As Bay Area transportation officials announce contingency plans in the event of a BART strike as soon as Oct. 11, and a mandated 60-day cooling off period between BART labor and management wanes, the situation remains frustrating for members of the public caught in the middle.

There has never been greater need for agreement on a long-term vision for transportation infrastructure in the Bay Area.

While specific deal points are difficult for any third party to evaluate, major issues at stake are a balancing of fair pay and benefits against the need to protect capital improvement funds for purchases of new BART cars, system safety, expansion of service and improved reliability.

As a private-sector, public-policy organization that advocates on issues affecting economic vitality and quality of life, the East Bay Leadership Council represents leaders of business, industry, education, government and the nonprofit community.

We call on BART labor representatives to accept what we assess to be a reasonable package of compensation and benefits on the table, and to allow the Bay Area to move past this ongoing and debilitating economic debacle.

A strike would cripple our slowly recovering economy and hamper the region's vitality.

It would most directly hurt the people who rely on BART for transportation, including those without vehicles, those who have chosen to live near transit, and lower-wage earners who must travel to urban centers for their jobs.

The private sector has seen significant reductions in pay, medical benefits, pensions and other financial issues. These do not appear to be cyclical in nature and reflect a long-term recalibration.

The package offered by BART management at this time appears to be fair and still includes many financial benefits that exceed similar private-sector compensation. Published reports suggest that with management's proposed contract, BART employees will remain competitively compensated.

The East Bay Leadership Council has consistently supported and advocated for the funding of important capital infrastructure, including past sales tax and bond measures that finance much of BART's operations.

Any reduction as a result of shifting capital funds to labor costs would severely impact the future growth, reliability and ridership of BART.

A strike could also seriously impact the public's support of future infrastructure financing ballot measures. This is especially troubling at a time when our regional governments have just adopted the goals of Plan Bay Area to generate future growth near and around transit centers.

A forced solution at the state level, which might include revocation of the "right to strike" by BART employees, is one possible outcome. The financial repercussions of such a step, however, could be negative if coupled with instructions for binding arbitration that results in redirecting funds designated for BART's capital investments.

The East Bay Leadership Council will continue to advocate for protection of capital improvements to our transportation resources in the Bay Area. We are committed to a 100 percent reliable, world-class transit agency as a backbone of the Bay Area's infrastructure.

We call on BART labor representatives to strongly consider the welfare of the entire region in their continuing negotiations.

Tom Terrill is president and CEO of the East Bay Leadership Council. The complete statement of the East Bay Leadership Council's stand on the BART labor contract negotiations and potential strike can be viewed on media releases page on the Council's website: http://eastbayleadershipcouncil.com/news.php?id=27