November 12, 2008
While San Francisco Might Get High-Speed Rail, Will The Transbay?
While Proposition 1A passed last week giving San Francisco hope of realizing a high-speed rail line, the hope that rail lines will be extended the 1.4 miles from the current Caltrain station at Fourth and King to the new Transbay Transit Center to rise at First and Mission might have taken a hit.
“We do not need First and Mission. I am satisfied with Fourth and Townsend,” said Judge Quentin Kopp, chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority. “We are not going to pay an extra billion-plus dollars to take the high-speed rail an extra 1.4 miles.”
The extension will have to be resolved — and funded — by The City and Caltrain, he said.
In related news, the realization of high-speed rail could help speed the electrification of Caltrain which would greatly benefit the residents of Mission Bay (think diesel noise and pollution).
∙ Transbay Transit Center going off track [San Francisco Examiner]
∙ Transbay Terminal Moves Forward, But Payments And Terms Change [SocketSite]
∙ Caltrain banking on high-speed rail [San Francisco Examiner]
First Published: November 12, 2008 9:00 AM
Comments from "Plugged In" Readers
couple billion of the public's money and some nice contacts for consultants
I am sure this can be worked out among friends
Posted by: Zig at November 12, 2008 9:57 AM
Yeah I read this article.
Makes the Central Subway make more sense no?
CS stops: Chinatown (Washington & Stockton), Union Square, Moscone, 4th and King
Posted by: jessep at November 12, 2008 10:04 AM
A billion won't seem like much by the time this is done with.
electrification of Caltrain -- now THERE's a good idea!!
Posted by: Jimmy (Bitter Renter) at November 12, 2008 10:43 AM
What is this -- Mr Roger's Neighborhood? LegoLand? Transbay without high speed is a folly. We must build infrastructure to move people in a functional way and engage private dollars in the process. $1b is nothing in the bigger scheme. It would be a permanent dis con nect to make the endpoint -- where? 'Sorry we didn't have enough money for Amtrack to come to Penn Station. You'll need to walk 5 blocks from a trainyard to get to LIRR. The transit disconnects in SF are notorious. That we tolerate endless bad planning (hello Geary?) is almost worse.
Posted by: invented at November 12, 2008 10:43 AM
Wow, words of wisdom and logic from a California politician! No, we do not need the rail to extend to Transbay. The T- 3rd line will get people downtown just fine.
Posted by: sf at November 12, 2008 10:54 AM
Wasn't extending Caltrain over to Transbay a voter mandate or something in San Francisco several years ago? Anyway, I would be the Federal Government would heed the call to help get this done ... come on, we've got the House Speaker on our side for crying out loud.
Posted by: jamie at November 12, 2008 10:57 AM
Put the dough & energy into the central subway and other expansions of local transit infrastructure. With downtown's center of gravity shifting south this all makes sense. I know SS readers dislike anaolgies to New York and other cities, but there are two historical points to ponder:
1. The construction of Grand Central station made the Mid-town Manhattan business district take off in the 20's. And the construction of Path in the 60's-70's helped revive lower manhattan.
2. New York, Chicago and London have Spoke-Hub regional transit systems that interface with Net-Grid local transit systems. San Francisco, to a great degree, still has a Spoke-Hub local system that creates inefficiency and congestion; and limits the potential growth of employment centers. The Central Subway will go a long way to creating more of a local Net system. It needs to be followed up with more of the same in the long term: Geary or Fulton Corridor subways next?
Posted by: rubber chicken at November 12, 2008 11:08 AM
The irony is that if both projects (Transbay extension of Caltrain/CHSR and Central Subway) get built, they won't connect to each other!
This is what happens when you have long-term, immutable projects and short-term, unreliable funding. And multiple agencies with no incentive to coordinate. It's a shame that the MTA doesn't realize how reducing the hassle of connections makes a system much more useful. I expect the connection from the CS to the Market St. lines to be terrible. There should be a CS stop right at Market St., not one a couple of blocks away.
