Muni claims Central Subway will cost $1.4bn, open in 2016
- Published Friday, October 13, 2006, in the San Francisco Examiner
SoMa-to-Chinatown rail line to debut by 2016, Muni says
Central Subway to extend Third Street tracks, provide
connection to BART, buses
By Sajid Farooq
A new Muni rail line that will cut through SoMa up into Chinatown is
expected to be online by 2016.
Transit officials on Thursday unveiled details of the $1.4 billion
Central Subway project, which will create continuous rail service from
Visitacion Valley to Chinatown and is expected to reduce the commute
[BATN: Unfortunately, amazingly, but predictably, such "unveiling"
doesn't include putting anything on the project's zero-information web
site <http://www.sfmuni.com/cms/msc/const/centralrpt.htm> ]
The 5.1-mile [BATN: 1.7 mile!!] Central Subway is an extension
[BATN: See Note below] of the newly created Third Street Light Rail,
which runs from Bayshore Boulevard in Vistacion Valley to the Caltrain
station at Fourth and King streets. The $667 million light-rail
project, which has been delayed for a year and a half [BATN: five years],
is launching with weekend rides Jan. 13, with full operation beginning
[BATN is unsure where this "$667 million" number comes from -- the
SFCTA, for example, claims in its latest (October 2006) project status report
that the budget is $583.3 million (but then again, if there's one
thing we've learned the hard way over the last several years, it is to
NEVER believe anything said by anybody at the SFCTA), while a report
to the SFMTA shows a budget of $621.9 million on page 187 of the 19
September board meeting packet
The Central Subway line will continue up Fourth Street across Market
Street and end at Clay and Stockton streets in Chinatown. The subway
will also connect BART and other Muni lines at the Powell Street
station. Travel time from Third and King Street to Chinatown, which
takes 20 minutes, is expected to be cut by more than half and only
take seven minutes, according to John Fungi, the project manager.
A Muni official said the system, which is expected to increase
system-wide ridership by 21,000 people a day when it is up and running,
will help serve the 70 percent of the population living along the
corridor that does not own a car.
The project comes at time when Muni is being called upon to increase
ridership and revenue while making the system more efficient. The
transit agency has had multimillion-dollar operating deficits for two
years, due to a decrease in revenue and skyrocketing operating costs.
Overall, the Third Street Light Rail and the Central Subway, when
completed, are expected to draw 91,000 riders per day.
[BATN: Both of these projects, in a fashion which would be described
as "inexplicable" anywhere outside the wonder-world of US
transportation financing, will actually INCREASE the operating
deficits of Muni -- in fact, SFCTA sales tax principles actively
encourage the construction of projects which increase operating costs.
So much for rail proponents' arguments about the "efficiency" of
"[This] is clearly another opportunity for the MTA to improve the
quality of life in the city and county of San Francisco," Municipal
Transportation Agency Executive Director Nathaniel Ford said. "It's
about creating economic opportunities for people. It's about creating
cleaner air." [BATN: It's about doling out $1.4 billion in pork.]
The money for the project is coming from a variety of sources,
including some federal and state funding and also from city sales tax
revenue. Muni said it still needs to close a $400 million funding
shortfall, but the agency is confident it can be done by making slight
design modifications to the plan, such as reducing station platforms
from 250 feet to 200 feet, and by adding retail stalls to stations
such as Union Square.
"We feel very confident we will deliver it in its budget and within
its schedule," Ford said. [BATN: "Budget" was $402 million, and
"schedule" was to open in 2006.]
Construction of the project is expected to take up to 10 years and
some details remain unanswered. Issues such as where the Central
Subway will be above and below ground, as well as locations of stops
will be decided after a series of community meetings beginning
The agency has tried to address concerns of Chinatown residents
worried that digging under the streets would cause disruptions. New
technology, such as using automated tunnel-boring machines, and new
digging methods will minimize the disruption on the surface to mostly
trucks hauling away material from the site, according to Fungi.
[BATN "extension" note: The stand-alone, separately-designed and
separately-funded Central Subway project is only an "extension" of the
Third Street Light Rail line as a political fiction, a ploy to attempt
to evade US Federal Transit Administration funding criteria by
portraying the money already wasted on replacing the Muni 15-Third bus
line by a more expensive Muni T-Third light rail line as part of the
local match for federal dollars to be spent replacing a very small
section of the 30-Stockton line line with a far more expensive subway.
