High-flying transit

Oakland started construction on an elevated-track transit system that will bring travelers from a train station to the airport

January 04, 2012

In two years, the Oakland Airport area will have a new way to transport travelers from a nearby Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station to the airport, according to the  Oakland Tribune. 

Construction has begun on an elevated track on which cable-drawn, three-car trains will run. Proponents of the project say this will be faster and more reliable than the current AirBART bus system, a privately run shuttle system that makes the same trip.

Once completed, the almost $500 million connector will have created at least 2,500 jobs, supporters predict, and will offer the Bay Area a signature extension to a growing transportation network much like the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge or the international terminal at San Francisco's airport.

Critics, however, see the columns as an example of government waste perpetuated by a stubborn vision of the future based on faulty projections in the past.

The jobs promised will not be created, they say. Neither will travel times decrease in the way BART has promised during the 3.2-mile trip between the airport's terminals and the Coliseum BART station.

The only lasting impact the connector will have, detractors say, is a debit bill that BART passengers will have to pay for decades, leaving more important BART projects stuck in planning phase purgatory with no source of funding available.

Since it was proposed more than a decade ago, the airport connector has been an on-again, off-again project.

Changes to how the Port of Oakland planned to expand its airport caused delays. A shift in how the project would be funded almost killed the plan. And then, last year, the federal government withdrew monetary support, claiming BART failed to properly study the impact of the connector on minority and poor residents.

All the while, the cost of the project increased from an initial price tag of roughly $130 million to the current coast of almost $500 million.

BART officials defend the rising costs and say the initial projection was not accurate and not made by them. The increases that followed were due to delays and a souring economy.

The rising costs also impacted the projected cost of riding the connector. In BART's environmental impact report, the agency said it would have to charge $12 for a round trip on the connector to ensure the project pays for itself.

AirBART currently costs $6 per round trip.

BART spokesman Jim Allison said fare predictions for the connector are not guaranteed. The BART board could lower the fares and then subsidize the connector through other revenues, he said.

But while the cost estimates rose, the number of jobs that officials predicted the connector would generate declined.

Initially, proponents said the connector would create 13,000 jobs, including direct and indirect jobs. Now, Project Manager Tom Dunscombe said the project will provide at least 2,500 jobs. As of December, just over 200 jobs have been created.

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