Subway funding plan not firm 

State bond money and savings from capital projects should provide Muni with the $137 million the agency needs to complete its financial plan for the Central Subway project, but the funding strategy could come at the expense of other future programs.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, has identified $869 million in planned federal funding to support its Central Subway plan, but to secure that money, it needs to come up with a game plan for its local match by February.

Representatives from the agency and the Mayor’s Office think they can do this by tapping into $106 million of uncommitted state bond money and taking $31 million in savings from other capital projects.

The state money comes from two voter-approved sources — Proposition 1A bonds, passed in November 2008 as part of the high-speed rail initiative, and Proposition 1B bonds, approved in 2006 to help fund infrastructure programs.

As a result of those measures, the SFMTA received $300 million in Prop. 1B funds, and $60 million in Prop. 1A funds for capital projects. Of that combined total, about $240 million has already been committed to transportation projects. The SFMTA is planning on using $106.3 million of bond money to plug its funding shortfall for the Central Subway.

“We’ve always had this as an option,” SFMTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford said. “We just wanted to make sure that before we committed it to the Central Subway, we weren’t overlooking something else critical to the system.”

The remaining $30.7 million is set to come from savings from various unspent funds originally intended for other capital projects. Technically, that money could be reinvested into Muni’s capital program, which covers major infrastructure projects like rail rehabilitation and train replacement. One of those projects is a $10 million enhancement to Muni’s radio replacement program. However, Carter Rohan, the SFMTA’s capital programs director, said the remaining funding would have likely been used for Central Subway projects either way.

“This won’t hurt the scope of our long-term plans,” Rohan said. “It’s basically money that isn’t being touched that might not even be needed in the future.”

Jason Elliot, who works on transportation issues for Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office, reiterated those claims.

“When you’re finding capital savings, it doesn’t mean you’re canceling a project,” Elliot said. “But we wanted to be pretty explicit that if we found savings, the Central Subway is what we’d be spending them on.”

While the agency has cobbled together $137 million for the Central Subway project, it remains to be seen if its funding strategy will be enough to convince the Federal Transit Administration to release $869 million for the undertaking.

Jose Luis Moscovich, executive director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority — the SFMTA’s sister agency, raised concerns last week that the financing plan for the Central Subway wasn’t thorough enough.

However, regional officials see it differently. Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area’s lead planning agency and one that frequently engages in large-scale projects, said the SFMTA is on the right track.

“I think this funding plan will work,” Rentschler said. “They have enough pieces in place.” If approved, the $1.6 billion Central Subway will extend Muni service from SoMa to Chinatown.

Central Subway financing plan

Federal
Committed: $95.9 million
Planned: $869.9 million
Total: $965.7 million

State
Committed: $351.6 million
Planned: N/A
Total: $351.6 million

Local
Committed: $124.0 million
Planned: $137.0 million*
Total: $261.0 million

*SFMTA’s Planned Local Match
$21.0 million: Prop. 1A Bonds (High Speed Rail Money)
$85.3 million: Prop. 1B Bonds
$30.7 million: Capital project savings

Source: SFMTA

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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Will Reisman

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Saturday, Dec 27, 2014

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