29 July 2011 ~ 14 Comments

A Response to District 5 Diary

A response to Savemuni’s press conference re-posted by Rob Anderson’s blog post dated July 24 on the District 5 Diary website titled “Pull the plug on the Central Subway”

Moscone Station Platform editThe Central Subway Project is making tremendous progress and has accomplished a number of major milestones so far this year alone including:

  • Receiving the highest overall rating for the fourth consecutive year under the federal New Starts program for project justification and cost effectiveness.
  • Completing the first construction contract relocating underground utilities for the Moscone Station and Portal under the I-80 freeway.
  • Initiating the second construction contract for utility relocation work for the Union Square/Market Street station which will be completed by the second quarter of 2012.
  • Reaching 95 percent completion of the final design for the three underground stations and the surface track work/systems.
  • Awarding the $233 million Guideway Tunnel contract, the largest of the project’s construction contracts, to the joint venture of Barnard Impregilo Healy. This bid came in $12 million under engineer’s estimates and notice to proceed will be issued this fall.
  • Receiving by unanimous vote of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) an allocation of $57 million in Prop K funds for the purchase of the tunnel boring machines (TBM) and to construct the TBM launch box.
  • Staying on track to receive the $942 million Full Funding Grant Agreement from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) by the end of this year.

With all the accomplishments the project has achieved thus far; the continued support from our local, state, and federal elected officials; and the unwavering enthusiasm of the local community, the project will move forward to improve the City’s public transit system that will connect people and communities along the north-south corridor.

We would like to take this opportunity to address the five points mentioned in the blog post:

1. On July 1, 2011, the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury issued a scathing report on the Central Subway, citing Muni’s financial and operating difficulties as strong evidence that the SFMTA is in no position to operate an ill-conceived, money-losing subway. Here are two of the report’s many criticisms:

The Central Subway would result in the elimination of “direct connectivity from the T-Third line to the Muni Metro.”

With the Central Subway, “Riders not only lose the direct connections. They face “The Walk.” According to SFMTA, “To get from the Union Square/ Market Street Station to the Powell Street Muni Metro Station is about a thousand feet.”

Central Subway Response:

The Central Subway does not eliminate “direct connectivity” from the T Third Line to the rest of the Muni Metro. On the contrary, the Central Subway, the second phase of the T Third Light Rail Project, will provide a quicker trip to downtown for customers on the T, from approximately 30 minutes down to seven.

There will be a connection within walking distance of the Market/Powell Street station and the new station located at 4th/Brannan Street will provide an additional transfer point if needed to Caltrain at 4th and Townsend streets. As the City’s population continues to grow, particularly in the South of Market (SoMa), Mission Bay, Bayview Hunter’s Point Shipyard, and Visitation Valley communities, we must do all we can to grow the capacity of the City’s transit system. The Central Subway Project completes the north-south rail connection to fill that void.  The project will serve the growing population from the City’s southeast sector and provide them with direct access to SoMa, downtown, Chinatown and possibly neighborhoods further north in the future.

The Mayor, SFMTA, SFCTA and the Central Subway staff will provide the formal response to the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury report and their findings in August.

2. Governor Jerry Brown has just cut $27 million from State Proposition 1A allocations to the Central Subway. Another $34 million in Proposition 1A funds is potentially also on the chopping block. A State Proposition 1B allocation of $308 million could also be in jeopardy.

Central Subway Response:

The state bond funds were voted on and approved by  California citizens. More than $400 million are slated for building the Central Subway. Annually, the State Budget process caps how much bond proceeds will be allowed. Market conditions will also inform when and how many bonds the state will issue. The issue, then, is not how much money the project will receive but when. If these funds are delayed, the SFMTA will continue to work with its funding partners to craft proactive solutions.

Proposition 1A bond proceeds are intended to enhance local rail line connections to the proposed high-speed rail system. For fiscal year (FY) 2011-2012, Governor Brown is limiting funds to safety projects only. The delay of these funds ($27 million in FY 2012 and $61 million total) to the project, while disappointing, was anticipated by the SFMTA. The portion of the Central Subway that will connect with the 4th and King streets high speed rail station area is scheduled to be constructed after 2013. The SFMTA and its funding partners fully expect that the Governor’s request to develop a comprehensive statewide rail plan as a basis for allocating these funds can be accomplished in time.

Due to the timing of Proposition 1B state bond sales, project sponsors statewide, including the SFMTA, have experienced delays in receiving voter-approved state funds. The leadership of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), a key Central Subway partner, has shown a way to keep vital projects on track. Starting in January 2009, in order to keep critical projects moving forward, the MTC, acting as the Bay Area (bridge) Toll Authority (BATA), has entered into a bond purchase agreement for up to $200 million of bonds issued by the State of California to backfill Proposition 1B funds for Bay Area highway projects. This private placement sale allowed 10 Bay Area highway projects, already under construction, to avoid costly project construction suspensions. This same mechanism can be used to provide state bond proceed funds to Bay Area transit projects as well.

