Only Congress can now stop Central Subway grant

Courtesy renderingThis rendering shows the planned Union Square station for the Central Subway.

An unprecedented act by Congress is the only thing standing between Muni and a crucial federal grant for its Central Subway project now that the Obama administration has signed off on the $942 million application.

The grant, which accounts for nearly 60 percent of the $1.6 billion project, was forwarded to Congress on Friday by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Congress has 60 days to reject the application, but Muni chief Ed Reiskin said such an action has never occurred.

“Our confidence level remains unchanged—this is a step in the process that we’ve been expecting all along,” said Reiskin. “When it’s approved, we’ll have a big signing ceremony and celebration.”

The grant was originally expected to arrive last December, but the approval date has been pushed back several times.

In January, when BART reached this point with its $900 million application for the Silicon Valley extension project, regional officials described the 60-day congressional review period as a mere formality, and the funding was authorized in March.

Reiskin shied away from calling the approval a formality, saying he wanted to give all due respect to Congress in the way that the law is written. Congress, which is currently in recess, does not actively review the application. If no action is taken within 60 days, it is approved, said Reiskin.

But while Congress has a history of approving these grant applications, both the Senate and House are more polarized than ever, which could jeopardize funding for the Central Subway, said Jerry Cauthen of Save Muni, a group opposed to the project.

“This used to be a rubber-stamp act,” said Cauthen. “But I think it’s clear that this is the most contentious and cantankerous group of politicians we’ve seen in a long while in Washington.”

The project is facing a lawsuit over its construction plans in the North Beach neighborhood. A second suit is likely to come regarding a separate construction project in Union Square. Muni officials have said both undertakings are legal.

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