Over the last several weeks, merchants, politicos and community activists in North Beach have begun to loudly protest the detrimental effects the construction of the Central Subway will likely have on their neighborhood.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has warned area residents that the project will bring two years of traffic disruptions and heavy machinery to a section of Columbus Avenue famous for its historic Italian restaurants--many of which are noted for their outdoor sidewalk seating.

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"We are a destination shopping area, with many small, unique shops," local business owner and North Beach Business Association board member Daniel Macchiarini told the San Francisco Examiner. "If you lay heavy equipment down on Columbus Avenue and destroy our transportation corridors, you will basically render this entire area inaccessible."

Macchiarini predicts between 25 and 60 percent of the businesses in the area could be forced to shut down due to the construction.

The Central Subway, which would connect Muni's T-Third line from SoMa, under Union Square and into Chinatown, has been under fire since its inception by critics who charge that the project is too expensive for what they predict will be a relatively limited ridership. Last year a civil grand jury released a report lambasting the venture.

The project's backers, on the other hand, attest that the subway will become the most-used line in San Francisco's entire transit system by 2030, claiming it will boast the second-highest number of daily boardings per mile of any light rail line in the country.

A coalition of neighborhood merchants and North Beach Supervisor David Chiu have publicly urged SFMTA to come up with an alternative plan that would put less of a burden on their neighborhood. City transit officials say that tunneling under North Beach is necessary for the ultimate goal, which has yet to even enter the planning stages, of the line extending all the to Fisherman's Wharf.

Last Friday, a group of local business owners met at a neighborhood church to discuss filing a suit to stop the project.

Mayor Ed Lee has pledged to work with North Beach residents and address their concerns. However, at Friday's meeting, one participant doubted the authenticity of the officials' commitment. "The only reason they're listening to us is because we're going to be suing them," one merchant grumbled to the San Francisco Chronicle.

While the proposed extension of the T-Third line ends in Chinatown, the two tunnel boring machines the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is using to dig the subway will need to travel to North Beach to be taken out of the ground.

Fliers produced by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association and distributed at an SFMTA booth during a recent North Beach street fair advocated for the installation of a Central Subway station in the neighborhood. "We need a Washington Square subway station," they read.

Activist Jon Golinger, who also spearheaded a June ballot measure regarding the upkeep of Coit Tower, argued to SF Appeal that the fliers were a misleading way for SFMTA to drum up support for its project by implying that North Beach was, in fact, getting its own station.

Golinger has submitted a petition with over 250 signatures urging the David Chiu to do whatever he could to stop the subway construction from going through the area.

North Beach isn't the only place where opposition to the Central Subway has been mounting. All the way in Washington, a Republican congressman has moved to block federal funding for the project.

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) has attached an amendment to an appropriations bill that would cut off the $850 million the Federal Transit Administration has promised the city to pay for the subway's construction. The FTA has kicked in $150 million to fund the project already.

In a speech on the floor of the House, McClintock, who represents Truckee and Oroville, assailed the initiative as a poorly designed "boondoggle" that could possibly bankrupt Muni while making San Francisco's public transit system worse on the whole.

McClintock's amendment passed overwhelmingly.

"This a political attack on San Francisco that has nothing to do with the merits of the project," Muni spokesman Paul Rose told SF Weekly. "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."

Even if the amendment is eventually overruled and money for the project does flow in, Congress has the potential to delay the FTA's delivery of the funds. According to internal SFMTA emails uncovered by the Bay Citizen, such a delay could cost the agency $4 million per month.

If SFMTA does the money it needs, however, construction is projected to begin in North Beach later this year.

Check out this slideshow of images from SFMTA showing what the Central Subway will look like:

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  • Chinatown Station

  • Chinatown Station

  • Chinatown Station

  • Union Square Station

  • Union Square Station

  • Yerba Buena Station

  • Yerba Buena Station

  • Graphic Panels