The Canary is Dead: With the Central Subway Project, the Only Way Out is Through

By Joe Eskenazi : sfweekly – excerpt

News that the Transbay Terminal is something like $300 million over budget should not come as a shock to anyone. We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost. Just like we never had a real cost for the Central Subway or the Bay Bridge or any other massive construction project. So get off it. In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.
Willie Brown, San Francisco Chronicle, July 28

Losing by less is the new winning. Keeping your job is the new raise. And being honest about your dishonesty is the new truthfulness. We laugh so as not to cry.

There’s plenty in the Chronicle these days to make you laugh or cry. But nothing induces the urge to house-train a puppy quite like the ongoing platform provided to former Mayor Brown, who ridicules the public for believing him while he admits lowballing projects covered with his fingerprints — by billions…

At times, it’s difficult to remember that voters approved the Central Subway. That’s because the project, a 1.7-mile extension of the T-line running from SoMa to Chinatown, as described in Proposition K of 2003, hardly resembles its current iteration. A $647 million budget has swelled to some $1.6 billion. An estimated daily ridership exceeding 100,000 is now pegged at 35,100.

But if misery loves company, we’ve got both. A recent U.S. Department of Transportation study of 10 major rail projects revealed an average cost-per-passenger 500 percent higher than the initial figures used to sell the idea. “It is certainly possible,” the study concludes, “that decision-makers acting on more accurate forecasts of costs and future ridership … would have selected projects other than those reviewed here.”…


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