Multibillion-dollar shortfall plagues 19 area transit projects

A $2.3 billion shortfall in building costs hangs over the heads of a number of the 19 major transportation projects in the pipeline for the Bay Area.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a planning agency for nine counties including San Francisco, has placed 19 transportation projects on a priority list that will significantly change Bay Area transportation during the next 25 years.

The fate of these projects ultimately depends on whether the financing is secured, according to James Corless, MTC senior planner.

In 2001, the commission adopted what is known as Resolution 3434, a priority list for transportation projects.

A similar resolution, adopted by the commission in 1988, resulted in the construction of BART to the San Francisco International Airport and the Third Street light-rail extension in San Francisco.

There are seven transportation projects that are underfunded for a total of $2.3 billion. Often, projects compete against one another when federal or state money becomes available.

For example, a new federal grant will be used to help fund a $175 million express bus service between Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro. And this funding choice may upset those San Franciscans who advocate transit improvements along Geary Boulevard and the Van Ness corridor.

“Folks in San Francisco say, ‘Hey, what about Geary? What about Van Ness?’ I don’t think that means that we’re necessarily not going to actually advocate for that project,” Corless said, adding that politics plays a role.

In April, the commission revised Resolution 3434 to include an increase in ferry service. The ferry service expansion includes a new South San Francisco terminal that will focus on the commuters, such as those employed at the leading biotechnology company, Genentech Inc. Service additions will also include Berkeley and Richmond.

Another project on the list is the BART extension to San Jose. This project remains uncertain with much of the construction costs in place, but not the operating costs. “I think you are going to see BART to Warm Springs. The question is how much further the classic BART will extend beyond that,” Corless said.

Corless predicted that the next project to go live on the list is the Dumbarton Rail, running from Union City to Redwood City and San Jose.

“Dumbarton has its financing pretty well together,” Corless said.

The financial picture is likely to change. Since 2001, construction costs have increased by 20 percent, creating the $2.3 billion shortfall, Corless said. “The longer it takes us to build these things, the harder it is and the more expensive it is,” he said.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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