As cities across the nation vie for increasingly limited federal investments in transportation, San Francisco is close to securing a $942 million grant to complete one of its most significant transit projects — the Central Subway extension. Unfortunately, this critical infrastructure project has been politicized in the heated mayoral race, unnecessarily putting significant mobility, economic and environmental benefits into question. It’s time to set the record straight.
The Central Subway extension project will provide direct, rapid transit from the Bayview, Mission Bay and South of Market areas to The City’s dense downtown core and Chinatown. This fully funded $1.6 billion project includes the T-Third Street line, four new transit stations and improved connections to the Moscone Center, Yerba Buena and AT&T Park. It will also provide direct connections to BART, Caltrain and the future high-speed rail.
This once-in-a-generation project is an investment in our city’s future. In the short-term, the Central Subway has brought in nearly $90 million to local businesses so far and will create 30,000 jobs. The majority of these contracts are staying local, with more than $115 million already awarded to six local, disadvantaged and small-business enterprises. An innovative trucking program is helping to ensure that 50 percent of all materials hauling for the project also go to local truck operators.
In the long-term, the investment will spark economic development along one of the fastest-growing urban corridors in the nation. According to new census data, some 24,000 new residents have moved into the South of Market (District 6) area alone. An additional 10,000 housing units are planned at the Hunters Point Shipyard. And residential and commercial development in Mission Bay continues. As a result, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency expects the new rail line will accommodate 43,700 daily riders in its opening year and more than 65,000 in 2030.
Serving key convention and tourist areas like the Moscone Center, Union Square and Chinatown, the Central Subway will also help to attract more lucrative convention business and organized travel to San Francisco. Generating $8.5 billion annually, visitor and convention spending is something we should all work to maintain and enhance for our city.
Recently, a few mayoral candidates seeking the spotlight have challenged the project, calling it a "boondoggle." They claim that the project’s costs have increased and that the new transit line will put a strain on Muni’s operating budget. These claims have since been publicly debunked by multiple transit officials, community observers and media. The Board of Supervisors further validated the project with a new resolution affirming The City’s support for the Central Subway.
Now, nothing remains but the cold hard truth: San Francisco needs and can afford the Central Subway. Halting or redesigning the project now would only strain The City’s existing transit systems, cost more than $300 million in lost and returned funding, and derail needed infrastructure that will accommodate The City’s growing population.
As a city that prides itself on its "transit first" policies, it’s time to set politics aside and deal with only facts. The Central Subway extension is not a "train to nowhere." It is a fully funded, sound investment that will enhance mobility, stimulate the economy and connect our communities for decades to come.
Steve Falk is president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.