As noted in the press, San Francisco’s self-anointed “Planning Triumvirate “, (comprised of SPUR, the Mayor’s staff and Department of City Planning), wants to remove the northern end of I-280 and replace it with a beautifully-landscaped surface arterial, something on the order of the perpetually-congested Octavia extension of 101. One of the problems with this scheme is that it would dump I-280 freeway traffic onto a new surface arterial somewhere in the vicinity of 16th Street, thereby preempting the space now occupied by the Caltrain main line tracks, and adding billions of dollars and years to a well-thought-out project that is underway.
If San Francisco adopts this new plan, to proceed with rerouting the main line tracks between 22nd Street and Second & King, it will add billions of dollars to the cost of getting Caltrain to downtown San Francisco and delay the Caltrain extension by an estimated 8 to 10 years. In the process, this momentous set of changes would result in the unraveling of decisions that were studied, publicly debated, environmentally-cleared and approved by many agencies over a decade ago. In addition, these late coming bright ideas risk losing funding for the Downtown Caltrain Extension (DTX) entirely, with George Miller gone, and Nancy Pelosi possessing less power to send home the bacon.
Here’s some of what’s wrong with the Planning Triumvirate’s plans:
- First, it would dump northbound I-280 traffic onto SF surface streets much farther south.
- Second, in part to make way for the new roadway and shave an inconsequential 90 seconds off the high-speed trip, there is a plan to relocate both the tracks and the current Fourth and King Caltrain Station. These changes, reportedly concocted by individuals with no experience in engineering, tunneling or rail operations, would push up the cost of getting Caltrain downtown by billions of dollars.
- Third, there’s no money for removing the freeway, much less building the surface-level replacement streets, much less relocating and undergrounding elements of the main line railway. There are claims that these added infrastructure costs will be covered by proceeds from the planned new development. Many similar claims in recent years have proven to be inaccurate.
- Fourth, there is also a plan to move Caltrain’s vital Fourth and King rail storage and staging area to a new site outside San Francisco County. This action would significantly increase both the capital cost of the project and Caltrain’s operating cost, to the point where it could easily kill Caltrain’s San Francisco service all together. There are at least two less expensive ways of accommodating Caltrain’s train storage and staging needs, neither of which would require relocation and neither of which would blight the Fourth/Mission Bay area.
- Fifth, if the Triumvirate’s program were adopted, it would send a decidedly negative signal to prospective private and public DTX investors. The message would be that, despite the fact that in 1999 the people of San Francisco voted 69.3% for Proposition H extending Caltrain to the new First and Mission Street downtown Terminal, San Francisco’s government is prepared to deviate from this mandate. If the city with the shining, oncoming $2 billion Transit Terminal slows down the process of connecting the trains, then who from the outside will step in and provide the needed leadership?
The plans for developing the Mission Bay Area, electrifying Caltrain and extending it into downtown San Francisco have been ongoing for over 20 years. A small group of entities, starry-eyed over replacing the end of I-280 with large-scale development has arrived belatedly on the scene. They bring with them grandiose development plans and poorly thought-out infrastructure adjustments that threaten to bring progress in that part of San Francisco to a screeching halt. Moreover, their insistence in making light of long-standing DTX decisions and policies is threatening to knock DTX out of the running for New Starts funding. Given the vigorous competition between States and cities for coveted New Starts grants, playing around in this way is risky. As the San Francisco voters said loud and clear in 1999, DTX brings great benefits. Losing it would be a very big loss for San Francisco.
Concerned Muni Riders