Posted by: amused_in_SOMA at November 12, 2008 11:43 AM
invented is right-
the whole purpose of the transbay building is to serve as transit hub. And Jimmy is right too- A billion will seem like nada by the time this is done.
Build a ridiculous, disconnected system and no one will use it. Spend the money wisely now, and it will come back to you later.
Judge Kopp is missing the point...
Posted by: rr at November 12, 2008 11:49 AM
I think it would be absolutely ridiculous to not connect high-speed rail with the BART system via a short walk from the new Transit Center to the Montgomery BART station. What's the population in the East Bay served by BART? Come on .... high-speed rail needs to do everything it can to encourage ridership ... stopping at 4th and King doesn't encourage ridership for peninsula folks who work in downtown San Francisco and/or the east Bay (or vice versa ... east bay residents who work on the peninsula). Isn't the selling point to curb road congestion, pollution, and so on?
As an aside, term limits on state politicos is a real liability to getting a 10-20 year project like High Speed rail done. The politicians are already working on their senate run when they get elected to the Assembly ... they don't have time (though I do take my hat off to Assembly member Fiona Ma for going against the grain) to make this their "IT" project to get religious about.
As another side, isn't the only reason the Central Subway is even on the map is because the federal government has offered the money - we're just using it instead of losing it?
Posted by: jamie at November 12, 2008 12:29 PM
central subway is a pig
Posted by: zig at November 12, 2008 12:39 PM
well, at least the central subway has federal money earmarked, which this project doesn't have.
Caltrain/HSR extension to downtown does not.
I think people take for granted our ability to get federal money for these projects...Go ahead and build the consensus, get the money for the project, and then go tear the central subway down.
Posted by: jessep at November 12, 2008 12:44 PM
I suspect that this is a political game by Judge Kopp to get more money out of the Feds and locally to save some of the HSR authority's
In the end I find it hard to believe this will come up short of the TransBay if not for the Feds trying to make it an example of success for the first American HSR line
Recall this is the guy who built the Milbrae BART station monstrosity so he isn't exactly known for his austerity when it comes to public works
Posted by: Zig at November 12, 2008 12:51 PM
If BART to SJ gets built by the start of high speed rail service, then Kopp's proposal is worth considering -- East Bay BART riders can board trains at San Jose without losing too much time.
If there's no BART to SJ, forget it. Every transit interchange loses riders, and no one is going to want to drive to Pittsburg, take BART to Montgomery, take the Central Subway to 4th & King, and then take the train.
Of course the South Bay voters just rejected the sales tax, so...we should keep planning the real transbay terminal.
Posted by: theo at November 12, 2008 12:51 PM
Actually now that I think about it, will Milennium Tower, The Infinity, and One Rincon will slow down in spoonfeeding their clients HSR-Transbay Terminal pipe dreams...
Posted by: thamsenman at November 12, 2008 12:53 PM
central subway having Federal money is not relevant to its ineffectual design routing and dubious reason for being
talk about putting lipstick on a pig
Posted by: Zig at November 12, 2008 12:53 PM
Posted by: rubber chicken at November 12, 2008 11:08 AM "With downtown's center of gravity shifting south this all makes sense."
This notion of a southward shift has been greatly exaggerated. Yes, rezoning has allowed taller buildings to go up south of the traditional FiDi boundaries, but not too south. If you go as far south as Fourth and Townsend, you are in a sea of low-rise buildings with a few midrises that house finicky new residents. I personally would love to see fifty and sixty story towers shoot up all the way down 3rd street and throughout SOMA but it will never happen.
