|Pro-subway badge typically worn
by Chinatown project supporters.
The agenda of this afternoon’s MTA Board meeting included the Central Subway project, and, unsurprisingly, the Board voted 6-0 in support of the current locally preferred alternative, Alignment 3B. (See this earlier post for more details about 3B and all the other alignments under consideration.) Alignment 3B includes four new stations: a surface station at 4th/Brannan, and three subway stations at Moscone, Union Square/Market Street, and Chinatown. Trains would run on the surface of 4th Street between King and Bryant Streets, north of the existing T-Third station at King, with the subway portal located underneath Interstate 80. Although the possibility of running trains in mixed flow with autos between King Street and the portal was considered, the Board correctly approved the semi-exclusive alternative, which separates train and auto traffic on the surface of 4th Street.
The Board’s vote signals its desire to move forward with this incarnation of the project, but it does not seal the deal. The MTA must now prepare a final impact report incorporating responses to the public commentary it has obtained via community presentations. That report will be submitted to the FTA, which has already given the Central Subway project an approving medium-high rating. The FTA will evaluate the report and is expected to issue a Record of Decision later this fall, with construction targeted to begin in 2010.
The Board’s unanimous vote notwithstanding, several imperfections and cloudy issues remain with this project, which have been discussed here on this blog in the past. Simulations suggest that transferring between the proposed Union Square/Market Street platform and the existing platform at Powell — a crucial transfer that would be required of all T-Third riders wanting to take BART or any other Muni Metro line — could require a whopping four-and-a-half minutes. The MTA is investigating the use of moving walkways to improve the transfer, but it is the deep Central Subway tunnel, combined with distance between the platforms, that poses the problem. Another issue is the fact that the Chinatown and Moscone stations are currently planned to have only a single off-street entrance, rather than multiple entrances on both sides of the street.
One last point that has proved to be problematic for both the Citizens’ Advisory Council and various Chinatown community organizations is that although subway stations were once planned to be 250 feet long to accommodate the eventual operation of three-car trains, platform lengths were reduced to 200 feet to cut costs. Because 200 feet can only accommodate two-car trains, there has been another push to investigate platforms that are 225-230 feet long — the bare minimum needed to accommodate three-car trains; but the $40 million (at least) extra needed to carry out the additional excavation is not currently available. Even if the Central Subway were built with longer platforms, the current surface stations along the T-Third only support two-car service. A short line three-car service could be investigated, but the question remains if future demand will really require that the whole line be reconfigured.
The Board’s vote today brings us one step closer to the conclusion of the environmental review period. Of course, we will continue to follow the progress of the subway as noteworthy developments occur.