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Trades Protest GOP Threat to Central Subway Construction PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, October 5, 2011

dscn9325-lrg.jpgWork Continues Despite Effort in Congress to Strip Funding from $2.2 Billion Project

By Paul Burton, Contributing Writer

Republicans in Congress are threatening to cut off or limit federal funds for the Central Subway, but work on the project is continuing.

In September, Republicans introduced an appropriations bill that would cut $942 million in funding from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) for the Central Subway, which started construction earlier this year. The bill would prohibit new federal grants for transit projects that receive more than half of their funding from the federal government.

Building Trades workers and elected officials rallied in support of the Central Subway project at City Hall September 9, to call for continued federal funding. Rose said the project would be built using union contractors and union construction trades workers.

While the Central Subway’s $1.578 billion budget includes $983 million from federal funding, about 62 percent, the SFMTA does the math differently. It contends that federal funding represents 49.7 percent of a larger total: the $2.2 billion cost of the Third Street Light Rail Project, which extends the existing Third Street rail line from Mission Bay through downtown and into Chinatown. MTA Director Ed Reiskin said, “We believe we have legal standing to support the definition that this is one two-phase project.”

When completed in 2018, the 1.7-mile extension of the rail line will serve commuters with new stations in Chinatown, Union Square and the Moscone Convention Center. It will also link to BART and Caltrain. The goal is to decrease transit travel times and relieve automobile congestion, as well as to provide thousands of jobs.

SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said other attempts had been made in the past to cut funding for the Central Subway. He said the threats are still in play, but nothing has affected the project at this point.

“Those who would threaten to cut funding would be faced with making a decision to reverse work that would create more than 30,000 jobs,” he said. Rose said that members of Congress should consider the number of jobs created before passing legislation to cut funding.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi issued a statement condemning the bill, saying she “will fight against this extreme agenda and work with the Senate to ensure that vital programs in San Francisco have the funding they need to carry out their mission.”

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution backing the project Sept. 27, after mayoral candidates Jeff Adachi, Tony Hall and Dennis Herrera spoke up against it. T he resolution notes that “the project will serve a low-income, transit dependent population and provide access to jobs and services within the corridor, which is projected to see a 26 percent increase in population and a 61 percent increase in employment…54 percent of the current residents in the entire Third Street corridor and 68 percent in the Central Subway segment do not own a vehicle.”

Great Cities Build Subways

The board said the Central Subway is integral to the region’s transportation future and will improve connections among Caltrain, BART and Muni Metro and “provide significant community benefits including shorter commute times, reduced traffic congestion and cleaner air for residents, workers and visitors alike.” It called for “the expeditious completion of all requirements necessary to enter into a Full Funding Grant Agreement with the Federal Transit Administration” as well as support for replacing all rent-controlled units that will be demolished.

“Great cities do not regret building subways,” said Supervisor David Chiu. “Great cities regret not building subways.”

The SFMTA issued a statement calling the Board of Supervisors’ support “most welcome.” It noted, “Throughout both phases of the Third Street Light Rail Project, including the Central Subway, the elected family of San Francisco has stood firmly and consistently behind this project. They have joined their voices with the Mayor and our Congressional delegation, along with those of the surrounding communities to highlight its many benefits, such as providing rail service to the most densely developed areas of San Francisco, creating approximately 30,000 jobs and decreasing travel time between Chinatown and Visitacion Valley.”

Some of the opposition to the Central Subway emerged after a report by a San Francisco Civil Grand Jury that questioned the project’s design and potential cost overruns. The SFMTA responded that the report “does not say anything new about the challenges we face with regards to serving nearly 700,000 riders each weekday, providing more than 1,200 trips through the subway each day, finding ways to maintain and improve the work we do, and balancing a budget in increasingly tough economic times.”

It highlighted the benefits to relieve surface congestion, reduce travel time, reduce air and noise pollution, provide transportation to the new development of 10,000 housing units in Hunters Point, and provide improved transit access to the technology companies in the SoMa neighborhood.

“This project consistently receives positive reviews as part of the FTA’s New Starts program, including $72 million in New Starts federal funding to date,” the statement said.

40 Months of Tunneling

The SFMTA awarded the $233.6 million contract for tunneling in June to Barnard Impregilo Healy Joint Venture as “the lowest responsive and responsible bidder.” The contract is the largest construction package for the project.

Work on the tunneling is scheduled to begin next year and last for 40 months. The 1.7 -mile Twin Bore Tunnels will go from I-80 to North Beach using two Tunnel Boring Machines simultaneously, according to the SFMTA. The agency noted that TBM technology has been used extensively throughout the world and “has great potential for controlling project costs by minimizing surface construction staging, reducing utility relocations and shortening construction time.”

San Francisco-based Synergy Project Management is handling construction management for the SFMTA. For the past several months, crews have been working on moving underground utilities from under the streets to under the sidewalks in the Union Square/Market Street area along Stockton Street, between Sutter and Market streets. Utility relocation work will continue through June 2012.

Future work will include construction of the three new stations, slated to be built in phases starting in 2012. Bids for construction of the $87 million Moscone Station will go out in early 2012, with work starting later next year and continuing for four years. Work on the $168 million Union Square/Market Street Station will start in mid-2012 and go on for 56 months. The $141 million Chinatown Station will start construction in mid-2012 and take 52 months. Work on the underground stations will include elevator and escalator construction, slurry wall construction, AC and DC Traction Power substations, lighting installation, emergency ventilation fans, HVAC, signage, station finish work, and fire alarm, fire suppression and fire protection.

The majority of funding for the Central Subway is from the FTA’s New Starts program, with other funding from a mix of federal, state and local sources, including state transportation bonds.


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