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SF to seek stimulus cash for HSR, Muni, Transbay train box

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  • 3/11 SF Chronicle
    Published Wednesday, March 11, 2009, by the San Francisco Chronicle S.F. pushes hard for big slice of stimulus cash By Zachary Coile Chronicle Washington
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 11, 2009
      Published Wednesday, March 11, 2009, by the San Francisco Chronicle

      S.F. pushes hard for big slice of stimulus cash

      By Zachary Coile
      Chronicle Washington Bureau

      Now that the $787 billion stimulus package is the law of the land, San Francisco is joining the rush of cities and counties lobbying for a big share of the money.

      The city is making its pitch in Washington this week with a delegation led by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and composed of six members of the Board of Supervisors, top aides to Mayor Gavin Newsom and 55 business and labor leaders.

      Their wish list is lengthy: The city has identified more than $2 billion in funding requests for high-speed rail, Muni, broadband access for the city's poorer neighborhoods, health care technology and green jobs. Los Angeles, which also has a delegation in town to lobby, is asking for $6.8 billion.

      Much of the stimulus package is being distributed in formula grants, but the city will compete for other pots controlled by federal agencies. San Francisco officials are counting on help from a powerful congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

      Good timing

      "We think our timing could not be better to make a strong case to get San Francisco to the top of the list," said Steve Falk, the chamber's president and CEO.

      Pelosi, at an event at Crissy Field in San Francisco last week, pledged that stimulus funds would help fill a $100 million funding gap to finish rebuilding Doyle Drive, the 1.2 mile-long southern approach to the Golden Gate Bridge.

      City officials are looking to carve out a piece of the $7.2 billion in the stimulus package for broadband access to extend service to underserved areas, such as Bayview-Hunters Point. San Francisco also is seeking a slice of the $19 billion in the plan to modernize medical records, which could help in the city's efforts to offer universal health coverage.

      Muni is expecting to get $67 million from the package in formula funds, which it plans to use to repair its motor coaches ($16 million) and light rail fleet ($33 million) and buy new ticket vending machines ($11 million.)

      San Francisco International Airport is making a pitch for funding in the package for airports, which could help SFO repave runways and improve security, said airport director John Martin.

      San Francisco officials are teaming up with their Los Angeles counterparts to jointly push for a huge chunk of the $8 billion the stimulus plan will devote to high-speed rail. California believes the federal funds could accelerate the state's plan for a bullet train that could whisk passengers between the two cities in 2.5 hours.

      At a closed-door meeting Tuesday, Pelosi told the San Francisco delegation the city was more likely to have success in winning the funding from federal officials if it presented a united front along with other California cities.

      Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said the city was facing tough competition for the dollars from other regions, including President Obama's hometown of Chicago, which is seeking high-speed rail links to Milwaukee and St. Louis. But he said California is the only state to have passed bonds for high-speed rail and completed an initial environmental planning process.

      "From a readiness perspective, we're ahead of probably any other comparable project in the country," Chiu said.

      Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who chairs the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, said city officials will ask federal officials for help in building the high-speed rail hub at the new Transbay Terminal. The project is a $4 billion undertaking, including $2.4 billion to build an underground link from the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets to the downtown terminal.

      To prepare for the future rail system, the city needs to build a $390 million "train box," the skeleton of an underground train station. San Francisco officials are planning to seek as much $125 million in federal stimulus funds to help pay for the project.

      But the city's plans for the new terminal hit a snag earlier this month when the state's High Speed Rail Authority raised questions about whether the current design -- one platform and two tracks for Caltrain and two platforms and four tracks for high-speed rail -- could accommodate enough passengers by 2030. The authority wants the hub to be able to handle 12 trains an hour, or one of every five minutes, which could require eight to 10 tracks.

      Dufty said the design is being reviewed and leaders of all the key state and regional transportation agencies will be meeting next week to try to reach agreement.

      'Smoothing out problems'

      "It's just smoothing out some of the problems that you would expect with a $4 billion project," Dufty said.

      Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a supporter of the project, said the city should be able to make a good case for the high-speed rail money, but only if state and local entities come together behind a realistic plan.

      "My greatest fear is that it's not going to get done right," she said Tuesday. "Now I hear discussions that it has changed to fit a train every five minutes. Well, I know San Francisco, and there ain't going to be a train that gets in and out of there in five minutes. So I'm worried about how realistic the planning is. It used to be (one train) every 15 minutes, which is much more reasonable."

      E-mail Zachary Coile at zcoile@...
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