Central Subway needs money to fulfill potential

It is time for everyone to get onboard with the Central Subway project — the largest Muni project in recent years.

This week, the excavation of nearly a full block in San Francisco began as construction workers started ripping up the streets around Fourth and Bryant. The project is for a “launch box,” the staging ground for next year, when two massive hole-boring machines will ultimately serve as the tunnel for the new Central Subway line.

If you believe the naysayers, this tunneling is the beginning of a train to nowhere or a multimillion-dollar project that utterly lacks funding and will result in a train line without riders.

None of this is true.

The Central Subway is the second phase of the T-Third Street route, a 5.1-mile light-rail line that has done much good by connecting downtown with the southeastern neighborhoods of The City. The entire project germinated from the Embarcadero Freeway teardown after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The compromise for not rebuilding the freeway was to plan for this new transit line.

The Central Subway project will extend the T-Third Street line 1.7 miles through the South of Market neighborhood, with stops at Moscone Center and Union Square, and end in Chinatown. The project will tie together one of the fastest-growing sections of The City with one of the densest neighborhoods in the nation. The ridership projections for the project, which opponents say are too low to justify the $1.6 billion cost, are for the small section of line itself. The opponents point to one number — 35,000 riders in 2020. But the true ridership number is for the entire T-Third Street line, which is projected to be about 65,000 by 2030.

It is true that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is moving ahead with this project without full federal funding. The work has been going on for some time, such as the moving of utilities that are in the way of tunneling. In these days of tight federal funding, when the present Congress is in the hands of tea party ideologues who want to kill public works projects that aren’t car-oriented, the only way to prove a project is worthy of federal funding is having it shovel ready — or in this case, bore-ready.

But since the SFMTA has done so much to prove it is fully invested in this project, we are confident that the subway line is going to be fully financed. The Federal Transit Administration is expected to provide the final
$942 million by the end of the month. This funding will be enough to complete the tunnel bore.

The SFMTA does not exactly have a proactive reputation. But in this case, it should be applauded for continuing to push ahead with a major construction project, even if the last bit of money is not quite yet secured. This money has been crawling through the pipeline for years.

The Central Subway line will be a major asset to San Francisco, and local and federal officials need to present a united front to finalize the funding as soon as possible.

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