with plans to build a people-mover link to Oakland International Airport, after coming up with alternative funds to replace the abrupt loss of a $70 million federal stimulus grant in February.
BART plans to build a 3.2-mile-long automated, driverless train system linking the system’s Coliseum train station with Oakland airport.
The $484 million project would replace the bus service that currently links the airport with the rail transit system.
The project was jeopardized — some thought killed — by the February loss of the $70 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant.
The Federal Transit Administration withdrew the funding because it determined BART had failed to conduct a required civil-rights analysis of the project’s service and fare affects on low-income and minority communities.
The action came in response to a complaint filed by a local transit advocacy group that believes the airport connector is a needlessly expensive way to accomplish service goals that could be achieved with a much-less expensive upgrade to the bus link.
BART staff returned to the board Thursday with a revised funding plan to make up for the lost grant — partly by shifting funds from other internal and state funding sources, saving money by reducing the planned contingency fund, and by borrowing more money.
The board room Thursday was packed with construction trade-union members in matching black T-shirts, there to support the project, and the vote was taken after comments from several dozen members of the public, most of them supportive.
The new plan increases the planned borrowing from the federal government’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program to $106 million from $79 million.
Responding to a question from board president James Fang, treasurer-controller Scott Schroeder said the federal government had not indicated it will approve the TIFIA loan — or disapprove it.
“We’ve certainly submitted all the required documents to indicate we are applying,” Schroeder said. “We continue to ask the question. We continue to get the typical answer of 'We’re not sure.’ ”
If the TIFIA loan funding does not materialize, Schroeder said, the project can be financed instead in the municipal bond market.
“Certainly Build America Bonds are an available alternative; they’re just a little more costly,” he said.
While it is anticipated that farebox revenue from the connector will cover debt service, any debt would be backed by BART’s sales tax collections.
The new funding plan also includes $5.4 million from a California rail bond issue. BART expects to receive $17.4 million from the state bond, but now plans to take $5.4 million away from reliability improvements for its existing trains to help finance the connector projects.
The dissenting board member, Tom Radulovich, noted that most of the missing $70 million is either coming from BART itself, or diverted from other regional transportation projects, and warned about the level of borrowing involved.
“Debt isn’t free money,” he said. “TIFIA isn’t, hey, here’s free federal money — it’s a loan.”
John White Knox, program director at TransForm, the transportation advocacy group that filed the original federal complaint, said the airport connector will end up draining money from the core BART system.
“The financial model doesn’t add up,” he said. “Your model is based on information that is not realistic.”
But supporters came out in droves to urge the board to get the airport connector project moving.
“Let’s just get some shovels, find some dirt and get this project started,” Oakland City Council member Larry Reid told the board.
BART general manager Dorothy Dugger announced that the civil rights procedural complaints that triggered the denial of the ARRA grant in February have been resolved to the satisfaction of the Federal Transit Administration.
That doesn’t mean BART will get the $70 million ARRA grant back — that money has already been redistributed to other projects in the San Francisco region.
But the FTA needs to sign off on BART’s civil rights policy before rapid transit system can obtain the $25 million “small starts” grant the federal regulator allocated for the airport connector.