The theory was that upping the local funding of the "two stage"
"project" past a 33% threshold would lead the FTA to close its eyes,
ignore the abysmally low ridership and nosebleed high ridership of the
"second stage", and sign a blank check for whatever the project's
But that theory only applied when the "budget" of the "first stage",
scheduled to open in 2003, was $402 million (1997 dollars, or about
461m 2003 dollars), while that of the "second stage" was $506 million
(or 643 million 2006 dollars). However the Current Third Street
budget is $622 million (or it is $583m or $667m??) and full operation,
including the promised maintenance yard, isn't scheduled until May
2008 at the earliest, while the "second stage" Central Subway has
"unexpectedly" ballooned out by more than 120% to $1,400 million ...
But even this "two stage" fiction is becoming impossible to maintain
today -- $726 million local dollars is perilously close to no longer
more than a third of $583 + $1,400 million total dollars -- so instead
an even more corrosively pernicious and corrupt political ploy
has been pulled: federal law was simply rewritten, using the Nancy
Pelosi's political juice, to completely exempt this project (together
with the equally misguided extensions of BART to San Jose, Washington
DC's WMATA to Dulles, and Portland Tri-Met's Wilsonville to Beaverton
commuter rail line) from ALL federal cost controls.
If anybody wishes to see just how it is that US transit projects end
up costing many times what their counterparts in more civilized parts
of the world do, while providing a tiny fraction of the transit rider
benefit, this sorry tale should provide a perfect exemplar of the way
in which transit agencies -- and the contractors that they directly
serve -- systematically manipulate funding processes to ensure that
only the very worst projects get funded, and then ensure that funding
keeps flowing no matter how egregiously budget "estimates" are
exceeded or how badly ridership "estimates" fail to be reached. The
SOLE PURPOSE of these projects is to enrich those who build and
operate them and those who award the contracts to do so: public
benefit simply NEVER enters into the equation.]
[BATN: See also:
Muni: $120m over-budget 3rd St. LRT to open over a year late (26 Jul 2006)
Interview: New Muni chief Nathaniel Ford (part 4) (23 May 2006)
Muni/SFCTA's worse-than-useless Central Subway cratering (1 Feb 2006)
" ... a current $1.5 billion."
Column: Transportation earmark porkfest has terrible costs (21 Sep 2005)
Pelosi FTA earmark pork wings its way to San Francisco (14 Sep 2005)
"The Central Subway is expected to cost about $900 million, [SFCTA
executive director Moscovich] said."
Transport bill exempts SJ BART from cost-effectiveness rules (5 Aug 2005)
Muni Central Subway plan blows out past $1 billion (8 Jun 2005)
Muni Central Subway may tunnel deep under BART @ 4th St. (17 Feb 2005)
"The cost estimate now stands at $994 million"
SF spends $500m on LRT with zero supporting development (28 Jan 2005)
$275bn TEA bill clears House, could balloon (3 Apr 2004)
SF TA flunks audit -- financial incompetence cited (24 Mar 2004)
" ... can't balance its checkbook ..."
SF controller blasts SF TA for inept accounting (2 Mar 2004)
"It is the worst organization I have ever audited in my entire life."
Federal budget includes funds for Muni Central Subway (4 Feb 2004)
"... $764 million Central Subway ..."
Stupid $1bn SF subway gets FTA OK, stupid $6bn SJ subway doesn't (3 Feb 2004)
Opinion: A subway from San Francisco to Sugar Land (17 Dec 2003)
SF Central Subway: $500m down the hole; cui bono? (12 Dec 2003)
"I can walk that distance in 20 minutes, maybe 18 with a tailwind."
New SF mayor must fix SF Central Subway boondoggle (10 Dec 2003)
"It is expected to cost -- gulp -- nearly $700 million."
Pelosi secures $500M for SF Muni Central Subway (10 Dec 2003)
" ... $764 million subway ..."
SF's Chinatown holds Muni LRT extension pep rally (8 Apr 2003)
Funds for Muni tunnel included in spending bill (14 Feb 2003)
SF Muni mum on LRT contract bribery investigation (23 Jan 2003)
Muni 3rd St. light rail extension groundbreaking (16 May 2002)
etc etc etc.]