PHOENIX- Voters in the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District will decide in November whether to approve $3.5 billion of general obligation bonds.
The district's Oakland-based board voted 9-0 Thursday to put the bond measure before the voters this fall, citing a need to rebuild parts of the 44 year-old rail system that serves Northern California's largest population center. The proposed bond would fund a plan to replace and repair some 90 miles of track and other infrastructure.
"This bond measure is practical; it's dedicated to fixing what we have," said Board President Tom Radulovich. "We have a responsibility to keep our system safe and reliable while getting the maximum value out of taxpayers' investment."
The BART plan consists 90% of safety and reliability-oriented repairs with the remainder dedicated to steps to improve accessibility and relieve congestion, according to documents released to promote the effort to the public. That will include replacing decades-old track, but also upgrading the infrastructure that powers those tracks. Much of that electric cabling, converters, and other infrastructure is original from 1972, the agency said, and won't be able to support BART's expected increase in train operation. That part of the plan also includes waterproofing some of the BART tunnels that lie below seawater and are threatened by flooding.
The rest of the money, $335 million, is slated to improve parking options as well as replacing the system's public announcement speakers, guardrails, and handrails to improve access for the disabled.
Some members of the public offered comments in support of the bond measure.
"Our businesses rely on a safe transportation system, said Barbara Leslie, president and chief executive officer of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. "BART has literally woven together our city and our region in a way that has allowed our community to grow and our economy to flourish. We look forward to a safe and reliable infrastructure in the future."
Jason Elliot, deputy chief of staff to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, offered a statement on behalf of the mayor.
"Sixty-seven percent of BART trips begin or end in the downtown San Francisco stations so truly a healthy economy in San Francisco requires a healthy BART system, they are interlinked," Elliot said.
The bond idea has met some skepticism and is likely to meet some resistance from those who think BART has been wasteful of taxpayer money in the past. State Senator Steven Glazer, D-Contra Costa, has said he would oppose the bond measure and has been a frequent critic of BART spending. BART said in a statement that it plans to take steps to ensure that taxpayer trust in the agency is not misplaced.
"If voters choose to pass the measure in November, great care will be taken to ensure the public's money is protected and spent wisely. An independent audit committee will be commissioned to publish regular, transparent reports on how the money is being spent, with open, frequent and public meetings."