Muni expects $942 million in Central Subway funding

S.F. Examiner file photoThe San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency expects that the Central Subway project

Muni’s controversial $1.6 billion Central Subway project is poised to receive a long-awaited $942 million federal grant today, a move that will finally secure full funding for construction.

On Wednesday, the federal Department of Transportation issued a notice that it would make a “major funding announcement” today regarding the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni. Sources on Wednesday confirmed that it would be the Full Funding Grant
Agreement.

The announcement, expected to come at a 1:30 p.m. news conference on Stockton Street between Ellis and O’Farrell streets, is the culmination of a decadelong process. In 2002, the Federal Transit Administration approved engineering clearance to study the Central Subway. The SFMTA applied for the $942 million grant in September 2011 and expected to receive it last December.

However, funding uncertainties at the state and local levels stalled the grant. While SFMTA officials always expressed confidence in the funding publicly, the delays raised doubts about the federal government’s belief in the project.

Those doubts were largely squelched in August when the White House Office of Management and Budget moved forward with the grant, a procedural step that would have required an unprecedented act of Congress to withhold funding for the project.

The subway, which will extend Muni’s underground service 1.6 miles north to connect South of Market with Chinatown, has the backing of the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee, along with U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The plan has long been touted as a solution to the woefully slow and overcrowded Muni buses on the Stockton Street corridor.

However, the project has attracted criticism for its ballooning costs — original estimates grew from $647 million to $1.6 billion — and its annual burden on Muni’s already-strained operating budget. Former Board of Supervisors presidents Quentin Kopp and Aaron Peskin have come out against the plan, and a local activist group called Save Muni has consistently attacked the Central Subway as an unnecessary spending boondoggle.

“We’ve always felt that the SFMTA’s grant application has been based on falsified numbers that inflate the importance of the project,” said Howard Wong, a spokesman for Save Muni. “The Central Subway will ultimately end up degrading the rest of the Muni system.”

While the project has finally secured its funding sources, it still faces legal hurdles. Lawsuits have been filed against the project’s construction plans in North Beach and Union Square, the latter submitted by Save Muni on Wednesday. The City Attorney’s Office has stated that the SFMTA acted legally in both matters.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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