3. The House of Representatives is targeting pork barrel projects, threatening significant portions or even the entire New Starts program. SaveMuni.com Co-founder Howard Wong notes that without the full $983 million New Starts grant, the Central Subway project would “just drain state and local funds from the citywide Muni System.” He adds that the Grand Jury’s conclusion, “Central Subway—Too Much Money for Too Little Benefit,” succinctly crystallizes the problem.

Central Subway Response:

The federal government’s New Starts program is a highly competitive process, in which transportation infrastructure projects throughout the nation compete for a designated pool of funds.  This program has been a part of President Obama’s “Road to Recovery” plan, in which the country reinvests taxpayer dollars into our public infrastructure systems (i.e. road, tunnels, bridges, etc.) throughout the nation.

The Central Subway Project has consistently received a “medium high” overall rating and for project justification under the heavily scrutinized New Starts criteria for the past four years.  In fact, the project is tied for first place in the FTA’s 2012 Annual Report to Congress for transit projects and is on track to receive the $942 million Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) by the end of 2011.

The federal funds allocated through the New Starts program cannot be redirected to offset other SFMTA funding deficiencies.

4. Opposition to the Central Subway in Chinatown and within the Asian community is growing. As San Francisco organizer David Tse puts it: “We are convinced that this [Central Subway] is more a developer’s dream than a transportation project. And they are using a flawed transportation analysis to make way for the wholesale alteration of everything along the route of the subway. If this project goes forward, I am especially worried over the irreversible impact on San Francisco’s historic and still vibrant Chinatown, where my sister and I grew up with many happy memories.”

Central Subway Response:

The Central Subway Project has received overwhelming support from more than 25 key stakeholders and community-based organizations in Chinatown, as well as other key organizations throughout the City such as the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), the Union Square Business Improvement District and others.  Over 8,000 signatures have been gathered directly in Chinatown from residents and merchants who support the project and await the days that they can actually ride the new line and cut their commute time in half.  The Chinatown community has supported this project for the past 20 years and has been the driving force behind it.

The Central Subway Project, in coordination with the City Planning Department, will not alter any existing planning ordinances or guidelines. One of the primary goals of the project is to preserve the character of this vibrant and historic neighborhood while helping it to flourish and thrive.

The Central Subway Project planners and engineers have designed the Chinatown station to be constructed by a mined method that will minimize the impacts and disruption at the surface while the station is being built.  This will allow for existing businesses to continue to operate and traffic to flow on Stockton Street while construction is ongoing.  There will be some inconveniences to the area, which is the case during most construction projects.  The boring of the twin tunnels will have virtually no impact to the surface and will never be seen in Chinatown.

Chinatown businesses including the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and community based organization Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC) have consistently applauded the project as it will bring shoppers and tourists directly into the community.

5. On May 9, 2011, the 70,000 member Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club acknowledged new factors by passing a resolution encouraging the SFMTA to “pursue alternative uses of the state, regional and local funds programmed to the Central Subway but not yet spent.”

Central Subway Response:

The Central Subway Project will reduce air and noise pollution and use environmentally clean light rail vehicles.  The project will also enhance and preserve the environment by reducing traffic congestion on the street. Moreover, it satisfies the Federal Clean Air Act requirements.  This project is environmentally friendly and will improve the quality of life for San Franciscans. By making the City’s transit system more accessible and useful, the Central Subway as the completion of the T Third Light Rail Project, will help reduce the use of single occupancy vehicles.

Furthermore, the federal funds allocated for the Central Subway Project cannot be redirected to offset any SFMTA funding deficits. This information has been provided in all project materials and is common knowledge among transportation and governmental professionals.  If the Central Subway Project were to be stopped, the entire $942 million dollar contribution from the federal government would be redistributed to other New Starts projects throughout the nation under the New Starts program and the City would be no better off.  This would cost thousands of employment and local contracting opportunities at a time when they are much needed and derail the improvement of our public transit system.

To date the local, state, and federal governments have allocated and spent nearly $200 million dollars on the Central Subway Project.  By abandoning the project this would be a gross waste of taxpayer dollars and a waste of a once in a generation opportunity to improve San Francisco’s beloved transit system. Not only is San Francisco the city that can, it is also the city that cares. To abandon this project would mean that San Francisco would fail to fulfill promises made over the last 20 years by the entire city to the surrounding communities.

