Muni’s Central Subway unnecessary, says civil grand jury 

Muni’s Central Subway plan ignores major transit corridors, has funding fraught with uncertainties and will add to the agency’s already-strained long-term budget shortfall, a civil grand jury report said.

The report, released Thursday after seven months of research and interviews, found major faults in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s plan to extend its underground train service from the Financial District to Chinatown at a cost of $1.6 billion.

The transit agency, which has never achieved its 85 percent on-time performance goal, is facing a $2.5 billion capital budget shortfall over the next 20 years. Adding the Central Subway will only increase the strain on an already-overloaded system, and funding would be better spent on improving Muni’s existing service, the report said.

The report said the SFMTA’s funding plan for the Central Subway is overly optimistic. The agency, which operates Muni, has earmarked 20 percent of its total project budget — $262.9 million — for cost overruns. By contrast, the agency’s T-Third Street light-rail extension — the precursor to the Central Subway — exceeded costs by 22 percent. If that same ratio applies to the Central Subway, it will cost an extra $260 million.

The report also criticized the long distance — 1,000 feet — that commuters will have to walk to exit the Central Subway’s Union Square station. And it raised questions about whether passengers would be able to transfer seamlessly to connections on bus rapid-transit routes planned for the Geary corridor.

The civil grand jury issued 26 recommendations, with suggestions ranging from a redesign to having an independent auditor study the budget to dedicating more resources for existing infrastructure.

SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said the agency appreciates the report, but it didn’t offer many
helpful suggestions.

“It does not say anything new about the challenges we face with regards to serving nearly 700,000 riders each weekday, providing more than 1,200 trips through the subway each day, finding ways to maintain and improve the work we do and balancing a budget in increasingly tough economic times,” Rose said.

John Funghi, the SFMTA’s program manager for the Central Subway, said the project is under budget, on time and has been recognized by the federal government for its efficiency. He said the line will be the first north-south rail project in San Francisco in 50 years, and will improve connectivity while alleviating congestion on the overcrowded Stockton Street corridor.

Central Subway

65,000 Daily riders projected to use line

$1.578 billion Estimated cost of project

1.7 miles Length of Central Subway

700,000 Daily passengers currently carried by Muni

$2.5 billion Agency’s capital shortfall over next 20 years

Source: SFMTA

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Will Reisman

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