FTA Denies BART $70 Mil For Oakland Airport Connector
The FTA's decision comes after three advocate groups filed a complaint alleging that BART failed to evaluate whether the project would provide low-income and minority communities with a fair share of the project's benefits.
The FTA found there were significant equity concerns with the project, which is estimated to cost riders up to $6 each way, and agreed with advocates that the plan violated Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. BART then went to work on a civil rights action plan to address the concerns.
However, the FTA rejected BART's action plan in today's letter, saying there was no way BART could comply with civil rights laws by the deadline of September 30.
FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff wrote in the letter that the agency was concerned that moving forward with the project would tie it up in litigation for too long.
All federal funds that are not distributed by September 30 must be returned to the Treasury, so the $70 million will be diverted to other Bay Area projects in order to keep the money in the region.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which coordinates transportation for the nine-county Bay Area, is expected to re-direct the stimulus funds to rehabilitation and preventive maintenance projects for various transit agencies.
Wynn Hausser, spokesman for Public Advocates, the San Francisco-based nonprofit law firm and advocacy group representing the groups that opposed the connector, said tonight, "We're really pleased with this outcome. We really applaud FTA for taking this seriously and sending a clear message that you can't cut corners on civil rights."
However, Oakland and BART officials today expressed frustration with the FTA's decision to deny funding for the connector project.
BART General Manager Dorothy 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."
Dugger, who said BART is committed to completing a final plan that the FTA would approve, argued, "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. Access to jobs is also a civil rights issue."
She said 20 percent of the construction work and 33 percent of the professional services work would go toward disadvantaged business enterprises.
Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid, who represents the district where the connector would be built and has been working on the project for many years, said the FTA's decision "is truly sad and regrettable" and "is very frustrating to me."
Reid said, "This project is important to the region and would revitalize a part of Oakland that's always been known as the killing fields of the city."
The councilman said Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums has been in contact with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and other officials in Washington, D.C., to try to save the $70 million and the project.
Dellums' spokesman, Paul Rose, confirmed that Dellums and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, spoke to Rogoff about the matter today and have also been in contact with other officials in Washington, D.C.
Rose said Dellums "recognizes that civil rights issues are involved and should be addressed but also wants to make sure that the project goes forward."
BART spokeswoman Luna Salavar said last month that the agency would likely still move forward with the connector even if the stimulus money fell through.
The project would probably be slowed down, she said, but BART would not scrap the $492 million project entirely.
Current plans call for a 3.5-year construction phase, with service beginning in 2013.
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