Crumbling BART Needs $10 Billion, CA Audit Finds

     (CN) – One of the nation’s largest heavy-rail transit systems is struggling to fund new projects and may have to ask taxpayers for billions of dollars to renovate its aging infrastructure, a California state audit report found.
     According to the State Auditor’s office, BART needs a staggering $9.6 billion to complete future infrastructure and capital improvement projects but it hasn’t outlined a source for the funding. The report also found BART has no backup plan in place if it can’t receive taxpayer dollars.
     “We have already made great strides in tackling approximately half of the overall need; our current unfunded need is estimated at $4.8 billion,” BART general manager Grace Crunican said in a statement. “We will continue our focus on securing federal, state and local money to help reinvest in our system.”
     Those great strides didn’t come in time to help commuters who faced major delays on Wednesday due to a 10-inch break in the track that runs underground between 16th Street and Civic Center in San Francisco.
     BART is the fifth-largest rail transit system in the country, moving an average of over 400,000 riders daily around 44 transit stations in the Bay Area. BART says ridership could increase 36 percent between 2012 and 2025.
     The audit said BART is currently involved in three large capital projects aimed at replacing old tracks and rail cars, including 439 rail cars that have been in operation since the district opened in 1972. BART is operating more than half of its rail cars past the federally suggested replacement mark of 25 years.
     In order to pay for the new rail cars and overhaul its aging infrastructure, BART will be forced to look to federal and state taxpayers for help in coming elections. The audit gave BART credit for accurately projecting the necessary funding for its various projects.
     “While we are heartened that the audit finds our financial projection process is well founded, it remains clear that we must continue our efforts to address BART’s unfunded need,” Crunican said. “The audit notes that BART is considering several options for gaining additional revenues, including future bond measures.”
     The audit comes at a time when BART is looking to improve not only its infrastructure but also its image with employees and riders in the Bay Area. Thousands of BART employees went on strike more than 10 times in 2013, creating havoc and economic losses around the Bay Area estimated at $73 million.
     California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the sides to a cooling-off period before they finally reached a deal that gave BART employees an estimated 12 percent raise.
     The impact of the BART strikes has had political implications as well, as lawmakers have proposed a bill that would ban transit employees from striking during contract negotiations if they are still being paid.
     On Wednesday, an Assembly committee declined to vote on the bill, which gives it a chance to be proposed again and heard in 2016.

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