BART's plan to build a 3.2-mile-long elevated tramway between its Oakland Coliseum station and the Oakland airport cleared another hurdle in its long history Wednesday when a regional transit agency voted 6-2 to approve $20 million in state funding for the project.
That sum represents only a small portion of the project's estimated $484 million cost, but BART Director Carole Ward Allen, who represents part of Oakland, said the money is significant and if the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Programming and Allocations Committee hadn't approved it the project might have been killed.
"I'm excited and so happy because this project has had so many stalls," Ward Allen said. "We've spent more than 20 years waiting for this and that's too long."
The project faces another vote by the California Transportation Commission later this month, but Ward Allen said she expects that agency to approve it because it voted unanimously to approve a previous version of the plan.
BART spokesman Linton Johnson said if the state commission approves the project, work on the connector could begin in six months and take about four years to be completed.
The connector was approved by the regional commission and several other agencies in 2009, and work was set to begin early this year.
But the Federal Transit Administration created a major roadblock in February by denying BART $70 million in federal stimulus money to help fund the project after three advocate groups filed a complaint alleging that the agency failed to evaluate whether the project would provide low-income and minority communities with a fair share of the project's benefits.
In addition to the $20 million approved by the regional commission, BART is now trying to fill the $70 million funding gap through loans and money from one of the agency's reserve funds.
Opponents of the airport connector project say BART could save hundreds of millions of dollars by developing a rapid bus service between the Coliseum station and the Oakland airport at a cost of between $83 million and $125 million.