On Thursday, the man formerly known as Mayor Pete joined Mayor London Breed, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to tour the much delayed and still not quite operational Central Subway in SF.
Secretary of Transportation Buttigieg expressed delight and pride in the project, which one has to guess he had not heard about before, say, last year. And he made some comments that I'm sure were music to the ears of SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin, who's taken plenty of guff about this project that many have called a boondoggle, even though it wasn't even conceived on his watch and was largely built by the time he came on the job.
"We feel the expectation and the pressure to deliver everything we’re funding on time, on budget and on task, and that’s not an easy thing," Buttigieg said at a press event after his tour, as the Chronicle reports. "But one of my favorite things about transportation projects is the good ones make skeptics into believers. Seeing is believing, and when you get that benefit, it’s something that everybody is glad for."
Secretary Buttigieg added, "the Department [of Transportation] was proud to support [this project] a decade ago under President Obama with nearly $1 billion in funds, and it’s going to pay dividends for generations to come."
With the President's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law we're excited to see more new transit coming online in communities from coast to coast. pic.twitter.com/sAukQPXfFs— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) September 8, 2022
The Central Subway is now, to be fair, four years behind its originally scheduled opening date, and while it will provide a new underground link to Chinatown and North Beach that's never existed before, that hasn't stopped critics from complaining that the city spent $1.6 billion on a "train to nowhere."
It's a train to somewhere, though! And people who use the T-Third line from the Bayview and Dogpatch will soon be able to get to Union Square in — theoretically — record time. And everyone else will be able to hop off an L or M train at Powell Station and hop on the Central Subway to transfer and go one more stop from Union Square Station to Rose Pak Chinatown Station.
Earlier this week, Tumlin told the SFMTA Board that while he can't commit to a public opening date, the agency is still hoping to have the subway up and running and fully open by the end of this year. "This fall," he's still saying.
The trains were supposed to be welcoming passengers starting today, September 9 — and it's not clear if this Buttigieg visit was scheduled many months ago to coincide with that? That date had already been scrapped by earlier this year, and the SFMTA was saying October.
But an underground fire at Yerba Buena/Moscone Station back in June set things back a couple of months, because of delays in the required testing that has to occur before the trains are allowed to take paying customers.
Pelosi, Buttigieg, Breed, and Tumlin were on hand for a press event that was broadcast on Twitter Live on Thursday.
Join @SecretaryPete, @LondonBreed, local transportation and community leaders and me at the new Central Subway @SFMTA_Muni Metro Line as we discuss the progress of the project and the importance of investing in clean, safe, affordable public transit. https://t.co/4CccxL8SiU— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) September 8, 2022
"I'm so grateful to all of you the local community who have put up with years of construction and disruption here in the heart of Chinatown," Tumlin said. "But we promise, it is going to be worth it."
Mayor Breed said that "as a native San Franciscan, I want to see a subway that goes all the way to Fisherman's Wharf." But she said that the city's next funding priority would be the DTX, the Downtown Extension tunnel that will connect Salesforce Transit Center to the current Caltrain station, so that when high-speed rail finally reaches us, it can roll all the way into downtown, as was intended.