BART and the Repelatron Skyway

“Dad, I’ve just figured how to lick our whole problem. Instead of running a road through the jungle, we’ll build an aerial highway above the treetop level!”

Both Mr. Swift and Mr. Newton were astonished.

“I’m afraid that I don’t follow you, son.”

Tom went on enthusiastically, “By running the highway above the trees, we can sidestep the mess of hacking a route through the jungle!”

“Great, but how do you intend to support this aerial highway?” put in Uncle Ned. “It certainly can’t float in the air!”

“That ís just exactly what it will do,” Tom explained.

Tom Swift and his Repelatron Skyway

A BART's-eye View of Oakland

On Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council will consider a resolution opposing the current plan for the Oakland Airport Connector, which I wrote about at greater length (twice, actually! No wait, thrice!) back in May. To summarize: BART is planning to spend over half a billion dollars to build an elevated people mover from BART to the Oakland International Airport. For the privilege of schlepping our luggage across several additional traffic lanes from the shuttle to the terminal and saving a few minutes of travel time, passengers will pay twice as much fare as we currently do on the AirBART shuttle—not including the additional fee added onto all plane tickets out of Oakland Airport in order to recoup the money that BART has demanded from the Port of Oakland for the project. Meanwhile, Oakland gets yet another overhead band of concrete to add to the interstate overpasses and existing BART viaducts that already blight our neighborhoods. Oh, and BART is also borrowing $100 million from the Federal government to fund the project, so even BART riders who don’t live in Oakland and don’t visit the airport are likely to see their fares rise more in coming years in order to service all that additional debt.

All in all, it’s an unmitigated disaster, and the only superficially appealing argument in its favor is that it will create jobs in economically depressed East Oakland. The problem with that argument, of course, is that good public works projects create just as many jobs as bad public works projects, so even if people want to spend half a billion dollars on public transportation projects in order to create jobs, then the money should be spent on projects that will…I don’t know…just a crazy thought here…actually help to transport the public more effectively.

Also on the agenda for the city council meeting is yet another battle in the Great Oakland Parking War of 2009, so the city council chambers will be half full of furious merchants and drivers fuming about parking meters and tickets, and half full of furious transportation activists fuming about BART’s boondoggle. Unfortunately, the Oakland city council cannot stop the BART project directly, but the hope is that if the city council goes on record in opposition to the project, then it will get the attention of bodies that could stop the project, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. (Some MTC commissioners have basically admitted in public meetings that the project is a big waste of money that will leave BART on bad financial footing for decades to come, but they mostly shrugged and voted to approve it anyway, apparently out of deference to BART’s board.)

For people who read local political and transportation blogs, this is all old news—and for those who live farther afield, it is probably of little interest—but since I have a little soapbox here I figure I might as well stand on it and say my piece. I took the photo above over a month ago, but for me it captures BART management’s attitude toward Oakland pretty well: they couldn’t care less whether Oakland gets trashed, as long as they can whisk suburban commuters to downtown San Francisco or the airports with minimal contact with Oakland soil. Elevated BART tracks carry passengers over Oakland’s neighborhoods while elevated freeways carry drivers over Oakland’s streets—a separate transportation grid several dozen feet above ground level, which “sidesteps the mess” below. I couldn’t help but think of Tom Swift’s “repelatron skyway” which was mentioned by a commenter on a previous post. Oakland’s a city, not a swampy jungle, but you wouldn’t know it from the way BART behaves. And when you protest that BART’s wasteful project can’t simply float on borrowed funds, they look you in the eye and tell you, “That is just exactly what it will do!”

3 Responses to “BART and the Repelatron Skyway”

  1. eric says:

    FE writes: “And when you protest that BART’s wasteful project can’t simply float on borrowed funds, they look you in the eye and tell you, ‘That is just exactly what it will do!'”

    Their only hope is for hyperinflation to make all debt meaningless–but Oakland probably wouldn’t do well under that scenario either…

    Excellent post.

  2. dc says:

    Their professed hope is that bids for the project will come in over $100 million under their estimate, obviating the need for taking out a huge loan. That would be better, obviously, but it will still result in an elevated concrete structure running down the median strip of a struggling business district, and it’s still money that could have been much better spent on other projects.

    The city council voted to support the project, with only 2 of the council reps voting to oppose it. I kind of doubt they would have stopped the project anyway, but at least they would have put BART on notice that you can’t renege on your promises without anyone putting up a fight. (To take just one example: as estimated costs for the project have quadrupled from $130 million to over $500 million in less than a decade, BART has dropped plans to build two intermediate stops between the BART station and the airport, which would have served the strip of hotels and businesses that the connector is now going to sail over without stopping. BART now says that “an” intermediate stop could theoretically be added “if funding becomes available,” which is a euphemism for “if the City of Oakland coughs up the money for it themselves.”)

  3. eric says:

    Yikes.

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