San Francisco's Transbay Transit Center Open, When Will Trains Arrive?

To great fanfare, the Salesforce Transit Center opened on Saturday to thousands of visitors anxious to see the huge facility. Sunday was quieter, with the first AC Transit buses arriving on the third-floor bus deck. Train arrivals: TBD.

4 minute read

August 13, 2018, 12:00 PM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Transbay Transit Center

Dawn Endico / Flickr

"Thousands of visitors jammed the new Transbay Transit Center for its grand opening party Saturday," reports Lauren Hernández for The Chronicle. "Lines stretched the length of the Grand Hall as people tried to get into the $2.2 billion multistory transportation hub." [Article includes an 11-slide photo gallery by Paul Chinn of the 3-block transit center with 5.4-acre rooftop park].

Shortly before 6 a.m. on Sunday, the first bus from Oakland entered the third-floor bus deck from a direct ramp from the Bay Bridge," reports The Chronicle's urban design critic, John King. A sponsorship agreement with Salesforce "is why the publicly funded structure’s official name is Salesforce Transit Center," adds King.

Rachel Swan, who covers transportation for The Chronicle, reported on Thursday on the train dimension for the new transit center.

There is no firm timeline or funding source for the long-promised train service. While transportation officials seek to build momentum for this next phase, San Francisco City Hall is touting a new approach that could raise the cost to $6 billion from an already expensive $4 billion.

Hernández wrote that "high-speed rail service between the Central Valley and San Francisco is scheduled to arrive in 2029," but all bets are off due to the uncertainty associated with a lack of funding and a new governor taking office next January.

Caltrain, the commuter line from San Jose and points south, would be expected to arrive at that time assuming a tunnel is built and tracks laid. Electrification construction along the Peninsula is well underway, a necessity for the train to use the new terminal. Accessing the center from the train's current terminal at Fourth and King Street, a distance of one and one-half miles, is the hurdle.

The challenge of picking a route for the trains that would work for decades to come defies easy solutions. And it’s eluded City Hall and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority — the independent government agency in charge of the transit center and rail extension — for years.

Swan describes the current planning, centering on the proposed Pennsylvania Avenue extension which "quickly caught on at City Hall, finding favor with supervisors and other officials who have to agree on the route before the Joint Powers Authority can pursue it."

But the revision leaves out how to finance the project. So far the city has identified only $1 billion in funding from a mix of sources, including sales taxes and bridge toll money from Regional Measure 3 approved by voters in June. Much of the rest would come from federal and state funds that would need approval.

Mark Zabaneh, the authority’s executive director, "aims to have the rail line ready for construction by 2020, meaning all environmental reviews would need to be complete, and the right-of-way acquired to lay the original 1.3 miles of track from Seventh and Townsend streets to Second and Howard streets," adds Swan.

The money will follow, Zabaneh said, and if everything goes smoothly, the rail extension will be complete by 2029.

Still, skeptics and even some supporters worry about the escalating costs. Some note that the increase comes at an uncertain time for federal and state funding: The GOP-led federal government may be reluctant to shower funds on progressive San Francisco, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said, and state officials are fighting to protect the newly enacted gas tax — a key source of revenue for the proposed rail line and other transit projects — from a ballot measure to repeal it this November.

“If we don’t get Caltrain, and eventually high-speed rail, into Transbay Terminal it will go down as the most expensive bus terminal in the history of humankind,” said San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who also who chairs the board’s Transportation Authority

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