SoMa-to-Chinatown rail line to debut by 2016, Muni says 

Central Subway to extend Third Street tracks, provide connection to BART, buses

A new Muni rail line that will cut through SoMa up into Chinatown is expected to be online by 2016.

Transit officials on Thursday unveiled details of the $1.4 billion Central Subway project, which will create continuous rail service from Visitacion Valley to Chinatown and is expected to reduce the commute by half.

The 5.1-mile Central Subway is an extension of the newly created Third Street Light Rail, which runs from Bayshore Boulevard in Vistacion Valley to the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets. The $667 million light-rail project, which has been delayed for a year and a half, is launching with weekend rides Jan. 13, with full operation beginning April 7.

The Central Subway line will continue up Fourth Street across Market Street and end at Clay and Stockton streets in Chinatown. The subway will also connect BART and other Muni lines at the Powell Street station. Travel time from Third and King Street to Chinatown, which takes 20 minutes, is expected to be cut by more than half and only take seven minutes, according to JohnFungi, the project manager.

A Muni official said the system, which is expected to increase systemwide ridership by 21,000 people a day when it is up and running, will help serve the 70 percent of the population living along the corridor that does not own a car.

The project comes at time when Muni is being called upon to increase ridership and revenue while making the system more efficient. The transit agency has had multimillion-dollar operating deficits for two years, due to a decrease in revenue and skyrocketing operating costs. Overall, the Third Street Light Rail and the Central Subway, when completed, are expected to draw 91,000 riders per day.

"[This] is clearly another opportunity for the MTA to improve the quality of life in the city and county of San Francisco," Municipal Transportation Agency Executive Director Nathaniel Ford said. "It’s about creating economic opportunities for people. It’s about creating cleaner air."

The money for the project is coming from a variety of sources, including some federal and state funding and also from city sales tax revenue. Muni said it still needs to close a $400 million funding shortfall, but the agency is confident it can be done by making slight design modifications to the plan, such as reducing station platforms from 250 feet to 200 feet, and by adding retail stalls to stations such as Union Square.

"We feel very confident we will deliver it in its budget and within its schedule," Ford said.

Construction of the project is expected to take up to 10 years and some details remain unanswered. Issues such as where the Central Subway will be above and below ground, as well as locations of stops will be decided after a series of community meetings beginning Oct. 17.

The agency has tried to address concerns of Chinatown residents worried that digging under the streets would cause disruptions. New technology, such as using automated tunnel-boring machines, and new digging methods will minimize the disruption on the surface to mostly trucks hauling away material from the site, according to Fungi.

sfarooq@examiner.com

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