Study results reveal planned – is the Downtown Extension logjam about to break?

After a year of public silence, the San Francisco Planning Department will have something to say about the outcomes of a study of alternative alignment options for the Downtown Extension connecting Caltrain tracks to the Transbay terminal, which would provide access to many thousands more jobs and connecting transit users.

On Wednesday, March 28, the Citizen Working Group will hear an update on the path toward a decision to pick one of the alternative choices or the original alignment for the project. A decision is needed for the project to move forward with San Francisco’s approval and funding commitment.

The death of Mayor Lee and behind the scenes interagency discussions have held up the release of the study’s conclusions, which had been slated for last summer.

The RAB study has been evaluating options extending the tunnel from Transbay either swinging out toward Mission Bay along 3rd street, or extending down Pennsylvania, near the current alignment but underground further.

dtx alignment options

Why is the city considering alternatives? The original, environmentally approved design has the tracks crossing the intersection of 16th and 7th street at ground level.   As train frequency increases with Caltrain electrification and eventually high speed rail, the train crossing will become a greater barrier to access the homes, jobs and institutions in Mission Bay.

If the tunnel isn’t extended, San Francisco would need to separate the tracks from the roads some other way; the underpass proposed by the High Speed Rail project would cut off neighborhood streets and impede pedestrian, bike, and transit access.

What is the RAB study?  The study started with a broader set of objectives.  The name stands for Railyard Alternatives and I280 Boulevard study. At the start, the study was going to consider to take down the stub end of I280, replace the highway with a boulevard, and explore opportunities to develop the real estate currently used at 4th and King station to store and maintain trains. The freeway removal option was eliminated following vociferous opposition led by some neighborhood groups and former mayor Art Agnos.

Development of the railyards has been met with concerns by Caltrain, which needs some place to park trains.  If the railyard is moved further from the end of the line, Caltrain would incur additional operating costs having to move trains to and from the terminal.  A solution needs to provide practical alternatives for Caltrain.

What’s next?  The CWG meeting is scheduled for Wednesday  March 28, 2018 at 6pm at the Old Fire Station 30 Community Room (1275 Third Street).  The Wednesday meeting will set the stage for a public meeting slated for “the end of April or early May” that will reveal the “costs, schedule, and preliminary findings and recommendations from the RAB study.”   If you’re interested in the outcome and less interested in the process details, you’ll be more interested in the “late April/early May” meeting that will reveal the substantive results of the study. The CWG will meet again for a preview prior to that public meeting.

Once the results and recommendations are public, this sets the stage for the decision that would allow the project to move forward and seek funding.  If you are interested in getting the Caltrain tracks to downtown San Francisco, stay tuned and get ready to participate.