Friday, December 12, 2008

Bay Guardian: Build the Downtown Extension

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

This week's issue of the San Francisco Bay Guardian includes an editorial calling for construction of the Downtown Extension to the Transbay Terminal. It is based on an article by Steven T. Jones in the same issue that notes, among other things, that the "train box" remains unfunded and outside the plans. First, the Jones article:

Transportation planners say the train box, which is essentially the shell structure in which the train station would be built during the project's second phase, is very important both logistically and financially (doing it later could be very expensive and disruptive to the station's operation), particularly since the TJPA has secured little of the $3 billion needed for phase two....that source must be found by spring to be included in construction contracts.

Um...that's not good. The train box is a must.

The Bay Guardian editorial makes, as usual, some excellent points about why the DTX is so important to the success of high speed rail - and what some of the political obstacles are, namely the leadership of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. From the editorial:

Building an adequate terminal for high-speed rail at its present location would cost at least $750 million, money that would be better spent funding the downtown extension....building the Transbay Terminal with no rail connection would be a disastrous waste of money — and waiting and hoping for more money later isn't a very good financing plan.

So if it's obvious that the Transbay Terminal needs the DTX to succeed, and that a Fourth and King terminus station isn't a good use of money, why is this even an issue? As the editorial explains, the leadership at the TJPA, specifically Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, isn't doing a good job securing funding or even communicating with partners:

Ayerdi-Kaplan promised us, repeatedly, that there's no way the project will end up getting built without the facilities for rail in the basement.

But Quentin Kopp, a retired judge who heads the state's high-speed rail agency, has nothing but harsh words for Ayerdi-Kaplan and her operation. He insists that she hasn't been working with him and that none of the $10 billion in bond money approved in November for the project will go to extend the tracks beyond the existing Caltrain terminal at Fourth and King. In fact, Kopp is making noises about keeping the end of the line exactly where it is today....

Kopp has some legitimate gripes. Ayerdi-Kaplan, who is supposed to be building the station that will serve as the northern anchor for high-speed rail, has met with Kopp only once. She's going ahead with the project before she has any guarantees that even the framework for the underground station will be funded. And frankly, it's not going to work for the head of the Transbay Terminal project to remain at odds with the head of the high-speed rail authority.

It certainly sounds as if the TJPA needs to get its act together, and one hopes that Kopp and other members of the California High Speed Rail Authority have been trying to proactively work with Ayerdi-Kaplan and her staff to resolve these issues. Apparently she has been hiding behind PR person, Adam Alberti. I can see why Kopp has been making noise about using Fourth and King instead, as a way to force the TJPA back to the table.

Still, this seems to be a leadership issue most of all. San Francisco has a lot of political leaders who could help bring the parties together - Mayor Gavin Newsom, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Perhaps our federal officials can help provide funding for an infrastructure project ready to break ground. It's time for someone to step up and solve this issue before it gets worse with time and built-up enmity. As we've said before the DTX and the Transbay Terminal are essential to the HSR project's success.


Anonymous said...

Robert, thank you for bringing this subject back up, but I have to take issue with your post. Why on earth do you believe that this is solely the fault of the TJPA?

Communication and partnership require active and constructive participation by both parties, and so far Quentin Kopp is making a huge muck of things. Kopp is in SF all of the time - why is it that he has never bothered to meet with the TJPA? Why is the CHSRA not involved in the DTX project that they clearly are planning to use for their trains? Why is this all the fault of the TJPA?

I find this pro-CHSRA and anti-TJPA bias to be very unconstructive. This blog needs to challenge the CHSRA when they get it wrong, and right now the CHSRA is getting it very wrong.

According to the SFBG article, this whole dispute began when the TJPA wrote to the CHSRA shortly after Prop 1a passed last month. They apparently were trying to communicate the state of the DTX project and their desire to apply for funding from the CHSRA. This is a good thing, not a bad thing. However, that is when Kopp had his hissy fit in the press using brinksmanship to say that he wants to eliminate the DTX from the HSR route altogether - a decision that would be absurd to make without first doing a thorough cost/benefit analysis.

So why is no one taking Kopp to task for this outrageous behavior? I find Kopp's statement to be very damaging considering that now is exactly the time when CHSRA needs to show some leadership and get involved in decision-making around existing plans for the future HSR route (note that there are numerous other improvements in the works for the Caltrain line such as station expansions and relocations that are not presently taking into account the need for a 4-track corridor to accomodate HSR trains). Instead, SF is being punished for already being a step ahead of other locations and already making plans and beginning construction of HSR-ready facilities including a brand new multi-modal terminal that when constructed will be one of the key features of the HSR route and one of the best examples of a 21st century design that brings rapid transit into a densely populated urban core allowing for seamless integration with other transit systems and obviating the need to use a car at the end of one's journey - which remains to be seen about other potential station lcoations which I fear may end up being transit-unfriendly before all is said and done.

