Stop us if you’ve heard this before! SFMTA says the Central Subway to Chinatown is on track to open September 9, but a federal monitor, and everyone not on the SFMTA payroll, says we’re looking at December or well into next year.
With the Van Ness bus lane construction project just three days away from its impossible-to-imagine grand opening celebration, the SF Municipal Transit Association (SFMTA) has been patting itself on the back pretty hard. “What I’m hopeful is that people see the success of the Van Ness BRT and the Central Subway, and they start to regain faith in the MTA and our ability to deliver projects,” SFMTA Board of Directors chair Gwyneth Borden told the Chronicle last week.
The Van Ness project has an opening date of this Friday, April 1. And according to a leaked document from a federal Project Management Oversight Contractor, “SFMTA’s most recent update of the master program schedule forecasts a Revenue Service Date (RSD) of September 9, 2022” for the Central Subway. That’s fairly consistent with the latest December update from the Chronicle that “Muni’s long-anticipated Central Subway extension in San Francisco is likely to begin service in September or October 2022.”
SFMTA has not formally announced that September 9 date, but that leaked document is already throwing cold water on the timeline. The SF Standard, who obtained the document, reports that the Central Subway opening is likely to be delayed again, plus go further over budget, according to the federal oversight administrator.
“COVID-19 directly impacts the progress of the work, resulting in increased cost and schedule days,” according to the leaked document. It also notes ongoing water leak repairs at the forthcoming Yerba Buena/Moscone station, which NBC Bay Area reported on in 2019 back when (haha!) we thought this thing would be open and running in 2020.
The Standard also spoke with an attorney involved with the report whom they say “doesn’t expect the system to open to the public until at least December.”
A two-month delay is not that big of a deal, considering that this thing was originally supposed to open in 2018. But we were told six months ago that construction was 98% done, though at the time, the projected opening date was "early summer" 2022.
You'll recall this tunnel has been a tunnel of horrors, basically announcing annual delays in late 2020, and before that in 2019, and 2017. Since breaking ground in 2010, the project’s tragicomedy of errors has included driving armies of rats into SoMa and beyond, creating floods in department stores, and generating sinkholes on Fourth Street, all creating NIMBY revolts in North Beach and Union Square.
And amidst all these unexpected snafus, the SFMTA kept floating more ideas to extend it to Fisherman’s Wharf or even the Presidio. Which…. Can we just get one thing done, and maybe worry about extravagant extensions later?
The SF Standard adds, “The transit plan has been plagued from the beginning by the fact it filled no pressing transit need but instead amounted to a deal involving the late Chinatown community leader Rose Pak and former mayor Willie Brown aimed at bringing a benefit to Chinatown constituents.”
That might be a little unfair. Voters approved the Central Subway in 2003, and I know I’ve often wished I could still be on a light-rail train while waiting for a 30 Stockton bus to show up, eventually giving up, and hiking uphill through a smog-filled tunnel. Getting to Chinatown and North Beach by foot or transit has never been easy. But building an easy way to get to Chinatown and North Beach has proven far more costly and difficult.