SFMTA awarded $942 million grant for Central Subway

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency was awarded nearly $1 billion in federal grants and funds to construct the highly anticipated Central Subway connecting the Bayview District to Chinatown and North Beach.

The concept was discussed for two decades and, despite controversy, became an official project 10 years ago.

“The Central Subway is meant to provide an east to west transit option that is sorely needed in one of the densest areas on the West Coast,” SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said.

The $942 million grant was awarded Oct. 10 to build the Central Subway, which would add light rail stops to the SOMA, Union Square and Chinatown areas, which are known for congestion with cars and foot traffic. According to the SFMTA, the addition would cut commute time in half and create more local jobs. The project would also help boost the city’s economy since it would bring people from outside of the city and connect with other transit agencies such as Golden Gate Transit and Caltrain, according to the SFMTA.

The Central Subway has sparked controversy as Howard Wong, spokesman for Save Muni, a reform group aiming to improve the transit’s operations, said the SFMTA should not have been given the funds until “all proper approvals have been granted as required” by law.

Wong also stated the Federal Transit Administration misrepresented that the new subway would drastically improve the transit agency. Instead, he believes the millions of local and state taxes being used in the project should go directly to improving the “deteriorating” service throughout San Francisco.

The project grant was given by the FTA’s New Starts, a federal program that financially assists in order to improve congested light or heavy rail systems. According to the FTA, the program will offer 80 percent of funding toward the Central Subway project, while the remaining would come from local and state taxes. Besides San Francisco, New Starts offered grants to 39 other transit systems in 20 states.

FTA spokeswoman Amanda Gates said the program has helped hundreds of transit systems, which in turn has improved the mobility of millions of Americans.

“(New Starts) have helped to reduce congestion and improve air quality in the areas they serve and have fostered the development of viable, safer and more livable communities,” Gates said.

The first phase of the project began in 2007 when the T-Third Street Muni metro line was built. The second phase, now underway, will extend the T line from its original route along the Third Street corridor traveling north into Mission Bay near AT&T Park. It will be routed north where it will enter a subway tunnel at Fourth Street between Bryant and Harrison streets. It will continue into the Yerba Buena/Moscone Station before travelling north into the subway stations on Market Street. It will then continue into the constructed Chinatown station at Washington and Stockton streets and end in North Beach on Columbus Street.

Once service has begun, the T line is projected to become Muni’s busiest. The SFMTA is anticipating 43,000 passengers each weekday and 65,000 by 2030, according to Rose.

Criminal justice major Delmy Gutierrez lives in Hunter’s Point, where the T line currently passes along the Third Street corridor. Gutierrez is excited the line is extending because she takes two buses when commuting to SF State. It takes the same number of buses to get her to work in the Financial District.

“This is great news because it’ll get me around the city faster,” Gutierrez, 24, said. “The buses out here (in Hunter’s Point) are limited and don’t take me where I need to go.”

Construction is currently underway on Fourth Street between Bryant and Harrison streets near the Moscone Center and near Union Square. Construction in SOMA, where the tunnel would be excavated, is scheduled to begin in 2013.

Chinatown, one of the most populated neighborhoods in San Francisco, will be affected by the construction. For international relations major Doris Yu, who has lived in Chinatown all her life, the situation will get worse before it gets better.

“It’s a problem walking around Chinatown especially during rush hour because so many people live there,” Yu, 19, said.

She added that a majority of residents heavily rely on public transportation because of the high quantity of apartments and a lack of garages in the area, but is looking forward to the finished result of the project.

“In the end, it’s worth it because the community will benefit from it,” she said.

Although construction might cause confusion for drivers and pedestrians on city streets, Rose said the city will continue to communicate with businesses so their operations will not be affected. Pedestrians will continue to “have proper access to stores and rights of way.” Once the project is completed in 2017, tests are to be conducted to ensure its efficiency before it opens to the public in 2019.

For more information on the Central Subway project with up-to-date information on construction, traffic configuration and meetings check out centralsubwaysf.com.

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