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Posts from the Central Subway Category


SFMTA Audit Spotlights Poor Project Management, Cost Overruns

The T-Third Street Light Rail project's Central Subway extension has nearly tripled from its baseline cost. Photo: Marcin Wichary/Flickr

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) received a low score in an audit of its performance in delivering construction projects. Millions are reportedly wasted annually in delays and management inefficiencies.

“Some of these findings are very disturbing,” said Supervisor David Campos after hearing the report at today’s San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Board meeting. “We have heard repeatedly how there are limited resources that the MTA has available, but this audit points out… that a big part of the problem is that we’re not doing enough with the resources we do have.”

As the SFMTA seeks new revenue sources to fill budget gaps for the coming fiscal years, it is considering unpopular fee increases like a hike in Muni fares, which was quickly taken off the table by the SFMTA Board of Directors yesterday.

The SFCTA Board, which approves much of the funding for the SFMTA’s capital projects, requested the audit from CGR Management Consultants.

The numbers reported were sobering. In the third quarter of 2010, 29 projects with a total baseline budget of $800 million had gone over-budget by an estimated $90 million, excluding the Central Subway, and averaged 592 days in delay.

The consultants estimated that 5 to 10 percent, or up to $15,000,000, of the SFMTA’s capital budget could be saved with better project execution. Among the causes for waste, they listed weak oversight of capital projects, inadequate staff reports to the SFMTA Board of Directors, and the board’s own leniency towards granting extra time and money to projects.

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SF Civil Grand Jury Rips Central Subway, Calls for a Redesign

Image: SFMTA

The grand jury issued a damning report on the planned Central Subway this morning, calling on the SFMTA to redesign the project “to better serve the San Francisco population,” and hire an independent auditor to determine whether the $1.5 billion price tag is realistic, given the pattern of increasing estimates, and the fact that city will have to pick up any cost overruns.

The San Francisco Civil Grand Jury’s 38 findings and 26 recommendations follow a seven-month investigation and repeat many of the criticisms that have been leveled against the project by opponents. Among the main conclusions:

  • The addition of a new subway line will add to an existing operating deficit and could stretch the existing maintenance environment to the breaking point.
  • There are no plans to address existing problems on the Stockton corridor before project completion.
  • There is no effective transfer to the Muni Metro and BART systems.
  • It ignores service to the Financial District.
  • It ignores current transportation trends.

You can read a full copy of the report here [pdf]. It also includes a number of not-so-surprising findings about the current state of Muni. What effect that grand jury’s report might have on the project wasn’t immediately clear.

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As Central Subway Funding Deadline Looms, Chinatown Rallies Support

Chinatown Community Develompent Center and Chinatown Tenants Association members rally for the Central Subway. Photo: Matthew Roth

Chinatown Community Develompent Center and Chinatown Tenants Association members rally for the Central Subway. Photo: Matthew Roth

Much has been made over the past two days about the funding gap the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) needs to make up by spring of 2011 to complete the Central Subway, the result of an article in the Chronicle and a small dust up between the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Executive Director José Luis Moscovich and SFMTA CFO Sonali Bose yesterday.

Moscovich criticized Bose for presenting what he said was an unconvincing plan [pdf] with scant detail on how the SFMTA plans to find $137 million by February, 2011, when it owes the Federal Transit Administration its local funding plan to secure federal New Starts grants of up to nearly $1 billion. Though the SFMTA is confident it will meet the obligations from the feds, Bose was instructed to return to the SFCTA with a more detailed plan next week.

Despite the theatrics of the meeting, SFMTA Central Subway project manager John Funghi told Streetsblog the agency has numerous options for identifying the funding and that it doesn’t need $137 million in cash, merely the commitments from regional and state partners to program the money and spend it by 2015.

“It’s a programming exercise to program the project by the first quarter of next year,” said Funghi, who noted the SFMTA still has at least $60 million set aside for it from Proposition 1A, the High-Speed Rail bond, given the inter-connectivity to the larger project. He also hoped to get more money from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission through regional funding measures like Proposition 1B. The agency could also consider bonding for the project, once it has established its credit rating to issue municipal debt.

Opponents of the project, like Save Muni’s Howard Wong, argue the capital investment in the Central Subway prevents the agency from addressing massive deferred maintenance needs to motor coaches, trolleys and other infrastructure. “The entire Central Subway program is damaging to the system,” said Wong. “They have $2 billion deferred investments. Any funds put toward any other long-term infrastructure project is damaging to the current existing operations.”

“Muni riders in the next few years are facing that poor service, crumbling service,” he added.

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City Leaders Gather for Central Subway Groundbreaking Ceremony

IMG_1473.jpgMayor Newsom addresses supporters of the Central Subway. Photo: Michael Rhodes

Dozens of local elected officials and community leaders donned their novelty hard hats today for a Central Subway groundbreaking ceremony under the I-80 freeway overpass. Tunneling for the subway won’t start for at least another two years, so a utility relocation project at the future site of the tunnel’s SoMa portal had to suffice.

“We’re here specifically to mark the beginning of the last month of relocation of utilities to make room for the tunnel portal that will start under this freeway and end at Moscone station,” explained MTA Executive Director Nat Ford.

