The big news from the day: even though BART and FTA have been working the past couple weeks on a plan to correct the Title VI deficiencies in BART’s Oakland Airport Connector project, today Peter Rogoff sent a letter (PDF) to BART and MTC announcing that BART’s corrective action plan for the OAC has been soundly rejected:
Since my letter of January 15, FTA staff and BART have worked diligently but unsuccessfully on the development of a corrective action plan that might be acceptable. I am require to now inform you that your plan is rejected. I ask that you immediately get in contact with Region IX Administrator Leslie Rogers for the purpose of pursuing alternative projects for the Bay area that can be obligated prior to the March 5 deadline.
Rogoff goes on to explain that the $70 million of ARRA stimulus funds cannot be disbursed to the Oakland Airport Connector. In order to receive that funding, BART would have to bring its practices into compliance with Title VI before September 30, 2010, and it was clear to both BART and FTA that there was simply not sufficient time to do so:
I am required to reject your plan for the following reasons. Based on the timelines submitted by BART, there is no way the agency can come into full compliance with Title VI by September 30, 2010. The requirements of ARRA dictate that any funds not disbursed by September 30, 2010, must be lapsed back to the Treasury. And since I cannot allow BART to draw any funds for the OAC project prior to coming into full compliance, it is clear that pursuit of the OAC project would result in the funds either being reallocated out of the Bay Area or lapsed. Both scenarios are unacceptable to me as I am sure they are to you. Let me say that, based on FTA’s experience in other cities, BART is being realistic in admitting that the process of coming into full compliance will take considerably longer than the 8+ months that remain before the September 30 deadline. I appreciate and respect your honesty in this regard.
The announcement means that the Oakland Airport Connector is not eligible for critical federal funding that BART needs in order to construct the project. MTC had previously planned to evaluate BART’s proposed Title VI action plan at a special meeting on February 17, but now that the FTA has rejected BART’s plan, even the Commissioners will finally have to consider alternative uses for the $70 million of ARRA funding. It is critical that this stimulus funding remain in the Bay Area. Rogoff’s letter implies that there will be time to do so, if MTC acts now to approve an alternative funding plan:
Given this sitaution, and the fact that we are now only 3 weeks away from the March 5 deadline, I must bring these discussions to a close so that we can work together to ensure that the ARRA funds can create and preserve jobs in the Bay area.
The alternative funding plan (PDF) is the same plan that transit advocates have heartily supported for the entire past year, namely, to distribute the $70 million to transit agencies for system preservation and preventive maintenance purposes. The funding includes almost $17 million for BART, $17.5 million for Muni, $6.7 million for AC Transit, $12.3 million for VTA, $2.7 million for Caltrain, $2.4 million for Golden Gate, and about $2 million for SamTrans, as well as funding for small operators.
We have yet to hear an official response from BART about Rogoff’s letter. My sincere hope is that BART, upon seeing that a large hole has been opened in the OAC’s capital budget, will finally be willing to take public comment seriously and cooperate with the community — by scrapping this ineffective, bloated elevated Connector and replacing it with a more cost-effective enhanced bus. Should BART choose to do so, a considerable amount of local money that has been reserved for the OAC could then be reprogrammed to other, more useful Bay Area projects.
It is extremely gratifying that FTA was receptive, not only in hearing the concerns of transit advocates about the troubling social justice implications of the OAC, but also in acting swiftly and definitively on this matter. And when MTC officially reprograms the funding, it will also be gratifying to see our region’s cash-strapped transit agencies — reeling as they are from a death spiral induced by the State’s theft of transit monies — get some relief.