San Francisco Central Subway faces funding threat 

click to enlarge A House of Representatives appropriations bill would strip Muni of $942 million for its Central Subway project. (Courtesy rendering) - A HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES APPROPRIATIONS BILL WOULD STRIP MUNI OF $942 MILLION FOR ITS CENTRAL SUBWAY PROJECT. (COURTESY RENDERING)
  • A House of Representatives appropriations bill would strip Muni of $942 million for its Central Subway project. (Courtesy rendering)
  • A House of Representatives appropriations bill would strip Muni of $942 million for its Central Subway project. (Courtesy rendering)

A Republican appropriations bill introduced Thursday in the House of Representatives would strip Muni of $942 million for its Central Subway project, the latest potential threat to the proposed rail line.

The bill must survive several votes in the GOP-controlled House and then secure the buy-in of the Democratically dominated Senate. But if passed as written, completion of the SOMA-to-Chinatown rail extension would seem in jeopardy.

“It’s very early, so we really don’t want to speculate too much on this,” said Ed Reiskin, executive director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “But obviously we can’t readily plug that gap.”

Under the bill, submitted jointly by several members of an appropriations subcommittee, no grant money would be available to any project that receives more than half its funding from the federal government. The SFMTA expects more than 62 percent of the subway’s current $1.578 billion budget — or $983 million — to come from federal funding.

The bill also seeks to bar  funding to projects that haven’t received final approval by Nov. 1. Reiskin said his agency expects to submit a $942 million funding request Sept. 19, but does not expect to receive the $942 million grant until early next year.

Jennifer Hing, spokeswoman for the Appropriations Committee, said that funding would be withheld because committee members want to “rein in spending to help address the nation’s fiscal crisis.”

Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the bill was politically motivated. “It’s sad that we’re in this place,” he said. “We were hoping both parties could work together on this project.”

The office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, a longtime supporter of the Central Subway, promptly issued a statement condemning the bill.

“Leader Pelosi will fight against this extreme agenda and work with the Senate to ensure that vital programs in San Francisco have the funding they need to carry out their mission,” the statement said.

Reiskin said the legislation may not even apply to the Central Subway. He said the project is actually just the second phase of Muni’s earlier T-Third Street project, with which it would connect, linking Chinatown to the Bayview. When the costs of both undertakings are combined, he noted, federal funds account for only 49 percent of the total price tag.

However, an Appropriations Committee official who spoke under the condition of anonymity rejected Reiskin’s line of reasoning.

Introduction of the bill wasn’t the only bit of bad news Thursday for the Central Subway. Mayoral candidate and City Attorney Dennis Herrera, a one-time supporter of the project, formally announced his opposition to the subway. He cited the ballooning costs, low ridership projections and negative testimony from transportation engineers as reasons for his new stance.

Herrera joined a groundswell of opposition to the project. Former supervisors Jake McGoldrick and Aaron Peskin, both one-time backers of the plan, have recently changed their positions, and a civil grand jury report issued in July heavily criticized the subway.


Conflicting opinions

A new bill would strip funding from projects in which federal dollars make up more than half the total price tag. The House Appropriations Committee and the SFMTA have different views of whether this would affect the Central Subway.

The view from the Appropriations Committee

- $1.578 billion: Cost of Central Subway project

- $983 million: Funding for the project slated to come from federal government*

- 62: Percent of Central Subway funding coming from federal sources

The view from San Francisco

- $2.22 billion: Cost of Central Subway and T-Third Street project

- $1.1 billion: Funding for those projects slated to come from federal government

- 49: Percent of federal funding for total projects

*$942 million is due to arrive as part of the Federal Transit Administration’s Full Funding Grant Agreement.

Source: SFMTA

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