12/03/2012 03:01 pm ET

Central Subway: North Beach Complaints Lead To Revision Of Controversial Construction Plan

Amid a flurry of criticism from area residents, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation agency has modified its plans for the Central Subway's construction in North Beach.

Officials aimed to pacify critics with a proposal that would eventually extend the line's passenger service all the way into the neighborhood.

The current plan for the $1.6 billion Central Subway project, an extension of the T-Third line from its current northern terminus in SoMa into Chinatown, calls for further drilling into North Beach. The construction, however, wouldn't build an actual station, but instead provide a suitable location for removing the massive tunnel boring machine from the ground.


Many North Beach residents oppose that plan, as it calls for significant lane closures along Columbus Street, the neighborhood's main commercial drag, for much of the next year without eventually adding the benefit of improved access to public transit.

In response to these criticisms, SFMTA has presented a revised proposal that would extend the tunnel to underneath the Pagoda Palace, near the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Powell Street, under the assumption that the city could eventually purchase the long-vacant theater and turn it into the neighborhood's first subway station.

"It could be a win-win," SFMTA head Ed Reiskin told the San Francisco Chronicle. "If we could make something happen at the Pagoda in the next couple of months, we would go with that."

Reiskin estimates it would cost about $8 million for San Francisco to buy the Pagoda property and erect a subway station. If the city is unable the procure the land, officials would simply leave the tunnel boring machine underground.

SFMTA's initial plan was met with fierce resistance from neighborhood groups, who feared construction in North Beach could drag on for the better part of a decade and adversely affect local merchants.

"The idea that any neighborhood would be subject to a construction site for seven years in the heart of its commercial district without actually building something-- we are just a site, with no subway stop-- is anathema to anyone who loves San Francisco," said Save North Beach Founding Director Marc Bruno in a statement. "North Beach businesses are not chain stores, and cannot easily survive seven years of unmitigated construction."

Bruno's group filed suit against the city, demanding a new environmental impact report on the project and compensation to area merchants to help recoup any business losses sustained from the construction.

While this new plan has significantly stronger support in the neighborhood, it's not without its drawbacks. The San Francisco Examiner reports:

Meanwhile, storing the equipment under Columbus Avenue would cost the agency an extra $3 million to $5 million and would extend the duration of the project by two months. Although the construction impacts would be minimal, it would also potentially jeopardize extension plans to Fisherman's Wharf.

Bringing up the equipment on Powell Street at the abandoned Pagoda Palace theater wouldn't affect the project timeline, but would entail potentially pricey negotiations with the owners of the private building.

Another option the agency considered included abandoning the tunneling machine underneath Chinatown, a proposal that would save some $23 million on the project and chop a few months off of the overall construction time. However, that would make any further extensions of the line into Fisherman's Wharf, one of SFMTA's long-held goals, significantly more costly.

SFMTA will officially consider the new proposal at a meeting later this week. The entire Central Subway project is projected for completion in 2019.

Check out these design specs of what the Central Subway will look like:



Central Subway Project