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May 11, 2004 > BART Looks to Feds for Funds

BART Looks to Feds for Funds

BART originally approved the Warm Springs extension project in the early 1990's as a state and locally funded project. An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was filed in 1992 and a supplemental EIR in 1993 in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The CEQA review was completed and a preferred alternative was adopted June 2003.

Changes in transportation funding at the state level has prompted BART to seek eligibility for federal funds. In order to do this, a separate environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) must be completed. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and BART are preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Warm Springs Extension project to qualify for federal funds.

The NEPA process was initiated in March of this year and a Notice of Intent published April 6, 2004. Recently, a "Scoping Meeting" was held at the Fremont Main Library to elicit public comment and concerns as part of the NEPA. According to a handout at that meeting, the "Scoping" period will end May 17, 2004 followed by a Public and Agency Review of the Draft EIS and release of a final EIS later this year and a "Record of Decision" early 2005. This will complete the NEPA requirements and, if all goes well, allow federal funding of the extension.

TCV asked Mollie McArthur, BART Project Spokesperson to comment on the NEPA process, the viability of the planned extension to Warm Springs, the VTA (Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority) - BART rail line to San Jose and the planned connection with Oakland International Airport.

TCV: We haven't heard much recently except bad news from the state about the BART extension to Warm Springs. Is it alive?

McArthur: Absolutely. It is alive and well.

TCV: Can you explain in broad terms the NEPA process and the need for it?

McArthur: Sure, the reason we're going through this process is to make the project eligible to seek federal funding. We passed the CEQA (California Environmental Protection Act) process a year ago and were proceeding with CEQA validation to seek state funding to move forward with the project. Our state financial situation is pretty dire. As prudent managers, we looked at the needs of our project and decided to seek certification under NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act). What's interesting about that is that the California requirements for environmental protection are much more stringent than the national standards. That makes it pretty easy for us to take all of the research that we have already done during the CEQA process; we're sort of ahead of the game. It doesn't require as much research because we've already done more research than is probably necessary.

TCV: The meeting that was just held, was simply to gather information, not to answer questions, correct?

McArthur: Correct, the process requires that we hold a public comment meeting; a formalized meeting. It's a bit awkward in that it's not designed to be a question and answer session, only to provide a formal forum for people to make comments about the scope of the project.

TCV: This will be followed by a published report including answers to any concerns?

McArthur: That's correct. A final report will include comments and answers to comments.

TCV: Is this process intended to replace state funding?

McArthur: Not replace, augment. We will still seek state funding. We understand that the state funding situation is pretty grim and wanted to seek additional avenues for funding. That is why we proceeded with NEPA.

TCV: Is federal funding for this type of project currently available?

McArthur: Yes, the transportation budget is part of the national budget. We would be eligible to apply for funds through the Department of Transportation (DOT) once we have achieved NEPA certification.

TCV: Is funding through the DOT a good bet?

McArthur: You never know exactly what will transpire, but BART has been very successful in the past because we have well-planned extensions, solid engineering and our system has an excellent reputation. As a system, we have one of the highest fare box returns of any transportation entity in the country, so when we arrive in Washington seeking funding, we are looked on favorably. We have excellent support from our local elected officials and our congressional delegation.

TCV: Does funding the BART extension to Warm Springs have anything to do with the VTA (Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority) project?

McArthur: They're considered separate projects, but obviously they will meet.

TCV: So, is VTA going through a similar process for NEPA certification?

McArthur: Yes they are.

TCV: Will BART and VTA be presented as two separate entities or as a joint project?

McArthur: Two separate projects.

TCV: Is it possible that one part will get funding and the other part may not?

McArthur: That is a possibility, but again, since BART has such a very high-quality reputation in Washington D.C., our anticipation is that we have a solid opportunity.

TCV: Let's take the best-case scenario. When will the NEPA process be complete?

McArthur: We hope to complete the NEPA process by the end of this year.

TCV: The handout at the "Scoping" meeting indicates a "Record of Decision" in early 2005. What does record of decision mean?

McArthur: That's the official end of the process. If the federal government determines that you have met the NEPA requirements and they're going to certify you as a NEPA certified project, they issue a Record of Decision which means you are now certified.

TCV: After certification, you can apply to the Department of Transportation for funds?

