San Francisco and federal officials on Wednesday toured a transit center called "The Portal" that is under construction and slated to bring regional and city transit together and recently went up in cost by more than $1 billion.
Shortly after the price hike, tech billionaire Elon Musk claimed his tunneling company, the Boring Company, could build the project for 1% of the multibillion-dollar cost.
An official leading the project's construction pushed back on Musk's claim after the tour.
“What we’re doing is different than their company was founded to do, at least to date,” said Adam Van de Water, executive director of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which is heading up construction of the transit center.
Van de Water said Musk's company specializes in smaller tunnels meant for single-occupancy vehicles and not tunnels meant to accommodate mass transit.
“I did see [Musk's] tweet, and we’re excited [The Portal] is getting more exposure and awareness," Van de Water said.
The Portal, formerly called the Downtown Rail Extension, is a tunneling project that will link Caltrain from the station at Fourth and Townsend streets to AC Transit and San Francisco Muni buses inside the Salesforce Transit Center at 425 Mission St.
The Portal is viewed by transit boosters as a linchpin of a regional transit system that will eventually unite Caltrain, San Francisco’s bus system and high-speed rail.
Van de Water said Caltrain is expected to service the Salesforce Transit Center via The Portal by 2032, and that if high-speed rail were fully funded immediately, those trains could service the station by 2033.
After the tour, acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su lauded and expressed support for unions that worked on the project, which Van de Water said used labor and materials from 48 U.S. states.
“President Biden believes by investing in America, investing in workers, we can build a stronger nation,” Su said. "All of that can be done through good union jobs and a path to the middle class."
The Downtown Rail Extension has been decades in the making, and its estimated cost has ballooned from $6.5 billion to a staggering $8.25 billion since October 2022, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. In 2016, the cost of the rail extension was estimated at $3.9 billion.
Of the recent cost increase, $729 million is attributed to a request that the federal government credit the costs of a train box at the transit center that Van de Water described as "mostly completed."
The remaining $7.5 billion in cost is completing the platforms at Fourth and Townsend stations and the Salesforce Transit Center and boring a tunnel miles through the ground to connect the two stations with Caltrain service.
The Transbay Joint Powers Authority said in 2022 that the rail extension would bring “California’s statewide high-speed rail service into Downtown San Francisco at the TJPA multimodal facility, Salesforce Transit Center, which currently connects nine transit systems (found within and around) to eight Bay Area counties.”
California has been developing a high-speed rail system running between San Francisco and Los Angeles since voters approved it in 2008. As of May 2023, 90 miles of guideway, a track or riding surface to support or guide transit vehicles, have been built, with another 119 miles of the project under construction, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
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