Transbay Terminal transition risky yet thrilling 

If you stroll through the deteriorating Transbay Terminal on Mission Street, you can capture a slice of a left-behind era. There really was a time when buses and railroads served as the principal modes of transporting mobile Americans, not only as daily commuters but as continental scene changers. You could walk through the portals of one of these "hubs" and expect in a few days’ time to be delivered to an entirely different geophysical place. To experience such journeys was tolive the American character.

The squat concrete building, with its still-active bus ramps, has none of the ornate features of, say, Los Angeles’ historic Union Station, or even of Sacramento’s Amtrak station with its early California murals. Instead, walls are marred by graffiti; long closed ticket windows tell the story of services no longer vibrant. The only color presents itself at the entrance, in the form of a florist stand apparently thriving as commuters think of how to brighten their days.

Sure, there is energy at the Transbay Terminal, even if it was built in 1939, as the continuously purring Greyhound engines attest. Hurried passengers plow through the exhaust on foot, dodging blanket-draped homeless people, brushing by the slower, escalator-riding folks who can spend a few more minutes before boarding their conveyances to the Peninsula and the East Bay. The place still plays a vital role in the life of The City.

All this shabbiness, however comfortable, soon will be swept away as city planners and world-famous architects advance on their march to remake South of Market in the image of, maybe, Hong Kong. As the section’s skyline reaches for the heavens, the Transbay Terminal’s place in it simply cannot last. Just last week the bureaucratically dubbed Transbay Joint Powers Authority Board narrowed the bidding architectural firms to four.

One will be selected to design a massive, mixed-use building project, the cost estimates of which range from $2 billion to $4 billion dollars. At the base, planners intend a 21st-century version of New York City’s Grand Central Station, this the nucleus of an elaborate transportation system featuring an underground rail line running along the Embarcadero as well as bus and bullet train connections to California’s Central Valley. Atop the transit center planners expect a tower to shoot more than 500 feet upward, housing residents who will shop in the reserved retail spaces below.

Though much of the funding is in place, plenty aspects of this project depend on the relocation of multiple businesses and the extensive cooperation of governments from the local to the national levels. Controller Ed Harrington describes the Caltrain expansion as a "very high-risk project," and he’s right, especially given the as yet undetermined political will across the state for such service. Still, there’s something brave and thrilling about it, and we’ll be watching the whole pageant unfold — not only as journalists at your service but as curious neighbors — from our windows across the street.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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