Central Subway: House Votes to Block Funding. Delays Could Cost Muni Millions

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Off the rails...
For years, proponents of the Central Subway have portrayed the eventual approval and construction of the 1.7-mile, $1.6 billion rail line as a done deal. It certainly didn't feel that way on Friday.

An amendment authored by Rep. Tom McClintock that would block further funding for the San Francisco project passed the House by a vote of 235 to 136. Complaining about Muni is something of a San Francisco obsession. For out-of-town Congressmen to do so -- and follow up by taking steps to strip funds from the agency -- is something wholly other.

Muni portrayed the Friday vote as partisan warfare. "This a political attack on San Francisco that has nothing to do with the merits of the project," wrote Muni spokesman Paul Rose. "This amendment is not in the senate version and should be eliminated in conference. The bottom line is that this project will improve transit for the city, region and state and has been vetted by every level of government and given high marks every step of the way."

Critics, of course, could counter that the Central Subway is, itself, a political creation that has nothing to do with the merits of the project. But, no matter where one falls on the subway's advisability, you can't argue that time is money. And pushing back the date that the Feds may open their pocketbooks for the Central Subway would cost San Francisco money. Lots of money.

Internal e-mails obtained by The Bay Citizen revealed that Muni could bleed $4 million for every month it keeps the designers and managers needed to initiate the Central Subway project in place without actually doing so.

While Rose expressed confidence this situation would be rectified in Congressional conferences, it'll take more than hopefulness. A heavy majority of the House approved this amendment, demonstrating a desire to kill this project outright -- which would be a direct shot at Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a major mover and shaker on behalf of the subway (and a figure who causes large swaths of the politicians in this country to take leave from rational behavior). A political slugfest awaits.

Certainly subway proponents will push to convene the committees sooner rather than later, in hopes of snapping up those dollars. But if these meetings don't occur until September, October, or even after the election, the cost to Muni could be staggering.



And while Rose described this as a purely political attack, McClintock's forceful denunciation of the Central Subway reads like crib notes from the local critics of the project -- who are hardly out-of-town, knee-jerk, rail-hating right-wingers.

Among the points brought up by McClintock prior to the vote:

  • The project's baseline budget has more than doubled in nine years;

  • The Central Subway bypasses 25 of the 30 bus or light rail lines it crosses;

  • Those hoping to transfer from the Central Subway to BART will be required to walk nearly a quarter of a mile.

McClintock left out dwindling ridership numbers, but did note that $123 million in federal funds have already been sent the Central Subway's way. Muni documents from late 2011 indicate "nearly $200 million" had been spent on the project at that time.

"We are not Republicans, we are not in Washington, and we do not hate San Francisco or rail systems," says transit expert Jerry Cauthen, an avowed opponent of the Central Subway. "We love San Francisco and love rail systems. But good ones. Not turkeys like this."

While gearing up for political warfare, Muni must wait for those ever-elusive dollars. For frustrated users of the system, this presents a chance for schadenfreude. This time, it's Muni that's forced to sit and hope for a late, late arrival -- that may not come at all.

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