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On September 27, 1972, only a few days after the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system officially opened, President Nixon visited the Bay Area to marvel at the future of transportation. As icing on the cake, President Nixon also arrived with a $38.1 million gift in the form of a Federal capital grant from the Urban Mass Transportation Administration to help complete the remaining miles of the BART system.

He released a statement congratulating the parties involved in the unprecedented project, commending the cooperation of municipalities and counties for “setting an example for the Nation.” Indeed, the United States was experiencing a second subway boom, the first being fulfilled at the turn of the century, and the second in the 1970s as regional planners sought to alleviate the strains of debilitating congestion. BART was the first of its kind, connecting several counties and municipalities via a system of connected light-rail and subway networks. Washington D.C. was not far behind with its Metro rail project.

“The foresight, initiative, and constructive partnership demonstrated by the cities and counties which have joined in planning and building BART over the past two decades prove that workable new answers can be found for urban problems.”

President Nixon’s visit to the Bay Area exemplified his support and vision for the modernization of American’s public transportation system. In his first year as President, Nixon delivered a special message to Congress outlining his administration’s intent to treat public transportation as a chief domestic priority. He proposed to provide $10 billion out of the general fund over a 12-year period to help in developing and improving public transportation in local communities.

On October 15, 1970, President Nixon’s proposals came to fruition with the signing of the Urban Mass Transportation Assistance Act of 1970, which authorized an additional $12 billion of funding for urban transit projects across the country. When President Nixon visited San Leandro station and boarded a brand new BART train, a milestone had been met. For the first time, Federal funding for urban mass transit has surpassed spending on urban highways, demonstrating the Nation’s shifting transportation priorities.

BART’s appeal to the future paralleled the Nation’s efforts in space, both of which President Nixon had witnessed himself. It is only fitting that the President called upon the country to pursue the public welfare of transportation in tandem with the awesome pursuits of space travel: “The Nation which has sent men to the moon would demonstrate that it can meet the transportation needs of the city as well.”

Some photos are courtesy of Larry Tiscornia, The San Francisco Chronicle