Posted by: Timosha at November 12, 2008 12:59 PM
Recall this is the guy who built the Milbrae BART station monstrosity so he isn't exactly known for his austerity when it comes to public works
Think about it -- the Millbrae stop becomes even more irrelevant if Caltrain/HSR goes to the transbay terminal. However, if the terminus stays at 4th and King, Milbrae becomes our Grand Central Station of the West. Beautiful ;-)
Posted by: EBGuy at November 12, 2008 1:08 PM
EBguy-if true Kopp is an evil sonofabitch
Grand Central Station West only 35 minutes and 6 dollars from downtown on a subway that runs at 15 minute headways!!! Yes we can!
Posted by: Zig at November 12, 2008 1:32 PM
amused_in_SOMA is right:
Connectedness is the key. NY's Penn station is on the far fringe of a business district that - if overlain on SF - would stretch to Northbeach from 4th & Townsend. It is still the busiest commuter station in the nation because it is so well connected to the local transit. The transbay concept still requires 1-1/2 full blocks of grim and expensive pedestrian tunnels to link w/ BART & Muni.
Also: as jamie mentioned, east bay riders would be much better served with a link to BART, etc. at San Jose.
And finally: the CS doesn't need to be a pig (even though it reeks of pork). It is cash in hand and it must be coordinated, well connected and anticipate future needs.
Posted by: rubber chicken at November 12, 2008 1:33 PM
"No, we do not need the rail to extend to Transbay. The T- 3rd line will get people downtown just fine. "
Nightmare in the making: 900 passengers from San Diego and Los Angeles disembark and schlep their bags across the street and take the N Judah or T whatever to TransBay for yet another transfer with their luggage? Imagine that!
Only in SF would this inconvenience be supported. A case in point of tolerating bad, substandard planning.
Posted by: invented at November 12, 2008 1:59 PM
"Also: as jamie mentioned, east bay riders would be much better served with a link to BART, etc. at San Jose."
I can't tell if I'm reading this correctly. Are you guys suggesting people in the East Bay would take BART to HSR in San Jose?
The urban core of the East Bay (Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Emeryville) is almost 50 miles from San Jose, while being just a stone's throw from SF's FiDi. Some of these people are closer in travel time to Transbay than residents of southern San Francisco...I'm sure they would just take BART to SF. On the other hand, certianly BART to San Jose would be convenient for the southern East Bay cities like Fremont or perhaps Hayward.
Posted by: Timosha at November 12, 2008 2:09 PM
"Actually now that I think about it, will Milennium Tower, The Infinity, and One Rincon will slow down in spoonfeeding their clients HSR-Transbay Terminal pipe dreams..."
I'd doubt they'd just leave transbay as a bus terminal. Agreed though, a lot of people at those buildings are buying/have bought with some grand expectation for that area.
Ideally Transbay should have caltrain, hsr, and a connection to bart/muni but 2 B is a lot of money (particularly when you don't have it).
Posted by: jessep at November 12, 2008 2:10 PM
You folks are such pessimists. I'm sure the HSR PR campaign can use the revamped Dionne Warwick tune "Do You Know the Way to Millbrae" to celebrate the grand dame of western intermodal terminals. I'm looking forward to adding an extra hour on BART to my HSR trip -- why, I'll bet it will allow me to appreciate the speed of HSR even more.
Posted by: EBGuy at November 12, 2008 3:03 PM
truth is, spending $one billion for a grand central in the financial district was always an ego monument thing. nobody but caltrain commuters really needs/wants to go exactly there. the edge of downtown with a garage over the tracks would be much easier to get to for everyone else in SF. much better to spend the $billion on a new bay tube to continue high speed rail to the east bay and sacramento (and eliminate the san jose/oakland branch line). under the current plan you'd have to go to sacramento via san jose and pacheco pass, which no one is going to do.
Posted by: Alfiejr at November 12, 2008 3:21 PM
Alfiejr how confusing. A second transbay tube but to connect HSR to Sac but not not a transbay stop? What are you talking about here?
Posted by: Zig at November 12, 2008 4:00 PM
Isn't a second transbay tube, regardless of HSR plans, a part of BART's longterm growth map? Or is it only contingent on the forces of HSR?
