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MTC allocates stimulus funds -- nothing for Transbay train box

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  • 2/26 SF Chronicle
    Published Thursday, February 26, 2009, by the San Francisco Chronicle Stimulus funds set for roads, transit By Rachel Gordon Chronicle Staff Writer Bay Area
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 26, 2009
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      Published Thursday, February 26, 2009, by the San Francisco Chronicle

      Stimulus funds set for roads, transit

      By Rachel Gordon
      Chronicle Staff Writer

      Bay Area transportation officials allocated nearly a half-billion
      dollars in federal stimulus funding for regional transit agencies
      and road projects, with the aim of putting construction crews to work
      and helping blunt expected bus and rail service cuts and fare hikes.

      "The money will be used to plug a lot of holes," said Steve Heminger,
      executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the
      regional funding and planning agency that is distributing the federal
      money.

      Of the $787 billion federal recovery package, $48 billion is earmarked
      for transportation. The nine-county Bay Area receives $495 million --
      $341 million for transit and $154 million for roads.

      The bulk -- 79 percent from each pot -- will be used to improve
      existing roads and transit systems. The remainder will fund new
      initiatives.

      Most of the money for roads will be used for repaving. There's also
      funding for signal upgrades and ramp metering.

      The commission set aside $271 million of the transit funding to help
      such agencies as BART, the San Francisco Municipal Railway, the Santa
      Clara Valley Transportation Authority and AC Transit, to operate.

      The timing is fortuitous. Mass transit took a huge hit in California's
      new budget adopted last week, when lawmakers and the governor slashed
      all state funding for transit for the remainder of this fiscal year
      and the one to follow. The result is expected to lead to service cuts,
      fare increases or both.

      At the same time, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission decided
      to give $70 million to the Oakland International Airport connector
      project. Long in the planning but short of funding, the train-to-plane
      project would link the Coliseum BART Station in Oakland to the airport
      via an elevated, 3.2-mile automated people mover.

      Dozens of bus riders and their advocates showed up in force to
      Wednesday's meeting to oppose funding the airport connector when
      the need for funding existing transit operations is so great.

      "We don't want to see money taken away so AC Transit has to raise
      fares and cut service," said Berkeley resident Steve Geller, a
      68-year-old bus rider who echoed dozens of others who testified.

      But not everyone opposed the project.

      James Malveaux, a 54-year-old unemployed carpenter from San
      Francisco, said the federal funds were intended, in part, to help
      the construction industry which has been hammered by the nation's
      ailing economy.

      "Hopefully I'll get a job. I may not, but somebody will," he said.
      "It will put money on the streets."

      Heminger took exception to the notion that spending on one project
      took money from another. Until President Obama signed the stimulus
      bill last week, he said, the funding didn't exist. All the money is
      new, he said.

      "Every transit agency, every county, will walk out of here with
      more money today," he said. "No one's going to lose."

      Commissioners said they understood the frustration of the transit
      advocates but believe the plan they adopted and which was recommended
      by Heminger and his staff provides a good balance.

      Only Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who serves on the panel, opposed
      funding the airport connector. He and other commissioners urged
      members of the public upset with the loss of transit funding to
      focus their anger on the state Legislature and the governor.

      The commission set a series of stringent deadlines for the projects
      to receive the federal funding. The $529 million Oakland airport
      connector, for example, is still short $171 million, even with the
      new federal funding. If commitments for the additional money aren't
      secured by June 30, the $70 million allocated Wednesday would revert
      back to Bay Area transit agencies to use on operations.

      One big project that the commission opted not to fund is the so-called
      train box that would be built beneath the planned new Transbay
      Terminal at First and Mission streets in San Francisco South. Project
      sponsors hope the new transit station will be the San Francisco
      terminus for California's voter-backed high-speed rail project.

      Details of the train box, including the size, cost and whether it
      should be built before or after the station opens, are still being
      debated. Heminger said that as part of the federal stimulus package,
      $8 billion was set-aside for high-speed and inter-city rail projects.
      Agencies will have to compete for that funding.

      Heminger said the Transbay project should be in a good position
      to get a share of the funding. California is the only state with a
      high-speed train plan and committed funding.

      A funding snapshot

      The federal stimulus package provides $495 million for Bay Area
      transportation projects. Transit agencies are set to receive
      $341 million; road projects are in line for $154 million.

      Among the projects on the funding list:

      -- $70 million for the elevated connector between BART and Oakland
      International Airport.
      -- $47.5 million for 107 new hybrid buses for the Santa Clara Valley
      Transportation Authority.
      -- $11 million for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
      to install 67 ticket vending machines.
      -- $7 million to install ramp metering on southbound Interstate 280
      between San Bruno and Daly City.
      -- $18.2 million for road safety improvements on Vasco Road between
      Brentwood and Livermore.
      -- $5.5 million for track and infrastructure upgrades for Caltrain.
      -- $9.4 million for Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation
      District to refurbish ferries.
      -- $1.2 million for curb ramps and sidewalk repairs in Oakland.
      -- $176,000 for repair of downtown streets in Half Moon Bay.
      -- $605,000 to buy compressed natural gas bus for Sonoma County
      Transit.

      For a complete list of funded projects, go to: www.sfgate.com/ZGGP

      Source: Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

      E-mail Rachel Gordon at rgordon@...
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