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Central Subway Likely To Be Delayed Yet Again, Federal Monitor Says
Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Central Subway Likely To Be Delayed Yet Again, Federal Monitor Says

The city’s official Sept. 9 date for moving people from SoMa to Chinatown on a new central subway transit line is a long shot given potential delays that include a possible shortage of equipment for overhead tram cables, water leakage and an incomplete signal network, according to a monitor assigned to track the project for the federal government.

Current cost estimates of nearly $2 billion, meanwhile, are unrealistic and “unacceptable” because the city’s transit agency is not taking into account possible overruns stemming from any delays, according to a January report from the monitor that has not previously been publicized.

A fresh delay would be the latest in a long series of expensive postponements afflicting a project that was already four and a half years late. Cost estimates of $1.891 billion, which the report said are already out of date, are $313 million more than the amount the city agreed to with the federal government.

This is a gap city officials may need to close using local funds, said Gerald Cauthen, a civil engineering consultant who during the 1980s managed installing parts of the light rail system tunnel that now runs under Market Street.

Cauthen says a September boarding date is wildly optimistic given the fact that subway systems must go through extensive testing before opening to the public, and that such tests invariably reveal unexpected problems.

“That testing doesn’t go without difficulty. You always have issues,” Cauthen said. “I don’t see how they could finish by September.”

An SF Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson did not comment on the monitor’s report or possible delays.

Once complete, the extension of the city’s light-rail line will traverse four new stations, traveling under the BART tunnel and Union Square, before arriving in Chinatown.

Kenneth Harrington, a San Francisco attorney who has analyzed the report and other Central Subway documents, said he doesn’t expect the system to open to the public until at least December. Costs, too, will continue inflating.

“When you get all the costs, which are not listed as part of the project but incurred because of the project, it will be $2.1 billion,” he said.

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The transit plan has been plagued from the beginning by the fact it filled no pressing transit need but instead amounted to a deal involving the late Chinatown community leader Rose Pak and former mayor Willie Brown aimed at bringing a benefit to Chinatown constituents.

Critics including transit activist David Schonbrunn have said this has long meant the city needed to exaggerate the project’s efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and other metrics in order to coax funds out of federal and California agencies.

“I call it the perpetual motion machine,” Schonbrunn said. “It seems like they want to keep building this thing forever.”


Update – An SFMTA official responded to the Standard saying: We have not changed our revenue service target date, and are still firmly on track for a Fall 2022 launch. The January PMOC report notes that there are technical challenges remaining, but we remain laser-focused on the finish line and have been testing systems and our trains since September 2021. We are confident about a Fall 2022 completion.

Matt Smith can be reached at [email protected].
  • Ironically, rather than helping, the disruption from the construction devastated plenty of businesses in Chinatown.

  • This story is misleading. When the true vision for the Central Subway is complete, it will connect the south side of town, including Moscone Center, with its convention-goers, not only with Chinatown but also with the Wharf, which hosts 30-50,000 visitors and as many as 7,400 workers a day. Getting even a fraction of the cars that represents off our streets will be good for the climate and the neighborhoods that currently suffer significant environmental degradation under the status quo.

  • Tony: 1) After this, there will be no money to “complete” the “true vision”; 2) there is absolutely zero credible research, in the form of scientific surveys, that “convention-goers” will want to take an underground train to Fisherman’s Wharf when they can already make a short walk to Market Street and either the cable cars or F-line streetcars, both world famous and scenic; 3) therefore, your argument that pushing this boondoggle even further because it will eliminate automobiles is bogus, just like the ridership projections. To finish responding to your virtue-signalling word salad, please say which “neighborhoods” that suffer significant environmental damage under the status quo. Given your handle, I’ll address North Beach. Absolutely use the EXISTING tunnels between Chinatown Station and Washington Square to extend the subway ONE stop. This should have been done already. SFMTA bought the old Pagoda Palace, leveled it, used the space to extract the tunnel boring machines, and could easily have reserved the space for a terminal station, with no further on-street disruption. But no; now there’s a new residential building there, and to build a station where the current tunnels end, they will either have to go into Columbus Avenue, or Washington Square itself. Swell.

  • going to the moon was a generational accomplishment. this is a mile long subway. the moon is 238,000 miles away. per mile, going to the moon is cheaper. that would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so sad.

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