BART directors voted 7-1 Thursday to approve a $522 million plan to build a 3.2-mile elevated tramway between BART's Oakland Coliseum station and Oakland International Airport.
The controversial project was first proposed 30 years ago, and Thursday about 80 speakers spoke on both sides of the issue at a hearing that lasted nearly five hours.
Proponents say the project would create needed jobs and make it easier for passengers to get to the airport.
But opponents say it would be much cheaper for BART to implement a rapid bus service from the Coliseum station to the airport, saying a bus system would only cost between $45 million and $60 million.
Critics also say BART shouldn't borrow up to $150 million from the federal government to help pay for the project in the current economic environment.
The Rev. Scott Denman, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Oakland and the president of a community group called Genesis, told the board "You wouldn't put an addition on your house when your house is in foreclosure."
Jesse Hunt, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents BART workers, said BART already faces a large budget deficit and going ahead with the light rail project to the airport would be "digging your fiscal hole even deeper."
Hunt said the money for the project "will have to come from riders and workers."
After the vote, BART's General Manager Dorothy Dugger said the project must still clear a few more hurdles from other agencies before it finally goes forward, but that she believes today's action "is clearly an important milestone."
Dugger said that if all goes well, contracts for the project will be awarded by the end of this year, construction will begin sometime next year and the tramway will begin operating in 2013.