Emergency transit funds entangled in red tape

After transit agencies such as BART and AC Transit sprung into action to help the Bay Area commute cope with its worst traffic nightmare since the Loma Prieta earthquake, complications with emergency funding are delaying reimbursements, federal officials said Friday.

The emergency supplemental spending bill allotted $25 million dollars for the Maze meltdown. The bill, which also funded U.S. troops in Iraq, passed the House on Thursday night. But the law was written to make only the ferries in the Bay Area eligible for reimbursements of additional expenses, said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.

“Much of the reimbursements from the federal government did not include all of the transit reimbursement, except for the ferries,” Lee said.

At the MacArthur Maze press conference Friday, Lee said she was working with U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to “incorporate comprehensive” language into an amendment or new legislation to make sure the funds became available.

On May 4, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters granted a $2 million installment from the Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief Fund, calling it the “first of many.” The state is eligible to recoup all of its expenditures from the Emergency Relief Fund because the repairs were completed well within the 180-day window, and the money is expected to come.

All forms of transit assisted during the traffic emergency with BART setting records in dailyridership during the days following the accident. Transit agencies were so successful that parking at stations and terminals became a problem for the agencies.

Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the total additional cost to all the transit agencies that added train cars, buses or boats, and offered free fares — reimbursed by the state — was $2.8 million with slightly more than $2 million of that coming from the free fare day the Monday after the tanker truck accident.

Alameda Ferry Manager Ernest Sanchez said the free fare day cost them $10,000 in fares and additional services cost them $13,000 a day, running from April 30 through May 3.

Rentschler said the people who used transit after the meltdown helped keep costs down because the additional fares alleviated some of the burden from additional services.

“One reason for that low number is a relatively modest amount of additional services can go a long way as long as people use the services,” Rentschler said.

dsmith@examiner.com  

Bay Area NewsLocal

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