Let's be clear on this: there is no difference between the TJPA applying for partial funding for their grade-separation than there will be for LA or Fresno or any other community who will be doing so in the future, and I suspect that those other communities will not be so generous in providing 80% or more of the project funding for those grade seperations as the TJPA is currently planning for the DTX. (CHSRA's proposed share of the funding is pegged at 20% of the below-ground (i.e. train-only) facilities and represents a mere 14% of the complete TTC project when you include the bus terminal, ramps and temporary bus facilities for use during the construction phase).

Was it really necessary for Kopp to blatantly misrepresent these facts to the press in the article that appeared in the SF Chronicle? Certainly not. And this blog should not give him or anyone else from the CHSRA a free pass when they choose to engage in these shenanigans.

It is incumbent on both the TJPA and the CHSRA to immediately set aside their differences and begin working together as true partners on this very important project. The CHSRA should request direct representation on the TJPA board and access to all TJPA documentation and staff resources and the TJPA should be encouraging the CHSRA to become directly involved in the project, including determining how the DTX will be funded and ensuring that all designs are 100% compatible with the HSR trainsets and operating plans.

Rafael said...

Quentin Kopp has a point, but he's also quite the bull in the china shop. After all, wasn't it CHSRA that had a public spat with UPRR after that private company claimed not to have heard from the planning body in over a year?

Also, it's quite disingenuous for CHSRA to include the TTC in all of its marketing materials and then complain about a lack of communication. Whatever happened to being proactive?

For her part, Ms. Ayerdi-Kaplan (and many SF voters) apparently assumed that CHSRA had boxed itself in a corner with that marketing campaign and would cough up whatever sum she demanded. Quentin Kopp is a hard man to embarrass.

In London, the St. Pancras station was built with a train box for HSR before the government there had committed to High Speed 1, the expensive new HSR alignment between the Channel Tunnel and central London.

That is the model that SF should now follow. If the train box is built now, then the tunnel will be at some point. If the construction contract treats the train box and the tunnel as inseparable, there will very likely never be a bullet train in downtown SF. That would be to the detriment of both the TTC and the HSR project.

The way out of the impasse is a process that allows both sides to recognize that their current positions are counter-productive and to reach a face-saving compromise. At the end of the day, both parties depend on federal funds to bring their project to fruition. "No drama" Obama will not want to hand out federal stimulus money to two parties that are bickering in public.

One thing Ms. Ayerdi-Kaplan needs to recognize is that Quentin Kopp couldn't pledge a dime at this point even if he wanted to. AB3034 makes it quite clear that the legislature cannot release any prop 1A funds for construction until and unless non-state matching funds for a given segment have been secured.

For his part, Quentin Kopp needs to come clean about the fact that it advertised the underground station in the TTC as an integral part of the HSR network in the run-up to Nov 4. That doesn't mean he can make an additional $3 billion appear out of thin air, but spending $750 million on turning 4th & King into an HSR-cum-Caltrain terminus seems like a bad idea.

One way or another, TJPA needs to repackage its construction costs such that the tunnel and trainbox appear as a $1.5 billion line item. The delta will likely have to come from postponing the $1.3 billion Central Subway for the time being.

How about a loop service based on an articulated autotram with all-wheel steering instead, along this route: Townsend (Caltrain, AT&T Park), 2nd, Bryant, Main (temporary TTC, Embarcadero BART), Drumm, Sacramento (Embarcadero Center), Sansome, Washington (Transamerica pyramid), Stockton (Union Square, Powell BART), 4th (SF SC, Metreon, Yerba Buena, Moscone Center), Howard, 5th, Townsend (Caltrain).

Anonymous said...

Some one needs to ask CAHSR design
consultants what is there opinion of this 3 platform 6 track stub end design..when the present station has 6 platforms and 12 tracks..and thats just Caltrain.
SF did not learn a lesson I guess after the MuniMetro dead end at Embarcadero mess that then needed a 600 million dollar fix. And no these people planned this hoping for a nice billion dollar handout from HSR bond all along..what if HSR bond had failed?

Rafael said...

@ yeson1A -

TJPA can build the TTC with no train box and no tunnel, so they did not depend on passage of prop 1A. However, the hope was always that it would pass as the additional of a train station makes the whole transit hub much more useful.

