Rail depot spot disputed

Bullet trains expected to reach San Francisco by 2020 should stop at the rebuilt Transbay Transit Center instead of elsewhere in The City, a letter from a state agency says.

Attorneys for the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which plans to spend $2 billion to rebuild the transit center at First and Mission streets by 2016, recently demanded in a letter that the California High-Speed Rail Authority stop reviewing alternative locations for a planned San Francisco bullet train terminal.

“Several laws approved by the Legislature and the voters require the San Francisco terminus of [high-speed rail] to be located at the Transbay Transit Center,” outside counsels Andrew Schwartz and Ellen Garber wrote in the Aug. 21 letter.

San Francisco-based HSRA Director Quentin Kopp has questioned whether the transit center is the best location for a San Francisco terminal, and the authority is reviewing other potential locations, including the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets.

An estimated $2 billion would be needed to extend the rail line from the Caltrain station to the terminal.

Kopp told The Examiner that a Transbay Transit Center stop would require a more curved rail line than an alternatively proposed South of Market location, which is bounded by Beale, Main, Mission and Harrison streets. “Curves cost money,” he said.

But in a letter dated Thursday, HSRA Chairman Curt Pringle told the Joint Powers Authority that the Transbay Transit Center remains the rail authority’s “preferred terminus location in San Francisco.”

The HSRA is obliged to review alternative locations under state and federal environmental laws, Pringle wrote.

The letter arrived just in time to support a bid for $400 million in federal stimulus funds needed to build a train station beneath the new transit terminal, according to Joint Powers Authority committee member Chris Daly, a San Francisco supervisor whose district includes South of Market.

The Federal Railroad Administration is expected to announce in early October whether the $400 million application was approved, along with $700 million in other bullet-train related stimulus funding requests submitted by California.

“We definitely needed this [letter] before the FRA announced their decision,” Daly said.

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