The release of important information from a study about potential alternative options for the Downtown Extension of the Caltrain tracks to the Transbay terminal has been postponed following Mayor Lee’s death and the transition in San Francisco leadership.
Information about estimated cost and time to construct alignment alternatives was proposed to be released by San Francisco planning department staff in the middle of 2017, but that date was delayed, and now Planning isn’t making any predictions about when the information will be available.
The options being considered included potentially extending a tunnel down Pennsylvania and avoiding a roadway underpass at 16th and 7th street, and swinging the tracks in a tunnel around Mission Bay.
While Planning Director Rahaim asserts city departments are working with interim Mayor Mayor Farrell to continue talks with the set of partners that would need to work together on the project (such as Caltrain, the State of California and the High Speed Rail project, the owner of the railyard land ProLogis/Cattellus, and others), we wonder how much leadership Mayor Farrell will be willing to exert between now and June to build agreement among project partners and to go public with information that – regardless of which alternative looks most attractive – will make somebody mad.
For those who haven’t been attentively following San Francisco politics Supervisor Farrell was chosen by the Board of Supervisors to be a “caretaker mayor” until the election in June, with supporters making the argument that it would be better to replace Supervisor London Breed, who had been serving as acting mayor because her role as President of the Board of Supervisors, and to choose someone who was not running for the Mayoral office in the June election. For more on the San Francisco political drama, see here and here.
The study is officially called the “Railyard Alternatives and I-280 Boulevard Feasibility Study” because the set of concepts initially included taking down the stub end of Highway 280, boulevardizing the roadway, and developing land at 4th and King currently used to store trains. The highway teardown idea drew some pointed opposition and was dropped from nearterm consideration.
Here is the text of the letter from Planning Director John Rahaim, as sent to the members of the Citizen Working Group.
I hope your new year is off to a good start. I realize that it has been a great while since we have connected with you, and I wanted to update you on the status of the study. Chair Ron Miguel and I have discussed the need to communicate with all of you, and Ron has asked that we send you this memo.
As you know, we had hoped to be holding public workshops on the elements of RAB, including the preferred rail alignment into the Salesforce Transit Center, in 2017. For a number of reasons, that has been delayed. It has been a team effort across the City departments to complete this work. The City is now in the process of sharing, vetting, and fully understanding the benefits and impacts of the analysis with our regional and state agency partners as well as federal agencies. We believe it is important to fully vet our analysis with these agencies prior to a public meeting, since these conversations are critical to securing full collaboration with our partners. Some of these partner agencies are tasked with providing transportation services or own land and infrastructure that would be affected by changes that may be suggested through the RAB Study. Mayor Lee had, before his death, begun many of those needed conversations. With his sudden death, there has been a necessary delay in these talks.
We are now moving through this process as quickly, and deliberately, as possible and are working with Mayor Farrell and his staff to re-kindle these talks. Please know that we share your concern for the study and will update you about the study and its schedule as soon as we can. We understand the frustration that many of you have with the delay of publication and distribution and will ask for your patience as we work through these necessary steps in the coming weeks.
Thank you all in advance for your continued ideas and support in this process. And please do not hesitate to contact me or Susan with your questions and concerns.