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Oakland Airport Connector Could Be Derailed Again

Rendering of proposed connector
//yeti-cir-test.s3.amazonaws.com/uploaded/images/2010/9/oak-connector-plan/original/Oak airport connector plan.jpg
Rendering of proposed connector
 
Ground has already been broken, but BART director tries to kill $500 million "gold-plated" tram

OAK connector planBART has already spent $64 million on the controversial Oakland Airport connector.

But Robert Raburn, a member of the BART Board of Directors, thinks he can derail the roughly $500 million project, which he’s nicknamed the “gold-plated” connector, before any more money is spent. 

The tram is slated to run from the Coliseum BART station to Oakland International Airport and replace the shuttle bus that currently runs a similar route. It’s been called a “boondoggle” by critics; the feds yanked $70 million from the project last year over civil rights concerns. Others say the connector would be a boon to Oakland, bringing jobs and an easier way to get to the airport. 

The BART board approved the connector last July — and a celebratory ground-breaking was held in October. But two of the project’s biggest champions have since left the transit agency. 

Longtime incumbent Carole Ward Allen, who had championed the project in her district for nearly a decade, lost her seat in November to Raburn, who ran on an anti-connector campaign. BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger, who worked hard to cobble together funding for the project, resigned recently after the board tried to fire her in February.

Raburn told The Bay Citizen that he hopes to put the matter on the agenda for an upcoming BART board meeting, saying the money should be spent on more pressing needs. For instance, he said, BART still needs to come up with $155 million in order to receive $850 million in federal funding for the first phase of buying a new fleet of cars.

Tom Radulovich, another BART board member and a longtime critic of the connector, said it’s possible that the tide could turn on the project.

“There is a lot of deference to the director whose district has the project,” said Radulovich. “And without Dorothy and Carole, you have to ask who at BART really likes this project.”

Larry Reid, an Oakland City Council member whose district includes the Coliseum, criticized Raburn, saying the connector project will create jobs for Oakland. He also questioned the judgment of breaking agreements with construction companies that have signed on to work on the connector, suggesting they might sue.

“It will ultimately be very expensive for BART, because they’ve signed a legally binding contract with companies building the connector,” said Reid. “If they’ve got money they can just give away, they can send some our way.”

According to an April 21 email from BART controller Scott Schroeder to Raburn, $64 million has already been spent on the project. About half of that went toward preliminary engineering, planning and insurance, but a total of $21 million has already been spent on construction, with another $10 million spent on "construction support."

BART spokesman Linton Johnson said that construction crews have been moving utility lines and building a project management office, but that most of the construction costs are from ordering supplies and materials such as steel. He explained that construction companies often enter into contracts for materials to lock in a good price early on. Flatiron, one of the companies building the connector, didn’t return calls seeking comment.

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