Over the past few months, many travelers heading to or from Oakland International Airport have gazed at the off-white steel trestle that shoots past a corner of the O.co Coliseum parking lot, across Interstate 880 and down Hegenberger Road to the airport, and wondered: When is it going to open?
The answer: in time for the holidays — the holidays of 2014.
BART’s Oakland Airport Connector looks as if it’s ready to roll, but the 3.2-mile automated rail link between the airport and the Coliseum/Oakland Airport Station isn’t quite complete. The $484 million project is on budget, according to BART officials, and it is expected to open on time sometime in the fall.
“It could be early fall; it could be late fall,” said Jim Allison, a BART spokesman. “We don’t want to commit yet.”
15 minutes or less
Unlike BART, the airport connector will use automated, driverless, three-car trains pulled by cables along a light steel guideway that’s elevated for most of its length. It will serve two stations — one in the airport parking lot near the premier parking area, the other connected by a bridge over San Leandro Street to the BART station.
Riders will leave the BART platform at the Coliseum station and ascend escalators, an elevator or stairs to the airport connector platform to board the automated train, which will make the trip to the airport in eight minutes — 15 minutes including waiting and walking.
The system will be designed and operated by Doppelmayr, a Swiss and Austrian company that has created similar “people mover” systems in Las Vegas, including one linking the Mandalay Bay and Excalibur casinos, and the shuttles at the Mexico City and Toronto Pearson international airports.
All of the elevated sections of track, or guideway, have been erected on concrete columns. Just a short stretch of underground rail where the connector passes beneath Doolittle Drive on the outskirts of the airport remains to be built. Two of the four cables that will pull the trains have been installed, and the rest will be put in place in January.
The wheelhouse, where the four cables meet and are powered by large wheels, has been completed. The two stations, which already rise above the airport parking lot and the BART station, are expected to be finished in May.
BART expects to receive the first of its four three-car trains, being constructed in Clackamas, Ore., in January, and then months of testing the system will begin. A BART progress report this month says testing should be completed by September.
Talk of a rail link between BART and the Oakland airport started in 1970, two years before the transit system even started running. Studies were conducted in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, but plans didn’t really start lurching forward until 2000, when Alameda County voters passed a transportation sales tax that devoted $89 million to a connection.
The project languished for a decade as BART fought to find the rest of the funding. Then, in 2010, BART lost $70 million in federal funding when federal officials decided the transit agency had not done enough to gather comments from low-income and minority communities. That ruling followed complaints from transit advocates who argued that the money for the rail link could be better spent on other regional transit needs.
About 700,000 passengers a year rely on the AirBART buses run by the Port of Oakland to get between BART and the airport. The buses can be a hassle, requiring passengers to exit the station, wait in line and haul their luggage onto the bus while fumbling to pay the $3 one-way fares. Rides typically take 15 to 20 minutes, but the time can vary widely depending on traffic.
BART and airport officials project that passengers will take 3.2 million trips on the connector each year.
Fares have not been set, but one-way prices of $4 to $6 were discussed during the planning process.
Officials with BART and Oakland International Airport said the new connection will make a big difference to travelers. Airport spokesman Scott Wintner said some passengers are put off by having to exit BART, transfer to a bus, pay a separate fare and lurch through city streets to get to the airport. The rail link will make it easier to persuade people to take transit to and from their flights.
“We’re looking forward to adding this connection between BART and a world-class airport,” he said. “People will look back in decades and be glad we built it.”
Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @ctuan.
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