As for the six underground platforms and the tail tracks for overnight storage: I'm sure everyone involved would prefer more. The old TTC had trains running to the second floor, where the buses will be now. Of course, those trains came over the Bay Bridge at the time.

Some have suggested creating a loop track at the TTC by tunneling an extra 1/4 mile under Clementina St. between Beale and 2nd.

However, with seat reservation system and floor markings to help passenger queue up in the right place, efficient cleaning brigades and waiting relief drivers, it should be possible to turn even long trains around in 12 minutes. With four platforms for HSR, that would mean up to 20 trains every hour in each direction. The bare minimum safe headway between trains is 3 minutes, in practice no less than 5 will be used on the main line. In the tunnel, headways might be shorter because Caltrain also needs to run its local trains. Then again, that's why there will be three tracks in the tunnel.

With some organization plus queuing and flow discipline by passengers, the train box as designed will have enough capacity for many decades.

Brian Stankievich said...

This whole Kopp and TBT think first made me angry, and now it confuses me.

1. The TEXT of Prop 1a says " San Francisco Transbay Terminal" so CHSRA needs to go there or no bond money can be spent on construction, period. Read the text "Transbay Terminal" to LA "Union Station" Sorry Kopp those things aren't optional. Haven't been since 2002 when the first Prop 1 legislation was passed.

2. What sorry @#$%& schmuck does he think is going to invest in a train that stops at 4th and King? No serious operating company is going to do a design-build-operate that stops at 4th and King.

3. SF is putting up $2 billion so far for the terminal, remind me how much SJ, LA, Fresno, and other cities have legal committed to? ... Nothing? Then why is he angrily threatening SF? Why not attack SJ for talking about pulling Caltrain electrification funds or not committing anything to their station?

I don't get it, can someone explain?

Rafael said...

@ Brian -

I think it's mostly that Ms. Ayerdi-Kaplan and Quentin Kopp both have outsized egos. Also, she gave Kopp sticker shock with that $3 billion figure. For reference, the entire super-fancy St. Pancras station for Eurostar and a lot of local/regional rail lines cost about half that amount. In downtown London, no less.

I've suggested before that given the scale of the HSR project, the chairmanship of CHSRA ought to be a directly elected position at the state level. Perhaps the same should be true of the chairmanship of the TJPA, albeit at the city level.

Anonymous said...

@ rafael,

Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan is the Executive Director of the TJPA so her counterpart is actually Mehdi Morshed as the chief staff person at the CHSRA.

Quentin Kopp's counterpart is Nathaniel Ford who I believe is the current Chair of the TJPA Board and also is Executive Director of the SFMTA (Muni & Traffic/Parking departments) in his day job. Usually boards nominate and elect the chair position themselves. Appointments to these boards are made by the sponsoring agencies. The top staff position is then hired by and reports to the board.

@ Brian,

At first I thought Kopp was being devious, but I've since decided that he just is not in touch with the TJPA and apparently doesn't really know what's going on. Not a good sign but also something that can be pretty easily corrected.

It seems he really doesn't know much about TJPA's plans, and I suspect he also may not be aware that his own agency's plans call for HSR to go underground several miles before even getting to 4th/King streets. Likewise I don't think TJPA's plans incorporate this approach tunnel that CHSRA proposes in their program-level design docs, so in addition to this dispute over the DTX project there are actually a number of other significant differences between each agency's plans, yet they all are making plans about the same set of tracks and ROW (!) and this is probably true all up and down the proposed CHSRA route.

All three agencies (TJPA, CHSRA and Caltrain) obviously need to get together now that HSR is going forward and money is beginning to be acquired. It's a little scary that they are each planning to spend billions of dollars on public works projects but have not had time to pick up the phone and call each other, let alone actually worked through some of these details already - but with the passage of prop 1a hopefully these disconnects can be corrected and a single unified plan can be created and agreed upon. This, however, will probably take several more years of planning and discussions.

I remain pretty confident that in the end everyone will agree that the DTX must be part of the overall plan. If folks can agree on that in the next year or so, and identify some funding (perhaps a loan from an existing source of funds with an agreement for partial reimbursement by CHSRA in the future), then the train box can be built as part of the TTC tower construction phase. I don't think the existing TBT is slated for demolition for another 10 or 12 months so there's a little window of time before new construction starts on the TTC site.

Anonymous said...

@rug..please explain how that shit hole design of a train station will help the city?

Clem said...

For what it's worth, the CHSRA's Bay Area cost figures do include $250M for a tunnel on the "Caltrain 1" segment between the TTC and 4th & King. Nothing about a train box, though...