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SF transit boss touts progress on Central Subway. But still no opening date

Jeffrey Tumlin the San Francisco Director of Transportation speaks during the official opening of the new Bus Rapid Transit corridor on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco on Friday, April 1, 2022. | Nick Otto | Source: Nick Otto for The Standard

San Francisco’s overdue and over-budget Central Subway may open by the end of the year, city transit director Jeffrey Tumlin hinted Thursday, though a firm timeline for the oft-delayed debut remains elusive.

The agency had insisted as recently as this spring that the line would open in the “fall.”

The long-awaited light-rail route connecting SoMa, Union Square and Chinatown reached an important milestone this month with the contractor handing over the project to the city, Tumlin said. The final phase of the project should move more quickly under direct city control, he added.

“We have excellent progress,” said Tumlin, director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Contractor Tutor Perini won the bid to lead construction on the project in 2013, with an original completion date set for 2018. But contract disputes between the department and the corporation previously led to a blame game over who is responsible for delays and cost overruns.

It’s still unclear when the subway will open to the public, but Tumlin teased a possible opening date could be late this year. He said he learned the “hard way not to make promises” about opening dates, after a June fire in the Yerba Buena/Moscone station prompted another delay of six to eight weeks.

“Once we own the subway, then we can be certain about dates,” Tumlin said.

The Chinatown Rose Pak Muni station known as the Central Subway undergoes construction in preparation for opening. | Juliana Yamada/The Standard

Chinatown’s community has bemoaned delays to the project, which was brokered by the late community leader Rose Pak after the 1989 earthquake led to the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway and made it harder to get to Chinatown.

Many locals have since claimed there has been a negative impact on small businesses from the construction work, as well as the repeated delays.

Tumlin said the department is planning more Chinese community events to welcome the transit project when it’s done; it comes after a push in recent years by the agency to be more inclusive with the local community.

“We are really eager to invite the community into our stations for celebrations,” he said.

Han Li can be reached at