The Central Subway Project will continue on its path to be built on time and on budget!

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14 Responses to “A Response to District 5 Diary”

  1. mikesonn 1 August 2011 at 3:48 pm Permalink

    Which budget? The $1.2B one from 4 years ago or the current $1.6B one?

  2. Patrick_45 1 August 2011 at 4:15 pm Permalink

    Thumbs up for a great response.  I am all for this project.  We have to continue to invest in rapid transit infrastructure to make our city competitive and to move people in an environmentally friendly manner.

    • mikesonn 1 August 2011 at 6:12 pm Permalink

      Or we could make Stockton a transit corridor for 1/10th the price, not lose all those transfer points, and not force people 90' underground. The Stockton Tunnel was built for transit.

  3. Guest 1 August 2011 at 4:25 pm Permalink

    Good for you for responding directly to criticisms. I think this project is an absolute no-brainer and is downright necessary. It will be a huge boon to the businesses of Chinatown. Anyone who is against it has either never ridden the 30/45 buses or is a poor critical thinker.

    • mikesonn 1 August 2011 at 5:45 pm Permalink

      Guest, let's go for a ride on the 30/45 together. I'd love to hear you teach me about the route I take every day.

      • Daniel Krause 7 August 2011 at 5:09 pm Permalink

        I ride this route often at rush hour. It is usually a terrible experience. I guess you are okay with such slow and frustrating service, but not the average transit rider.

        • mikesonn 19 August 2011 at 10:57 am Permalink

          Daniel, how will the CS help Stockton St? It won't. Where do you from, what is your A to B? Will the CS help you with that commute? Will you still be on the surface for your trip? If you are, then you'll see reduced service from the 30/45. Those living/working in Chinatown (who you are clearly blaming for your “terrible experience”) will try the CS once and realize that the trip up and down the stairs and the long wait for a train isn't worth it. The surface will still be packed and now we'll have less bus service, higher operating costs, and still be stuck on the slow crawl down Stockton.

  4. murphstahoe 1 August 2011 at 5:31 pm Permalink

    If you are trying to connect to Caltrain at 4th and TOWNSEND – why are you putting the stop at 4th and BRANNAN?

    • mikesonn 1 August 2011 at 5:45 pm Permalink

      Because they'll never move the stop from 4th and KING (which serves no one and delays everyone).

  5. mikesonn 1 August 2011 at 5:47 pm Permalink

    This list is actually from savemuni.org's press release. Rob just likes to copy posts without making it clear that is what he doing.

  6. Zach 1 August 2011 at 11:12 pm Permalink

    I'm glad Muni is actually responding to criticism, but I have an additional concern. Muni's metro rail system is phenomenally unreliable and prone to failures. As a regular Market St. Subway commuter, I frequently encounter disabled trains, trains with broken doors doors, automatic train control system failures, delays at Duboce portal, the inexplicable “heavy traffic” in the subway, poor management of headways leading to four J trains in a row followed by none for 45 minutes, trains blocking the tracks at Embarcadero station because operators have abandoned their trains without a relief operator present, malfunctioning Clipper card readers, and a host of other issues. Just this morning, this scene emerged at Church+Duboce: http://lockerz.com/s/125683792. I hit similar backups in the subway twice last week, and it's not as if I spend all my time riding Muni. A simple trip from Castro to Montgomery can take anywhere from 12 to 45 minutes depending on Muni's whims.

    Clearly, Muni cannot operate its existing rail service in a safe and reliable fashion. How can the system cope with the additional complexity of the Central Subway project? The last major subway project in San Francisco led to the infamous Muni Meltdown of 1998. It makes absolutely no sense to expand a broken system, and yet the Metro seems to get worse and worse every year.

    Furthermore, this response doesn't address the issue of the Subway's operating costs, which are estimated to be substantial. Federal funds may help pay for the initial construction, but it will be us city taxpayers who will be footing the bill to keep the lights on and the trains moving (or stuck in underground traffic perhaps). Since the Central Subway will primarily serve existing Muni riders, many of whom have monthly passes, it is difficult to see how the additional revenue from the service will offset the increased operating costs. These costs will further strain a system plagued by fiscal problems.

  7. mikesonn 3 August 2011 at 4:34 pm Permalink

    Thank you for correcting that.

  8. Rob Anderson 20 August 2011 at 2:24 pm Permalink

    My main objection to the Central Subway project is that the city can’t afford it at the same time that its Muni system is raising fares, cutting service, and shortchanging its capital and maintenance budgets.

    This is really a political deal made by Willie Brown and Rose Pak disguised as a transportation project.

    Mike Sonn: only a moron would think that my post came from anyone but the Save Muni folks. But any stick will do, won’t it?

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