OAKLAND -- A regional transportation commission on Wednesday allocated $20 million in state funds for a planned BART rail extension to Oakland International Airport, moving the $484 million project closer to full funding.
The 6-2 vote by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's programming and allocations committee was one of the last funding hurdles before BART could begin construction, perhaps by the end of the year, officials said. The California Transportation Commission now must approve the state funding.
BART officials had thought they had the $484 million for the project, but the federal government in February denied $70 million in economic stimulus funds. BART has been scrambling to plug the $70 million hole by tapping into several sources, including borrowing from the federal government.
"This removes one more obstacle. We're getting close," BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger said after the decision Wednesday.
The vote followed another emotional public debate about whether the long-planned and expensive rail link to the airport should be scrapped in favor of an upgraded express bus service.
Critics said the 3.2-mile elevated "people mover" tram between the Oakland Coliseum station and the airport is wasteful. An express bus service called "bus rapid transit" could move as many people to the airport as fast and at a fraction of the cost, critics have said.
Laura Thomas, an Alameda resident, said it's a shame BART is spending nearly $500 million on the rail extension, which would replace AirBART bus shuttles, when AC Transit is considering slashing weekend bus service by half because of financial problems.
The proposed rail extension, Thomas said, would deepen the transit divide between people who can afford to fly and those who can't afford to own a car.
Several critics called the people mover a "boondoggle" that BART has refused to drop even as projected costs have soared and ridership figures have dropped since the environmental impact report was approved in 2002.
In support of the rail extension, leaders from BART, the Alameda County Transportation Commission and business and construction industries said the job-rich project will produce a relaxing and convenient service immune to street traffic delays.
"Enough analysis. Let's build," said BART Director Carole Ward Allen, of Oakland. "We have many people here who are out of work."
Scott Haggerty, the Alameda County supervisor who heads the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said he is frustrated that opponents are trying to delay the rail link to the Oakland airport years after BART opened a line to San Francisco International Airport.
"I'm tired of Oakland getting crapped on," Haggerty said, accusing critics of being parochial rather than considering how mobility in the region would benefit from the rail extension.