Led by Mayor Newsom and Ford, an array of speakers praised the project as an important transportation link for the city’s eastern-most neighborhoods. The project is set to open in 2018 and would extend the T-Third Street light rail line from the 4th and King Caltrain station to mid-Chinatown, diving underground at the I-80 overpass in SoMa.

“We view this project as – it’s about Chinatown – but more importantly, connecting important places in San Francisco: Bayview-Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, the entire eastern seaboard, Mission Bay, Chinatown, North Beach,” said Gordon Chin, Executive Director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, which has pushed for the project since before its inception.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu called the project a “vision of turning San Francisco into a true 21st Century Transit First city.”

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Central Subway Gets Approval to Enter Final Design Phase

unionsquare.gifThe proposed Union Square Station. Image courtesy SFMTA.
The MTA received approval from the Federal Transit Administration on Thursday to enter into Final Design for the Central Subway project.

In a letter (PDF) that also echoed concerns from some local transit advocates about the project, the FTA officially approved the MTA's request to move into Final Design on the 1.7-mile light rail and subway line, which is considered phase two of the T-Third light rail line, extending it from Fourth and King Streets to Chinatown. The approval is an important step for the project as the MTA moves towards eventually seeking a full-funding grant agreement from the FTA, the final step in the New Starts process.

It will still be almost two years before Muni could receive a full grant for the subway, which is now expected to cost $1.6 billion, with service currently expected to begin in 2018.

"We are deeply gratified by this decision," said MTA Executive Director Nat Ford in a release. "We are making tremendous progress toward improved transportation for the communities along the congested corridor that the Central Subway will serve."

In the second paragraph of the four-page letter, the FTA states several concerns that transit advocates and project critics have had about the project, including the MTA's ability to maintain its equipment in a state of good repair, which is required by federal law before the FTA will fund new projects. Before the FTA will consider awarding a full-funding grant agreement, the MTA will be required to "develop and implement a financial plan demonstrating that construction and operation of the Central Subway project will not adversely affect current transit operations or reduce state of good repair expenditures."


Central Subway Receives $9.9 Million Federal Grant

STV.jpgCentral Subway Moscone station. Graphic: MTA
The Federal Transit Administration announced today that the long-planned and much debated Central Subway project will receive a $9.9 million grant to support ongoing preliminary engineering and design work. The project would extend light rail service on the T-Third line with a surface stop on 4th Street near Brannan and subway stops in the SoMa, Union Square and Chinatown neighborhoods.

The grant is only a small portion of the Central Subway's $1.57 billion price tag, but the federal government is expected to ultimately pick up two-thirds of that cost through its New Starts program. Today's grant brings the FTA's contribution to $66 million so far, even before it's given final design approval.

The project has its fair share of detractors, even among transit advocates, who cite concerns about its costs, the design of its stations, its terminus at Chinatown instead of North Beach, and its potential interference with a future Geary subway line.


Central Subway Debate on KALW Radio Tonight

City Visions Radio will be debating the merits of the Central Subway project on their show tonight, asking whether the project is an innovation or a boondoggle.

The Central Subway project, which links Chinatown with the Third Street light rail and the Caltrain terminal at 4th and King, has its detractors, though most of the political class supports it. "With the Muni budget already in crisis," City Visions producers ask, "is it worth the cost? Will enough people ride the Chinatown subway to make it worthwhile?"

Joining City Visions Radio host Lauren Meltzer to discuss the project are MTA's John Funghi, project manager for the Central Subway, David Schonbrunn, president of Transdef and a member of Save Muni, a new organization formed to oppose the current central subway plan, and Andrew Sullivan, chair of Rescue Muni, a riders’ advocacy and watchdog group.

Catch the show tonight at 7 pm on 91.7 KALW or listen live at or


Muni Monday: The Future of the Central Subway

STV.jpgCentral Subway Chinatown station. Graphic: SFMTA
Now that the Central Subway has received its Record Of Decision (ROD) from the Federal Transit Administration, advocates are pressing the MTA to start planning for the subway’s extension into North Beach and beyond.

The Central Subway is considered phase two of the T-Third Muni Metro line, extending that service from Fourth and King Streets to Chinatown. It is proposed to enter a subway on Fourth Street under the freeway, and continue in a subway to its stub end destination in Chinatown.

Among the criticisms of the project when it was proposed is the fact that the dead-end station failed to connect to the rest of the Muni network very effectively, limiting its utility and ridership. Yet the MTA could not publicly discuss the possibility of an extension for bureaucratic reasons that are too typical and indicative of the illness that affects community planning in the United States. Because its proposal to the Federal Transit Administration did not contemplate the extension, to formally discuss it would have called into question the definition of the project and forced the FTA to consider the possibility that the MTA had misrepresented the project as smaller than it actually is, which would have at least delayed and possibly killed the project.

With the ROD out of the way, the MTA is free to consider an extension. Groups such as SPUR have argued that a one-stop extension to North Beach is so effective and so affordable that the MTA ought to complete the extension as part of the same construction contract for the rest of the Central Subway, simply keeping the tunnel boring machine (TBM) at work a little bit longer. In fact, the MTA is already planning to extract the TBM from the ground in North Beach near the location where another station should be located.