SFMTA Plans Marina Subway Extension

But with Central Subway far behind schedule, some question timing

A shot of the Central subway tunnels. The agency wants to keep going. Photo: SFMTA
A shot of the Central subway tunnels. The agency wants to keep going. Photo: SFMTA

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The $1.6 billion Central Subway to Chinatown is over a year behind schedule, but SFMTA is moving forward with plans to extend it into the Marina district–and perhaps as far as the Presidio.

Last night the SFMTA held the second of two “kickoff” meetings, this one at the Marina Middle School, to discuss plans for extending the subway north of Chinatown. About fifty people showed up to discuss possible alignments with transit planners. Eric Kingsbury, a transit advocate who attended the meeting, lives in the Marina and currently takes the 30X Marina Express bus every day to his job downtown. “The 30 is one of the slowest lines in the entire city,” he told Streetsblog. “It takes at least forty minutes every day… to go three miles.”

Options under consideration for extending to Fisherman's Wharf. Image: SFMTA
Options under consideration for extending to Fisherman’s Wharf. Image: SFMTA

Kingsbury and others are desperate for a faster alternative, which is why there is so much political pressure to extend the subway, despite problems with the current Central Subway project. From the SFMTA’s release:

Although the Chinatown Station will be the northern terminal of the Central Subway when it opens in 2019, the subway tunnels presently extend approximately one additional mile north of the Chinatown Station, to Columbus and Powell Streets in North Beach. These additional tunnels were constructed so that the tunnel boring machines (TBMs) used during project construction could be removed from the ground in an area where off-street space was available, so as to minimize surface disruption. Though no passenger service will be operated in the tunnels north of Chinatown Station when the Central Subway opens, the tunnels are designed to allow the line to be extended further to the north and/or west in the future.

Since the subway tunnels already extend all the way to Columbus and Powell, the SFMTA is looking at options to add a station in North Beach–and then potentially extend the subway further to the north and/or west.

Local residents met SFMTA planners at Marina Middle School cafeteria to hear about the extension plans and give input. Photo: Adrienne Heim
Local residents met SFMTA planners at Marina Middle School’s cafeteria to hear about the extension plans and give input. Photo: SFMTA/Adrienne Heim

“San Francisco Transit Riders would love to see the Central Subway extended to North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, and on through the Marina to the Presidio. This would be a huge improvement for riders to be able to connect through all those neighborhoods, to downtown and Caltrain, as well as connecting San Francisco to the Golden Gate and Marin,” wrote Cat Carter, spokesperson for San Francisco’s transit advocacy group, in an email to Streetsblog. “We would like to see this happen in five years instead of ten, but we’ll have to find funding, which of course will take political will.”

Possible options for extending further west. Image: SFMTA
Possible options for extending further west. Image: SFMTA

Meanwhile, the project is big enough that the meeting was covered by ABC7 TV. In the station’s report, some residents who attended the meeting questioned the wisdom of planning a subway extension before the problems that resulted in delays and overruns to the current subway extension–now some two years behind schedule, depending on how one measures it–are addressed.

“I think everyone in the city is outraged that we are what, nineteen months behind schedule and we’ve spent a lot more money than was promised,” said Kingsbury. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be looking at the future of transit in San Francisco and proactively planning for the future.”

That future could take a while. The extension is currently unfunded and even the Transit Riders estimation of it being ten years off is probably optimistic. Kingsbury said he was told by an SFMTA official at the meeting that even twenty years would be “ambitious.”

In the end, it will depend on political pressures, the economy, and the vagaries of local, state and national politics to make funding available. After that, “Environmental review, Engineering, and Construction combined typically take a total of ten to fifteen years based on comparable projects around the country,” said Adrienne Heim, a spokesperson for SFMTA.

Stephen Taber, an advocate with the Transit Riders and SF Nextstop, looks at it this way: “The current phase of the Central Subway will have taken about twenty years,” he told Streetsblog in an email. “Given that we already have a tunnel to North Beach and that some preliminary studies have already been completed, getting it to Fisherman’s Wharf may not take that long. If we include an extension to the Marina and the Presidio, that could extend the time period.”

What do you think? What option would be your preference for an extension of the Central Subway? Post your comments below.

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