BART directors voted 7-1 Thursday to approve a $522 million plan to build a 3.2-mile elevated tramway between BART's Oakland Coliseum station and the Oakland International Airport.
Proponents said at a hearing that lasted nearly five hours that the light rail system will move passengers to the airport more quickly than the current Air-BART bus service, which is subject to traffic gridlock, and the project will create jobs for workers who desperately need jobs.
But opponents said it's irresponsible for BART to build the project when it faces a projected $250 million budget shortfall and a rapid bus service from the Coliseum station to the airport would only cost between $45 million and $60 million.
BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger said the project must still clear a few more hurdles from other agencies before it goes forward but she believes Thursday's action "is clearly an important milestone."
Dugger said that if all goes well, contracts for the project will be awarded by the end of this year, construction will begin sometime next year and the tramway will begin operating in 2013.
Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid, who represents the East Oakland district where the light rail system would be built, praised BART's action, saying that he's been working on the project, which was first proposed more than 30 years ago, since he was appointed former Mayor Elihu Harris's chief of staff in 1991.
But BART Director Tom Radulovich of San Francisco, who cast the lone "no" vote, criticized the project as being "municipal bling" because the transit agency could save hundreds of millions of dollars by implementing a rapid bus system.