csub.jpgA San Francisco Civil Grand Jury called for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to overhaul its Central Subway project because of its inefficient design and costs that will negatively affect current transit service, according to a report the panel released today.

The Central Subway project, which will create a new branch of the San Francisco Munipal Railway’s T-Third line, is designed to run north along Fourth Street from Brannan Street before going underground at Interstate Highway 80, with subway stops at Moscone Center, Union Square and Chinatown.

But in the report, the grand jury, a panel picked to investigate the city’s government, concluded that the current design lacks connectivity to the rest of Muni’s service and to commercial hubs in the Financial District and Chinatown.

The report criticized what it called “The Walk,” a 1,000-foot underground trek that commuters will have to make to get from the Union Square stop to Muni Metro service on Market Street, and pointed out that if the subway is built on Kearny Street, rather than Washington Street as currently proposed, it could serve more people.

The grand jury also noted that the 1.7-mile extension is “breathtakingly expensive,” nearly $1.6 billion, or $176,000 per foot of construction, and could be even more expensive if affected by many of the delays that have plagued other Muni projects in the past.

The subway is expected to be operational by 2019.

The report concluded that the costs are likely to affect current Muni service, which it noted has not been able to meet voter-mandated on-time performance requirements and is struggling with large budget deficits.

The SFMTA has an annual structural budget deficit of $150 million, an agency official told the grand jury, and is already having trouble paying to maintain its current fleet of buses and light-rail vehicles.

Muni spokesman Paul Rose said, “We appreciate the Civil Grand Jury’s interest in the Central Subway project” and said while the report “is comprehensive, it does not say anything new about the challenges we face in regards to serving nearly 700,000 riders each weekday.”

Rose said the project “has a significant positive influence on our city’s public transportation system and will help to relieve service congestion along the Stockton Street corridor, one of the busiest in the city.

He said a trip from Chinatown to the Caltrain station in San Francisco takes 20 minutes now, but would only take eight with the subway.

As for the cost issue, Rose pointed out that just last week, the SFMTA approved the largest contract for the project, a $233.6 million tunneling contract that he said came in $13 million under what was expected.

“That not only is good for the project but shows that we’re doing this in the most efficient manner as possible,” he said.

You can read the Civil Grand Jury’s full report on the project here.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

Want more news, sent to your inbox every day? Then how about subscribing to our email newsletter? Here’s why we think you should. Come on, give it a try.

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!