Proposed upgrades for the Caltrain station in South San Francisco are finally falling into place after a decade of planning and coordinating public input, funding and political will.
The San Mateo County Transportation Authority recently approved the use of $49.1 million in Measure A funds which, combined with the appropriated $5.9 million in city funds, completes the targeted budget for this endeavor. Measure A, approved in 2012, is a half-cent sales tax for countywide transportation projects and programs.
Under the project, the station will be moved to the intersection of Grand Avenue and Airport Boulevard. Transportation officials believe one of the key improvements will be the construction of a new underpass, which will meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards and allow pedestrians and cyclists safer access to the Caltrain station from the downtown and biotech areas.
Some primary concerns of the current outdated station have been that it forces pedestrians to cross unsafe overpasses as well as a steep steel stairway, and projects an uninviting entrance. Other complaints about the existing location have included that vehicles must enter through a maze of narrow roads surrounded by old boarding ramps and open dirt areas, and passengers must cross over the tracks to board northbound trains.
Caltrain riders and transportation officials have attributed such issues to underuse of the station, which ranks 21st in ridership out of 29 Caltrain stations.
“There are only two trains an hour that stop in South San Francisco and neither makes all stops or is a bullet. Chances are you have only one chance per hour to get a train to South City and it's a slow trip,” South City resident Jim Bertoldi said of his concerns with the local train service.
John Baker, an avid public-transportation supporter, added, “It's a Catch-22. There's no trains because there's no demand, but I'd counter there's no demand because there are no trains. Giving the station easier access to both sides of [U.S. Highway] 101 should help drive up demand.”
South San Francisco City Councilman Karyl Matsumoto anticipates that the new station will be well-received.
“More than 400 riders, many of them employees in the biotech industry, use this station on an average weekday, so this will be a much welcome improvement for these riders and our future riders,” he said.
Some current commuters say they are also looking forward to the plaza that will connect the station to Grand Avenue and the downtown area, allowing them the opportunity to do a few errands, pick up coffee and a bite to eat. Another new feature is an eastside parking lot that will allow for easy shuttle drop-off and pickup of biotech employees and others.
The new Caltrain station is considered a centerpiece of South San Francisco's 20-year Downtown Specific Plan, which will include transit-oriented high density, mixed-use commercial and residential properties. The plan also calls for additional pedestrian and bicycle improvements along with green spaces, plazas, parks and paths.
Construction of 500 units to be built on properties along Airport Boulevard may be the first step in the development and supporters say will transform an area that currently houses vacant businesses.
“The old Ford buildings are really an eye sore as you come off Highway 101 into downtown,” neighbor Bill Simon said. “While the plans seem pretty venturous, I am excited to see this move forward. We've waited a long time.”
With the design of the new Caltrain station complete, construction could begin next year, Caltrain officials said. The station is slated to begin service in 2019 in an effort to coordinate with the electrification of Caltrain.