McArthur: Exactly. That would be in the national budgetary cycle. Our application would be part of the President's budget.

TCV: Given the best of all circumstances, when would construction start?

McArthur: There are a variety of scenarios. It is probably best to look in the immediate term. This is a design build project. We need to be able to identify all of our funding sources, but while we're doing that, we are also doing the designing. We are actually advancing the project right now in the design phase. Ideally, if we are able to proceed and line up all of our funding, I think we would be looking at somewhere in 2006 to move into construction.

TCV: Will BART tracks be constructed along the same alignment as originally proposed with no improvement at Irvington except a minimal pad for a future station?

McArthur: Right. the Irvington station was to be funded by the City of Fremont. The City of Fremont is currently unable to put the funding so we are reserving that location as an option and would be delighted to build it if the funding becomes available.

TCV: In the event that VTA receives their funds soon, would the entire extension to San Jose be completed simultaneously?

McArthur: Since they are considered separate projects each would go along separate schedules and I have not yet seen a full schedule so I can't speak directly to that. The intention would be to harmonize the two projects so that they could open pretty close to each other.

VTA is a bigger project. They have more stations and it's longer. We have one, possibly two stations in 5.4 miles. That's different than the size of project they've got on their plate. [Editor's Note: The VTA project is a 16.3 mile extension of the BART rail system to San Jose including seven stations plus one future station and a maintenance and vehicle storage yard.]

TCV: Once all construction (VTA & BART) is completed, will a rider know the difference between VTA track and BART track? Will he or she be on the same car? The same train?

McArthur: It will be seamless. The only difference is that VTA is building that Southern end of the system and BART is building the northern end. We will meet somewhere along the track, but for passengers, they will be the same track and in the same car.

TCV: How about the extension due to be constructed to the Oakland airport? Can you briefly explain what that is going to be and when it will be completed?

McArthur: That project is a little bit different from other projects. For the first time, we are looking at a non-traditional BART vehicle. This will be a connecter system that comes off a deck added to the BART Coliseum Station. Passengers would go up one floor from the existing coliseum platform and enter the Airport Connecter Platform. There are six different vehicle modes proposed. They range from a monorail to a rubber-wheeled vehicle to rail vehicles. The systems that have been proposed have all been pre-qualified to bid at a later time. We've reviewed the vehicles for this particular application. The vehicle used will depend on whichever design team wins the bid, but it will not be a BART-type vehicle.

TCV: Would you use a BART ticket to gain entry to this shuttle?

McArthur: Yes. It will function in the same way as BART in terms of ticketing and so forth. There will be no barrier. It will be just like transferring at any other BART station.

TCV: So, you will need to enter through the BART station?

McArthur: Correct.

TCV: How about at the airport end?

McArthur: There will be a station right next to but not physically inside the airport. We identified a location then the airport had a real windfall opportunity. United Airlines vacated a building and gave the airport an opportunity to expand. In light of their expansion, they said, "Maybe we want the BART station to be in a slightly different location." We are now discussing the best and final location. We are close to a conclusion. In any case, it will be a short walk. You'll get off the BART vehicle and be right there.

TCV: In the event that I was taking the shuttle from Oakland International Airport and did not have a BART ticket, would I would buy a ticket for the shuttle service or purchase a BART ticket?

McArthur: A BART ticket. All of the ticketing will be the same as any other BART station even though the vehicle will be a slightly different. It will be regular BART. You will process your regular BART ticket just like you would at any other station.

TCV: Is this designed to be a continuously running shuttle service?

McArthur: That is something that we have to work out with the airport. It will probably follow the same hours as the regular BART system. The BART system shuts down at about one to four in the morning to maintain the rails.

TCV: When is the anticipated opening?

McArthur: The project hasn't been fully funded. We are in the same place we are here as we are with the other capital projects. We are seeking funding.

TCV: What else do you have to add?

McArthur: I think a lot of people will say, especially regarding Warm Springs, "How come it's taking so long? First it was on the books and then we didn't hear about it for a while." I think that it is important to understand that the state budget - and it's not just us - has hit all the large projects in construction. We think this is a very important project, a desirable project, and we are doing everything we can to move forward. I think you see the evidence of that with NEPA.

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