GREEN CITY Public transit agencies in the Bay Area are being hit with deep cuts to their operating budgets, thanks to the recent state budget deal, and are hoping to use money from the federal economic stimulus bill to maintain their operations.
That conflict played out during a Feb. 25 hearing by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Oakland, the agency that distributes federal transportation funds to the nine Bay Area counties, which was considering how to distribute $341 million in funding intended for public transit agencies and $154 million for road projects.
Caltrain, AC Transit, Bay Area Rapid Transit, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, other Bay Area districts, and transit user groups urged the MTC board to direct most of the money to immediate needs rather than long-term projects.
Community groups urged the MTC to abandon plans to use $70 million for BART’s Oakland Airport extension and $75 million for the Transbay Terminal rebuild in San Francisco.
“People who are most affected when Muni makes fare increases and service cuts are people who are transit-dependent,” said Razzu Engen, who represents the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Transit Justice Project. “You can have the best capital expansion project there is out there, but if you don’t have the money to run it, forget it, it’s not worthwhile.”
While the MTC voted to remove the Transbay Terminal expenditure — noting that it could tap into a separate pot of $8 billion for high-speed rail projects in the stimulus measure — they kept the BART extension project in place, leaving $271 million to be divided among the transit agencies.
“Our ongoing need is to maintain continuing operations. But maintenance doesn’t have a very big constituency on the commission. We have a firm commitment to capital programs,” MTC spokesperson Randy Rentschler told the Guardian.
Judson True, spokesperson for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (which operates Muni), said the money will help offset state funding losses of $61 million over the next two years and allow the agency to “rehabilitate the system.”
Among the expenditures approved by the MTC was $11 million to install 67 new Muni ticket vending machines and money for new Muni vehicles and rail interchanges.
Jose Luis Moscovich, executive director of San Francisco County Transportation Authority, supported the MTC’s decision. “[We’re] going to see money flowing through formulas to Muni to alleviate service conditions on the T-Third, N-Judah, the L.”
Moscovich maintains that the region “needs to take the opportunity of the stimulus package to do things that are going to change the way we live. Paradoxically, these big projects like the Transbay project are the things that are going to take us in that direction.”
Yet the removal of the Transbay Terminal funding, while upsetting to Sup. Chris Daly — who serves on both the MTC board and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority board — turns out to be even more complicated than it seemed at the time.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported March 2 (“Transbay high-speed rail station hits a snag”) that both the California High Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain — systems expected to share the new Transbay Terminal rail terminus — are now expressing doubts about whether they will use the facility after all because of design flaws with its rail component.
CHSRA chair Quentin Kopp was quoted as saying, “Three sets of engineers met and concurred that the design for the station was inadequate and useless for high-speed rail.”
TJPA spokesperson Adam Alberti, who has been sparring with Kopp in recent months over whether Transbay will be the terminus for a high-speed rail system extending from San Francisco to Los Angeles (see “Breaking ground,” 12/10/08), told the Guardian, “I don’t think it’s as bad as it sounds.”
He said the TJPA is currently working to resolve the engineering problems and handle the increased volume expected from high-speed rail and Caltrain and he hopes to have a solution in place by March 12, when he said the MTC will revisit the matter.
BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger also defended the Oakland Airport extension, telling the Guardian, “The challenge in transit is not one over the other. We need to address all those requirements if we’re going to end up with an effective, functioning system that continues to attract people out of their cars and into the smart environmental choice — which is public transit.”