Transportation groups strongly back Wiener’s ‘Subway Master Plan’ amid funding challenges

Supervisor Scott Wiener is proposing further subway expansions, which, if approved, can begin after the Central subway is completed. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner 2012)

The reaction to Supervisor Scott Wiener’s Subway Master Plan so far has been jubilant.

The local Transit Riders group showered the plan with accolades. One transit supporter on Twitter tweeted his reaction to the news — a YouTube video of a child screaming in happiness as he unwraps a Christmas present.

Tilly Chang, executive director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, was optimistic, but also outlined major hurdles.

“It’s going to take all sectors, public involvement, and sustained continued leadership from the mayor and the board,” Chang said. “I don’t want to fail Scott challenging us.”

His proposal is ambitious, many noted.

The Subway Master Plan, revealed in a story Monday night by the San Francisco Examiner, would task The City with expanding its subway network. The City should “always” be building a subway, the plan states.

As promised, Wiener introduced his ordinance Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors.

If approved, San Francisco would dig a new subway as soon as Chinatown’s Central Subway is completed. About $983 million of the Central Subway’s construction comes from federal sources, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Just $123 million comes from local sources.

Chang said federal funding is tough to come by lately.

“It’s been a long-term thing, it’s not something we’re just discovering,” Chang said. “What we’ve done as a community of cities and counties is a lot more self help.”

San Francisco can pay for its own subways, she said, through local fees and tolls, capturing the value of land owned by localities, and public-private partnerships.

As San Francisco faces the potential of much new subway construction, Congress is now stalled on a multiyear transportation funding bill, which was temporarily extended to the tune of $8 billion in July.

Image courtesy of SFMTA

Tunnel Boring Machine, image courtesy of SFMTA

In a bid to save money, some transit activists asked if re-using the boring machines which dug the Central Subway was an option. Paul Rose, a spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said that was unlikely.

“The (boring machines) belonged to our contractor,” he said, “but are now building tunnels in Russia.”

Chang isn’t deterred. In a back-of-the-napkin estimate, she estimated San Francisco could complete much of the subway network within 20 years, “if we were really committed to it.”

“We’re talking subways,” she said, “it’s not for the faint of heart.”

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