Editorial: High-risk BART tube gets $2.9M fix

It was good news indeed for the 150,000 passengers who ride Bay Area Rapid Transit trains underneath San Francisco Bay each weekday. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Wednesday released $2.9 million of Homeland Security funds to fix a vulnerability discovered last year in the 3.6-mile Transbay Tube.

The allocation came in response to an urgent letter signed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, pointing to studies by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and two federal agencies that determined a section of the Transbay Tube needs better protection against terrorist attacks.

BART officials made it clear they consider this security risk to be their highest priority for immediate repair, although as an obvious precaution against aiding terrorists, all specifics about the weak spot remain classified. However, the deficit-burdened railway system did not have sufficient cash to fix the problem until the governor redirected $2.9 million from California’s share of Urban Area Security Initiative funding. State officials are empowered to redistribute up to 20 percent of these federal funds.

The U.S. Homeland Security Department doled out only $28.3 million to the entire Bay Area for 2006-07, while throwing cash at an Alabama petting zoo and a Tennessee flea market. Then San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose ganged up to provide BART with a piddling $300,000. Such a miniscule BART allotment becomes patently absurd when the last two successful major terrorist attacks on Western nations bombed the subway systems of London and Madrid.

How could there be any doubt that one of the easiest and most unprotected Bay Area targets would be BART? A suicide bomber could simply board a crowded train and set off his explosives-filled backpack.

BART spokespersons expressed delight that they could now proceed at top speed to rectify the top-secret tunnel risk. Work is to begin within 60 days and should be completed in less than eight months with no disruption of service. BART expects to save millions of dollars because the security enhancements can be done at the same time as the $37 million seismic retrofit of the Transbay Tube, which was funded by a bond initiative two years ago and is about to start .

“Public safety is my No. 1 priority, and with the five-year anniversary of Sept. 11 less than a month away and subsequent attacks in cities around the world, we need to always remain vigilant and continue to strengthen the security of all potential targets,” Schwarzenegger said in the news release announcing this much-needed funding increase for BART.

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