Muni’s T-Third begins service 

Although weekday service won’t start until April, San Franciscans interested in jumping on The City’s new Third Street light rail can now ride it for free on the weekends — starting today.

The line — which moves along Third Street through The City’s southeast sector — runs from Fourth and King streets, near the Giants’ ballpark, to Bayshore Boulevard and Sunnydale Avenue.

Dubbed the T-Third by Muni, the 5.1-mile route connects some of San Francisco’s most impoverished neighborhoods — including Bayview, Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley — with downtown.

Running along a dedicated track that keeps the line out of traffic, the new light rail utilizes such high-tech advances as priority signaling — which changes traffic lights as the train approaches — to speed up the line’s transit time.

Full service, including weekdays, will start in April, according to Muni; until then, the T-Third will be running for free on the weekends to introduce passengers to the line.

The train was originally scheduled to hit the tracks in December 2005.The lengthy construction time has adversely impacted business along Third Street, owners have complained. There have also been complaints regarding the loss of about 300 parking spaces on Third Street and Bayshore Boulevard as a result of the light rail, although Muni officials say added parking within one block of Third Street has resulted in a net gain of about 100 parking spaces along the corridor.

Unforeseen site conditions, weather impacts and modifications to the Islais Creek Bridge, among other complications, delayed the project and added to its cost, according to Muni officials. The cost estimate at completion is $648 million — $65 million more than a 2004 estimate that came upon completion of the project’s design and $154 million above the original 2002 project budget of $494 million.

Mayor Gavin Newsom called the Third Street rail line an "investment in a community where there’s been underinvestment," that will act as a catalyst for economic revitalization and support redevelopment efforts in Bayview-Hunters Point.

"This is just the beginning. It’s not just that one corridor, now the key is to build off it," Newsom said. "We’re going to work off this system to connect it to Candlestick Point and connect it to Hunters Point."

Dave Snyder, transportation policy director for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, said putting the Third Street light rail in ahead of development is an example of good planning that lessens environmental concerns that can come with development.

"It’s serving a future need as well as a current need," Snyder said. "This transportation infrastructure will allow us to increase housing and jobs, without adding more cars."

Critics of the Third Street light-rail project say the train will not just move passengers through The City’s southeast side, but will also bring in gentrification, forcing out the area’s black community as other, more affluent, San Franciscans move into the new development.

"The challenge is not to make it [the rail line] a gentrification tool," Newsom said. "With our redevelopment plan we’re trying to be sensitive to that concern."

Facts and figures on the T-Third:

Where it runs: The T-Third runs between Castro Station and Sunnydale Avenue

When it starts: Service is effective Saturday. Introductory service operates through April 1, weekends only, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every 20 minutes.

What it costs: Until the start of full service April 1, passengers who board trains at any station south of Fourth and King will ride for free.

Highlights:

» 5.1 miles of new light rail

» $648 million in construction cost

» 317 local jobs

» New streetlights and enhanced streetscapes

» Pedestrian audible signals

» Connected to digital traffic management system, SFgo

» New traffic signals and priority signaling

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Bonnie Eslinger

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