AC Transit May Divert Bus Lane Project Funds

Photo: The Bus Rapid Transit Project, from which funds may be diverted, proposes creating a bus-only lane from Berkeley to San Leandro. Shown is a rendition of how the lane would look.
FMG Architects/Courtesy
The Bus Rapid Transit Project, from which funds may be diverted, proposes creating a bus-only lane from Berkeley to San Leandro. Shown is a rendition of how the lane would look.

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In an effort to counter pending service cuts, AC Transit has proposed redirecting $80.6 million currently reserved for a controversial bus-only lane that would serve Berkeley.

At a Sept. 25 meeting, the AC Transit Board of Directors discussed the possibility of diverting funds from the Bus Rapid Transit project.

The project proposes setting aside a lane solely for buses from San Leandro to Berkeley along East 14th Street, International Boulevard and Telegraph Avenue, stretching roughly 18 miles, according to AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson.

However, the funding could be reallocated to help preserve current AC Transit service, which is slated to be cut by 15 percent in January 2010.

"If the money is redirected we could cut our reductions in half," Johnson said.

Due to the service cuts-which are meant to help offset AC Transit's $57 million budget deficit-a total of 17 bus routes in West Contra Costa County and North Alameda County would be discontinued and the frequency of other routes would be decreased.

According to a report from the Sept. 25 AC Transit Board of Directors meeting, a rapid transit lane would reduce growing traffic congestion and increase the efficiency of public transportation.

But Johnson said that by

transferring money to operations, AC Transit can reduce the effects of the cuts.

Since the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which determines transportation policy for the region, oversees the Bus Rapid Transit budget, AC Transit needs its approval to move the funds.

AC Transit and the commission are expected to meet in early October, according to Johnson. If the proposal is approved, AC Transit plans to transfer the funds.

"The hope is that we will be able to redirect these funds and, as the economy improves, refund the project as we initially thought we would," Johnson said.

Commission spokesperson Randy Rentschler said that the proposed funding shift could postpone service cuts, but the commission does not know if it is possible because of various laws governing the use of federal money.

"It is a policy choice that the boards will have to make," he said.

Rentschler also said the funding issue creates a difficult question about the importance of sustaining current service versus building for the future in an economy in crisis.

While some worry that the Bus Rapid Transit project may be set back if the proposal is approved, others see it as an opportunity to improve the project by addressing the concerns of those who are opposed.

"The people of Berkeley are mostly opposed to (Bus Rapid Transit) because it would clog up traffic on

Telegraph," said UC Berkeley sophomore Morgan Lemonidis, ASUC external affairs transportation director.

Lemonidis said the Bus Rapid Transit program needs more work and added that it is good to focus on sustaining the current services because they "need to be dealt with right now."

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said it is more important to maintain existing services rather than pushing forward with new projects, such as Bus Rapid Transit.

"The problem is, if you start cutting service, you get into a death spiral," Wozniak said.


Contact Stephanie Baer at [email protected]

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