Feds award BART part of $1.2 billion grant to ease crowding and buy 300 new trains

Announcement came as agency was poised to hold Twitter “town hall” on need for funds

The federal government awarded BART the first portion of a $1.25 billion grant to ease train crowding, BART officials announced Thursday.

“Breaking news from Washington D.C.,” said BART General Manager Grace Crunican in a tweeted video Thursday afternoon. “I just got a call from Jane Williams, she’s the acting administrator for the Federal Transit Administration. We got the grant.”

The agency will be awarded $300 million in an initial allocation of the full $1.25 billion grant agreement, with some additional steps necessary to net the full payment, a Federal Transit Administration spokesperson told the San Francisco Examiner. The full $1.25 billion grant is marked as an “anticipated funding agreement for execution” in Federal Transit Administration documentation.

BART officials were seemingly caught off guard by the grant announcement, as it came amid a planned “Twitter town hall” meeting aimed at lobbying for the money. The agency had fancy graphics and informational animations queued up to help convince the riding public — and the federal government — that the grant was vital.

But just as they started the town hall, BART spokespeople tweeted the video from Crunican, announcing the grant had been awarded.

If that grant sounds familiar, it may be because BART took the Bay Area’s most vulnerable traffic moment in recent months to sell the federal government, and the general public, on just why it needed that funding.

BART trains ferried an estimated 10,000 extra passengers on May 29 when a fatal collision brought Bay Bridge traffic to a standstill.

It was a traffic nightmare. But it was also a dream moment for BART to make a pitch.

At a news conference held the night of that troubled commute, Crunican told a bevy of reporters that BART’s vital role in aiding in the commute rescue that night was the perfect reason to expand BART capacity.

Instead of serving that many people once in a blue moon, the agency should be able to do that all the time, she said.

Crunican explicitly made a case for BART’s Transbay Corridor Core Capacity Program, which would expand the agency’s rail car fleet by 306 new rail cars, construct five traction power stations to provide power for those rail cars, install a new train control system so BART could operate with shorter train headways and expand rail car storage for the new trains.

BART has $2.3 billion in local funding for the effort, but needed the $1.25 billion grant from the federal government to take the project over the finish line.

In a statement in May, BART said the funding was being “held up” by the federal government.

“The commute that the Bay Area experienced this morning shows how one accident can impact tens of thousands of people,” said Crunican. “It’s also a reminder of the vital role BART plays in getting people across the bay. We’re seeking long-term relief for commuters. We can accomplish that by securing federal funding. We can’t wait any longer, our system is already at capacity.”

After news of the grant hit, Crunican thanked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Dianne Feinstein for their “unwavering support” in obtaining the grant. It also led to Crunican making a rare statement for a Bay Area official — in a statement, she praised President Donald Trump.

“BART and the Trump Administration are focused on investing in and improving infrastructure as rebuilding transportation systems, along with our roads and bridges, benefits everyone,” Crunican said, in a BART press statement.

joe@sfexaminer.com

The story has been updated to reflect that while BART was awarded an initial portion of the full $1.2 billion grant, there are “additional steps” to receive the full grant, according to the Federal Transit Administration. This is a breaking story, please check back for further updates.

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