Peskin suggests Caltrain might take over Downtown Extension? Governance study continues while project stays stalled

At its board meeting last week,  the San Francisco Transportation Authority got an update on a study of how to manage and govern the Downtown Extension project to connect the Caltrain tracks to downtown San Francisco, while the project stays stalled during the study.Last year, the Mayor and Supervisors decided to move ahead with a  “Pennsylvania alignment” to extend the tunnel further south instead of building an awkward roadway underpass at the 16th/7th intersection. The extended tunnel could potentially be done as a second phase after the tracks are extended from 4th and Townsend to the Salesforce/Transbay transit center.

But the next steps of engineering and environmental analysis were put on hold when the SMCTA decided to study how to manage and govern the next phases of the big project after cracks were discovered in the station building.  The Transbay Joint Powers Authority, a special-purpose entity whose only job has been creating the Transbay transit center and Downtown Extension, delivered its first phase late, over budget, and with physical flaws that shut the station for repairs soon after opening.  The Bay Area, California – and the US – have been struggling with the management of “megaprojects.”

At the meeting, in a discussion Caltrain’s business plan, which will be considering governance options for the Caltrain in the era of electric service, Supervisor Peskin brainstormed that he might like to see Caltrain take over responsibility for the Transit Center and getting the train downtown.
That logical option and others will be assessed in a study with consultants from McKinsey, ARUP, and other firms and experts. The team will interview Caltrain, the High Speed Rail Authority, San Francisco, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, and numerous other stakeholders.
 The study will explore the governance, management, and financing of other megaprojects in the United States and around the world, such as London’s Crossrail,  Madrid’s recent station and rail tunnel, and some of the recent challenges in California including the Bay Bridge reconstruction and High Speed Rail program.  The team is scheduled to deliver a draft in May and to be completed in June.
At the meeting, a representative of the Friends of the Downtown Extension advocacy group expressed frustration that these studies were delaying the next steps in engineering design, and urged the SFCTA to avoid long delays while governance options were studied and potentially large scale changes were considered.
One of the challenges in the Bay Area seems to be megaprojects done by special purpose entities that don’t have the opportunity to build expertise and keep skilled staff to effectively manage contractors.  And one of the challenges facing Caltrain, considering the major improvements needed to achieve a potential fourfold increase in ridership, is a structure that would allow it to fund those improvements.  Currently, to move forward with an 1/8 cent sales tax to fund operations and maintenance, Caltrain needs the approval of 7 boards in a process that takes close to a year.