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San Francisco's ambitious transit project takes off

(The following appeared on the San Francisco Appeal website on August 11, 2010.)

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. With the gray cement of San Francisco's old Transbay Transit Terminal as a backdrop, officials today stood before a flashy white placard with an orange "T" emblazoned on its face and broke ground on a new transit center.

The Transbay Transit Center, which is planned to act as the terminus station for the nation's first high-speed rail system, has been dubbed the "Grand Central Station of the West Coast."

"We are opening a new chapter in the history of progress," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at today's groundbreaking ceremony. "We are coming together to create jobs and vitalize our economy to make San Francisco, once again, a national model for economic development."

In addition to the high-speed rail system, the $4.2 billion transit center will eventually accommodate 10 other transit operators, including Caltrain, AC Transit, Amtrak and others.

The old Transbay Terminal, constructed in 1939, was declared seismically unsafe after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.

The first seven-year phase of the project, which includes construction of a 1 million square-foot main transit center that will replace the old one at First and Mission streets, will create an estimated 48,000 jobs.

The second phase of construction, estimated to begin in 2012, will connect Caltrain to the new transit center.

The Transbay Redevelopment Plan, which was adopted by San Francisco in 2005, includes plans to increase the number of residential, office and retail space near the new transit center to revitalize the neighborhood.

The five-story transit center will also feature a 5.4-acre public park on its roof.

Drizzly weather this morning hardly seemed to dampen the high spirits of Pelosi, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Congressman George Miller, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Executive Director Nathaniel Ford and other officials who spoke at today's groundbreaking.

"This Transbay Transit Center project is quite simply a bullet train for job creation," Boxer said.

Many of the speakers credited the realization of the project to President Obama's federal stimulus funding, $8 billion of which was delegated specifically for high-speed rail projects.

"We would not be here today if it weren't for the extraordinary courage of the delegation from California, led by the Speaker, who within one month of being sworn in ... passed a $780 billion economic recovery plan," LaHood said of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

California was awarded $2.25 billion in federal stimulus funding for high-speed rail projects.

"California got the most high-speed rail money because you have your act together and you want high-speed rail," LaHood said. "You've been working on it for a decade, and now California is way ahead of the curve when it comes to high-speed rail."

In addition to federal stimulus money, funding for the project came from the state of California, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the San Francisco County and San Mateo County transportation authorities, and AC Transit, among others.

The first phase of the transit center, scheduled to open in August 2017, is fully funded.
Newsom lauded the delegates' abilities to link economic growth, housing, and transit, and he called the transit center the "ultimate manifestation of smart growth."

"Don't forget it was just a few years ago when we saw a 200 percent increase in traffic congestion in and around the Bay Area," Newsom said. "The question was at the time, and the question still is today, what do you do to accommodate that growth?"

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who started the process of rebuilding the Transbay Terminal during his term in office, also attended today's event.

Friday, August 13, 2010

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