Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Oakland Council Backs Airport Connector

By Robert Gammon
Wed, Oct 7, 2009 at 9:56 AM

The Oakland City Council reaffirmed its support early this morning for a controversial and expensive tramway from the Coliseum BART station to Oakland International Airport. The council voted 5-2 in favor of the connector, which could cost more than $500 million to build, and turned back a proposal by transit activists and Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan to oppose the project. Opponents had argued that the automated tramway was a boondoggle and that the city and airport would be better served by a rapid-bus system that would cost about one-tenth the price.

But several councilmembers, including President Jane Brunner, decided to voice their support for the connector - which will not require city money - because of concerns that most of the funding for the project would leave Oakland if it was scrapped. Randy Rentschler of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission said at the meeting that most of the public money earmarked for connector would go to other transportation projects and operations around the Bay Area. In addition, Councilwoman Jean Quan argued that if the connector was killed, it would be several years before a rapid-bus system could gain approval - and there was no guarantee that it ever would.

Ultimately, the council majority decided to back a resolution by Vice Mayor Ignacio De La Fuente in support of the connector that included a demand that BART construction contractors be required to hire Oakland residents to help build the project. Currently, BART only has "goals" for local hiring. Also, De La Fuente's resolution called on BART to build a station along Hegenberger Road if the bids for the project are less than what the transit agency estimated. Currently, there are no plans for a station to serve the Hegenberger businesses.

Although the council's vote is non-binding on BART, if it had voted against the connector, it would have sent a strong message that Oakland didn't want the project. On the other hand, the council's support for the project means that opponents now have almost no chance of defeating it. Council members Brunner, Quan, De La Fuente, Larry Reid, and Pat Kernighan voted to support the connector, while Kaplan and Nancy Nadel voted to scrap it. Councilwoman Desley Brooks was absent, although if she had been there, she likely would have voted against the connector. Mayor Ron Dellums, by contrast, supports the tramway.

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