Getting DTX Underway

The Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG) has long supported the Downtown Extension of Caltrain (DTX).  For the last 40 months the Mission Bay RAB study has been ongoing under the aegis of San Francisco City Planning Department and former Mayor’s office.  During virtually that entire 4-1/2 year period the RAB planners have unnecessarily delayed and disrupted DTX, a project defined by the voters in November, 1999 as San Francisco’s top transportation priority.

Unfortunately the disruption is continuing. Thanks to the costs and other obstacles recently heaped upon DTX, it would likely take another generation or two to get the trains into downtown San Francisco. Here are some ways of accelerating the process:

1.) Instead of adding costs, the focus should be on cutting costs.

o The ill-considered move (reportedly initiated by a disgruntled Second Street property owner) to add $300 to $400 million to the cost of the project to “protect” Second Street from cut-and-cover construction by should be relegated to the “Transportation Stupidities Hall of Fame”. The subway connection between 4th & King and the new Transbay Transit Center (TTC) should be tunneled where appropriate and excavated from the surface where appropriate. With good engineering this can be done without undue interference with either Second Street or Howard Street.

o The $100 million “tunnel plug”, added to facilitate the possible future construction of a Pennsylvania Street tunnel, was not part of the original DTX plan and should therefore be cut from the DTX budget. If and when additional funding becomes available, additional portions of the rail system can be depressed. Spending $100 million now to facilitate a future connection that might or might not be needed makes no sense.

o RAB wants to extend a $1 billion subway east of the TTC in order to “tie in” with an as yet undefined subaqueous rail tube. This should be rejected. Not every future city or regional action can be anticipated or acted upon ahead of time.

o The unnecessary mezzanine level (which would require a 40-foot deep trackway) proposed for the 4th and King Station should be eliminated from the DTX design.

2. RAB planning should not interfere with or delay DTX planning and design.

o The existing Caltrain rail yard at 4th and King should remain where it is. The delay and uncertainty caused by RAB’s obsession with moving the Rail Yard to some distant and undefined location has put the entire southwest end of DTX on hold. The original DTX plan, formulated almost 20 years ago, environmentally cleared and approved by all the relevant jurisdictions, does not change the existing Rail Yard. A substantial rail car storage capability at the north end of the line is essential to the viability of present and future passenger rail service. The Rail Yard should not be relocated.

o The RAB planners want to spend another $3 billion to relocate the existing surface tracks under I-280 to a new subway under Pennsylvania Street. Until these funds become available, the Caltrain trackage under the I-280 freeway should remain at grade. This means either keeping the existing 16th Street/Caltrain grade crossing or placing 16th street under the main line tracks. RAB’s blind aversion to an attractively designed 16th Street underpass should be reevaluated. (The contention that a roadway underpass would have to be 50 deep and almost three quarters of a mile long is false. When existing utilities are in the way engineers do not normally dive under them, they relocate them.

Underway

A typical underpass with a depth sufficient to provide adequate truck clearance would be about 30 feet deep and 1,500 feet long.)

The RAB claim that rail gates would cause unacceptable traffic delays is also incorrect. Train-caused traffic delays on 16th Street would be less than those caused by many of San Francisco’s multi-phased traffic-signals.)

Henceforth the RAB study should proceed in a manner that does not further impede or disrupt DTX. With political support, good planning and smart phasing, DTX can proceed expeditiously and be modified later when and as necessary.

3.) If Necessary, Let Private Industry Complete the DTX Project.

The north-south freeways in the West Bay are perpetually stacked up. Everyone agrees that there is a need for a faster and better way of traveling north and south through the Peninsula between the South Bay and San Francisco. An electrified and extended Caltrain system will meet that need. Yet local and regional jurisdictions have dithered over the DTX project for almost two decades; during her tenure as TTC/DTX Director, Maria Ayerdi was the only local public official consistently committed to advancing the DTX project.

If the public sector cannot summon the political will and demonstrate the organizational skills needed to get the job done, the project should be turned over to private industry. BATWG is confident that this would both speed up the work and cut costs. If a group of the Bay Area’s richest hi-tech companies and/or hi-tech executives could be persuaded to help sponsor the project its financial problems would likely also be resolved.

BATWG (www.batwgblog.com) does not oppose responsible land use improvement in Mission Bay. However we believe that DTX has been undeservedly receiving short shrift that it’s time for that to change.