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Three route options presented for downtown rail extension

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Caltrain workers move about the platforms at the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

One day, California’s $77 billion high-speed rail project may glide from Los Angeles to San Francisco’s Salesforce Transit Center. But before that day comes, The City has to decide exactly how those trainsand a newly electrified Caltrain line will enter the terminal under the gleaming Salesforce Tower.

Will trains speed along the street next to city traffic and enter a tunnel near Fourth and King streets? Will the high-speed trains enter a tunnel along Pennsylvania Avenue at 22nd Street? Or could The City back an entirely different rail alignment, seeing the futuristic trains enter a subway along Third Street beneath the Golden State Warriors’ new Chase Center?
That’s the choice San Francisco planners face now; by August, the Board of Supervisors may officially weigh in, putting The City on track for decades to come.

“We are making a 100-year decision here,” John Rahaim, executive director fo the San Francisco Planning Department, told a crowd gathered at Herbst Theater on Tuesday evening.

About 100 people came to the Planning Department’s public meeting to present the choices to citizens before staff asks the supervisors to endorse one of three options.

Planning Engineer Susan Gygi, who heads what’s known as the Rail Alignment and Benefits study, said running high-speed rail and Caltrain on the surface would require a costly, potentially problematic trench for city traffic to travel underneath the trains. That trench, running underneath Mississippi Street along 16th Street, would be a half-mile long and 45 feet deep.

“Think of what Cesar Chavez looks like and double that,” Gygi told the crowd.

Though that option was favored by The City in 2004, things have since changed. More than 20,000 new homes will bloom in nearby Mission Bay, and the Warriors’ arena, coupled with the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, combine to bring more traffic than anticipated. A Planning Department study released in May noted the trench may slow ambulance travel, trapping emergency vehicles in trench traffic.

A proposal to dig a tunnel along Third Street by the Chase Center also comes with problems, according to Gygi. To bore a tunnel past the basketball arena and AT&T Park to the Salesforce Transit Center would “require the largest boring machine for any project in the United States,” she said.

It would also be the most expensive option, topping $9.3 billion.

By contrast, the surface option would cost an estimated $5.1 billion, and the option featuring a tunnel extension from downtown to Pennsylvania Avenue would cost about $6 billion. Funding has yet to be identified for the full project, though roughly $1 billion is in place for future engineering studies.

Running trains underground at Pennsylvania Avenue is planning staff’s “preferred option.” It would impact about 12 blocks of The City, versus 53 blocks impacted by the surface option; the Mission Bay option would impact zero blocks on the surface.
Planning staff also said the Pennsylvania Avenue option would allow rail currently there to be moved underground, which would “reconnect” Mission Bay as a neighborhood to the rest of The City.

“We have an opportunity to connect the Western neighborhoods,” Rahaim told the crowd. “We think it’s really important to make those decisions for future generations.”

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