Posted by: Timosha at November 12, 2008 4:20 PM
"I suspect that this is a political game by Judge Kopp to get more money out of the Feds and locally to save some of the HSR authority's"
ding ding ding!!! we have a winner!!!
Nobody thinks that stopping HSR at 4th and King makes sense. That's the whole point.
Posted by: mr94102 at November 12, 2008 5:17 PM
A second tube would be for BART and conventional rail. HSR for example could then connect directly to Sac from SF
Even with out ridiculous transit planning I can't imagine they would make that same BART only mistake twice
Posted by: Zig at November 12, 2008 7:01 PM
The dollar figures are all lies. $2B to send Caltrain 1.3 miles underground to the transbay terminal, but BART from Fremont to San Jose is $5, $6, $7B (who knows?) and the entire 400 miles of initial HS rail to LA is supposed to cost $20B. The T Muni, above-ground light rail on 3rd St cost almost a billion. To build SIX miles of standard gauge track for trains that don't seem to go over 20 miles and hour! It's all lies and theft.
Posted by: Patrick at November 12, 2008 10:04 PM
Patrick - good points. It shows why the prospects for getting anything useful built in the US are so bleak - and of course it's worse in CA and especially here in the Bay Area. Wages, costs, work ethic (or lack of), unions, and our politicians will ensure that nothing is remotely financially feasible. Look at the eastern span of the Bay Bridge. What is the current outlook - 12 years to complete it at a cost of about $7 billion (about 10X the original estimate). The French recently built the Millau bridge (a more impressive structure) in less than 4 years for about 300M euro. We should be able to top that - but we can't even come close. Infrastructure spending sounds great - a lot of good projects were done in the 1930's fast and cheap. The Golden Gate and Bay Bridges were done in just a few years for just a tiny fraction of the cost in constant dollars of the eastern span fiasco. High speed rail will never happen in this state. It would cost 10X the current estimate - it would need its own TARP for funding.
Posted by: FSBO at November 12, 2008 11:19 PM
I think you missed the most important impediment which is our interminable massively democratic process which allows interest group a say in the process and the process itself
we used to just build stuff
Its easy to blame politicians but we the people are equally to blame. We get the process we deserve
Posted by: zig at November 13, 2008 11:44 AM
yes, adding regional transbay mass transit capacity is the #1 long term need for the Bay Area. BART and the Bay Bridge are almost maxed out. building a fancy train palace at 1st and Mission Sts. for financial district-peninsula commuters is not. and the necessary central SF-regional bus terminal will be built there any event.
and linking the west bay's Caltrain with the Eastbay's existing rail network - essentially recreating the interurban pre-WWII rail network that worked so well - is the most effective way to do it, not adding more wide-gauge BART lines.
HSR offers the opportunity to do both via a single new tube to Oakland, plus provide a much better HSR route from SF to Concord and Sacramento than what is now planned.
Posted by: Alfiejr at November 13, 2008 12:27 PM
Obama is going to dole out money for infrastructe projects to stimulate economy. Time to approach them for a share.
Posted by: Wai Yip Tung at November 13, 2008 1:13 PM
We've already approached the Feds for a share, along with a bunch of other cities.
Posted by: Dude at November 13, 2008 1:28 PM
As if California is Kopp's personal little playground and we're footing the bill. He can go tell that to people who pay over $100 for a ticket only to have to take a cab the remaining mile. What a loser.
Posted by: Gregg at November 13, 2008 9:37 PM
So what's this all about, really?
The force that has been driving *ALL* public transit infrastructure for the last 30 years in the Bay Area has been maximizing the profits of the duopoly of PBQD/Bechtel, the contractors who designed, promoted and constructed the initial BART system, IMMEDIATELY went 100% overbudget, delivered years late, and haven't looked back.
