After nearly 40 years of discussion and planning, the connection between BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and the Oakland Airport is finally nearing completion. Like most transportation infrastructure projects (especially those in the Bay Area) this 3.2-mile, $484.1 million connector faced numerous obstacles, delays, and controversy even after construction broke ground in October 2011.
Those who support the connector claim that the project will bring construction jobs to Oakland, and so far, 175 out of 500 construction workers have been hired locally. Supporters also claim that the connector will raise Oakland’s profile by replacing the current shuttle system with a seamless, modern cable-car connection to the airport, which will attract more airlines.
Those against the connector have nicknamed it the “boondoggle,” questioning the actual value of the public project, and have even expressed civil rights concerns. In fact, the Federal Transportation Agency withdrew $70 million in funding in 2010 when officials decided BART had not done enough to gather the public opinion from minorities and low-income communities. Critics also claimed that BART has higher priorities to spend money on, such as buying a new fleet of cars.
However, the tipping point for the construction of the Oakland Airport connector has little to do with the reasons proponents and critics cite in public comments. By the time construction broke ground, $64 million in public funds had already been spent on engineering, planning, insurance, and construction support for the project. And paying off contractors who were already hired would cost another $30 to $150 million.
Do you know of any projects in your area that were also too costly to stop? What do you think about the involvement of public funds in controversial projects such as this one? Is there any way in which funding for projects such as these could be improved?