City officials plug future Central Subway 

With Muni’s new Third Street Light Rail scheduled to start full service on April 7, an ambitious, $1.2 billion plan to build the next link in the transit line — an underground subway from South of Market to Chinatown — is getting a push from city officials.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin and Muni chief Nathaniel Ford held a press conference Monday on the corner of Broadway and Stockton streets, on a sidewalk crowded with pedestrians and a crush of traffic in the background.

"Look at this street, it’s remarkably congested," said Peskin, whose district includes Chinatown. "If you could have a subway in this portion, like you do under Market Street, it would be great for moving people around in one of the highest ridership communities in San Francisco."

As planned, the Central Subway project is a 1.7-mile extension connected to the 5.1-mile Third Street Light Rail that would go underground at Bryant Street and conclude in Chinatown.

The Central Subway would cross beneath Market Street, as well as Geary and Stockton streets, and end at Stockton and Clay streets. Four new underground stations would be located at Moscone Center, Market Street, Union Square and Clay Street.

A final design is slated for completion by 2010, with the new route being ready to run in 2016.

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Construction impact on Chinatown would be minimal, promises Ford, since most of the work would be done underground, with tunnel-boring machines.

The plan has not been without critics, with one voice of concern coming from an independent auditor commissioned by Muni to study the project.

Former Muni planning director Thomas Matoff said the Central Subway wasn’t the most efficient way of bringing better service to an additional market, considering its high cost. The audit included a suggestion that the subway tunnel be widened to also accommodate buses.

Ford said the audit "raised some interesting issues," but wasn’t going to derail the project.

Harrison Lim, director at the Chinese Six Companies, a Chinese association, said the subway was needed to bring business into the area. He noted that after the Embarcadero Freeway that went to Chinatown was demolished in 1989, as a result of the Loma Prieta earthquake, the business district’s "economy [went] down to the ground."

Money won’t be an issue, according to Ford, who said that about $1 billion had been identified in federal funding. Another $100 million could come from state infrastructure bond money.

Although plans are moving forward, Radulovich said he and other transit advocates would like to see a little more research go into the project.

"People aren’t saying don’t build it," Radulovich said. "They’re saying build it right."

A presentation on the Central Subway is on the agenda for today’s Municipal Transportation Agency board meeting, held at City Hall in Room 400 at 2 p.m.

Muni central subway project by the numbers

Cost: $1.4 billion

Completion date: 2016

Ridership: 21,000 daily increase systemwide

Length: 5.1 miles

Begins: Fourth and King streets

Ends: Stockton and Clay streets

Connections: Extension of Third Street Light Rail; Muni and BART at Powell Street; Caltrain at Fourth and King streets

Stops: At least four

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