It may soon be easier to ride BART from Pleasanton all the way to Oakland Airport terminals.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission voted 10-3 Wednesday to approve BART's request for $140 million in regional funding to help pay for its $522 million plan to build a 3.2-mile elevated tramway between the Oakland Coliseum station and the Oakland airport.
BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger said the vote is "one of the final steps" in getting the project, which has been discussed for more than 20 years, underway soon.
Dugger said, "This is a clear signal to the contracting committee that the region is serious about this project."
She said the transit agency has already started the bidding process for the project and bids are due in September.
BART directors are scheduled to award the contract in November and work will begin early next year if all goes well, Dugger said.
Work is expected to take three years and it's anticipated that the service will begin in 2013, she said.
The three MTC members who voted against the project were Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly and Sue Lempert, who represents the cities of San Mateo County.
Supporters of the project, who include many union leaders and members as well as the Oakland Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, told MTC commissioners at a two-and-a-half-hour hearing Wednesday 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.
They also said it will create jobs for construction workers, many of whom are now unemployed.
But project opponents, who include many public transit advocates who favor bus service over rail service, said it's irresponsible for BART to build the airport connector when it faces a projected budget deficit of at least $250 million over the next four years.
They said BART could save hundreds of millions of dollars by using a rapid bus service from the Coliseum station to the airport because they estimate that such a service would only cost between $45 million and $60 million.