Downtown Extension Is No Surprise
Today’s column from San Francisco Chronicle political writers Phil Matier and Andrew Ross makes it sound like the downtown extension is a surprise that the Bay Area suddenly has to pay all on its own. In reality, the project has been on the books for many years and has strong local support as a way to bring Caltrain commuters, along with high speed rail passengers, to downtown San Francisco.
The column focuses on the fact that locals will have to foot the bill for the downtown extension:
It’s up to the locals to make the tunnel happen. If they don’t, the $68 billion high-speed-rail line from Los Angeles will dead-end several blocks from downtown proper.
Building the tunnel will put San Francisco in competition with those hoping to finish BART to San Jose – both projects will be tussling for $1.8 billion that the federal government will direct to the Bay Area in the coming years.
Just for work to start on the 1.2-mile dig through the heart of the city, however, the Bay Area has to come up with its own $650 million. The current plan is to raise $300 million from higher bridge tolls and $350 million in San Francisco sales-tax dollars.
“That’s a reasonable estimation,” said spokesman Randy Rentschler of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
José Luis Moscovich, executive director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, said city voters could be asked for the $350 million as part of an overall transportation-tax extension within the next two years.
The date for when the Legislature and voters would be asked to approve another $1 toll hike to raise the $300 million in tunnel money is a bit more elusive. Although acknowledging that toll money would be needed for a San Francisco tunnel, Rentschler says there are no plans on the boards to seek an increase.
It would have been nice for the column to mention that the downtown extension project has already received significant federal funding in the form of $400 million in federal funds that the Transbay Terminal project received in 2010 to build the train box where a station will go at the tunnel’s terminus.
San Francisco voters have already indicated their support for the project, voting in 2010 to approve a ballot measure supporting the downtown extension station at Transbay Terminal. That vote was actually the third such vote in favor of the project, following on votes in 1999 and 2003. San Franciscans have been wanting this downtown extension since the 20th century.
It’s true that locals will have to fund the tunnel itself. But that merely adds urgency to the need for finding funding sources for local rail projects as a whole. That was one of the underlying themes of the recent SPUR report that showed how California could pay for high speed rail itself – that with so many other transit needs in the Bay Area, more revenue will be needed, and HSR infrastructure can be rolled into those new revenue sources.
Bay Area leaders ought to step up and ensure this money gets proposed and approved in order to fund these priorities. After all, they’re being shown up by Los Angeles’s aggressive and successful mass transit expansion plans. Southern California, not the Bay Area, is now seen as transit’s promised land. LA, not SF, is the place that New Yorkers are being told to emulate when it comes to transit expansion.
It’s time for the Bay Area to catch up. Building the downtown extension is an important part of that effort.