Let’s not fool ourselves — there was really no chance that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors would not certify the Final Supplemental EIR (FEIR/FEIS) for the Central Subway project. Yesterday, the Board did exactly that; the vote was 10-0, with Sandoval absent. The Central Subway, which will extend the T-Third light rail line north from Caltrain to Chinatown, would add one surface station at Brannan, and three subway stations at Moscone, Union Square/Market Street, and Chinatown along the 4th/Stockton alignment. In recent months, this long-planned project has come under increased criticism from North Beach residents, who have protested the plan to have the tunnel boring machines resurface at Washington Square. The legendary neighborhood opposition in North Beach to, well, just about anything, could prove to be an obstacle to eventually extend the T-Third into North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. However, given that the subway only serves a portion of this corridor (terminating as it does at an unnatural point in Chinatown), the long-term viability of the project demands that just such a northward extension be constructed. Meanwhile, BART has expressed much more serious concern that boring the deep subway crossing under Market Street could damage the existing Powell Street Station.
The Board’s vote to certify the EIR overrided an appeal that pointed out some key flaws we have previously discussed, including the EIR’s misleadingly stated travel time improvements and inflated ridership estimates. It is abundantly clear that Chinatown would benefit immensely from a commitment to embrace robust transit solutions for the Stockton Street corridor, and a better planned subway tunnel could well be worth the investment. But, as proposed, there is a large proportionality disconnect between the project’s extreme cost — $1.4 billion now, but almost certain to go over budget — and its actual benefits. Just as frustrating is the EIR’s willingness to either dismiss or ignore compelling project alternatives, such as building a tunnel that could accommodate joint bus and light rail service, similar to that in downtown Seattle. Such an alternative would divert more transit operations to the tunnel, thereby reducing operating costs and allowing thousands of daily bus riders to benefit from the tunnel by avoiding surface street congestion. But in the end, attempts to displace the flawed analysis in the EIR were overshadowed by the iron strong political motivations underpinning the Central Subway.