The latest installment are the two worst rail projects in the entire country (which makes them the worst in the world, as it's USA NUMBER ONE all the way on transit): the Muni Central Subway ($2 billion and counting, for essentially a one station line), and the $10+ billion BART extension to Santa Clara via a dying auto factory, a flea market, and the urban ghost town that is downtown San Jose.
Both of these projects were designed and promoted by PBQD (surprise!), and nearly $150 million in engineering contractor pork has already disappeared into them without a cubic yard of poured concrete or an inch or track to show for it.
Now the way things swing in the Bay Area is that when a BART extension (or the BART-contractor-controlled equivalent in boondooggle lack-of-utility and nose-bleed expense of the Central Subway) is on the table, EVERY other project in the region can and will be cancelled to ensure that all cash flows into the right pockets.
We saw this 15 years ago, when a character named Quentin Kopp, in cahoots with Willie Brown and cast of similar legitimate businessmen, was at the fore of both forcing through a $1.8+ billion (alternatives "eliminated" at $0.8bn, approved at $1.1 billion, immediately went hundreds of millions overbudget and years behind schedule) BART extension to the thriving burg of Millbrae, via the long and slow wrong side of San Bruno Mountain.
Kopp and Brown were instrumental in killing all funding for the potentially competing Caltrain extension to the Transbay Terminal (project shut down shortly before FEIR was due to be approved), and ensuring that other improvements to the Caltrain line, including the planned and every-deferred electrification and tripling the frequency of trains, have not happened for the last 20 years.
Nice people we have around here. Oh, and they're still around, and, inexpicably, not in jail, but in positions such as "Chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority" (in Kopp's case.)
Needless to remind readers, the BART Millbrae line went hundreds of millions over construction budget, did not operate(!!!!!) at a profit as "promised" by its backers, more or less bankrupted the SamTrans bus system, and today carries far fewer than HALF the number of riders predicted. (Note: all predictions predated dot-dom rise, so dot-com bust is no excuse.)
So what's happening now?
The same ethics-free individuals are playing the exact same script.
The Transbay project isn't under the direct control of the correct contractor mafia, and moreover as an inter-agency joint project isn't under the thumb of the power-mad director of SF's Transportation Authority. Caltrain itself is another red-haired inter-agency step-child: one, unlike BART, without independent funding and without tens of billions of pork and without a dedicated extra-governmental pair of giant infrastructure companies lobbying full-time for new earmarks, and one that neither the SF Transportation Authority nor the equally self-aggrandizing Santa Clara VTA see as "their own".
(As an aside, the insane regional monomaniacal priority of BART extension at all cost is what left us with in the insane situation of the SF Mayor and the SF Transportation Authority both actively and publicly lobbying AGAINST the cheapest and best High Speed Rail route to both SF and to San Jose, because it would have completely eliminated the need for BART from Fremont to San Jose, unconditional support of which is part of the you-scratch-my-back price for Central Subway pork.)
The outcome of all of this is fore-ordained: in order to keep the worst type of pork flowing the the TWO VERY WORST PROJECTS IN THE WORLD, any potentially large regional rail infrastructure spending which isn't being sponsored by the usual suspects has to go to the end of the queue. Again. For another decade or two.
Note that both Central Subway and BART's adventures south of Fremont are guaranteed to go many billions of dollars over budget and are guaranteed to carry less than half the predicted ridership (MUCH less, for both of them: my money is on sub-33%), but by the time this enromous surprise has sprung it will be 2025, Bechtel will be proposing a BART extension to Tracy, and Caltrain electrification will still be pending.
Simply incredible, but that's the way things work around here, and have for more than 30 years. Worst outcomes are _guaranteed_ by the corrupt process; meanwhile sheepish voters will approve anything, no matter how stupid or contrary to their economic or environmental interests (taxes for Muni, VTA, etc) as long as somebody superficially greenwashes it.
Posted by: Quentin at November 15, 2008 3:50 PM