Transbay Transit Center: Street Level Design

Banking on $400 million in federal stimulus funds to be announced by the Federal Railroad Administration in October, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority has modified construction plans for San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Terminal.

With a first phase originally scheduled to open in 2014 (retail, bus, and park) and construction of its underground train station component (Caltrain and high-speed rail) to follow, the new plan calls for the pre-construction of an unfinished train station and a late 2015 opening for the above ground portions of the terminal.

If the stimulus funds are not made available, and no other funding can be identified, then up to $15 million worth of engineering and design efforts planned to take place between now and October will be wasted, and the project will open four months behind the original schedule without a train station, staff and consultants told directors.

“I’m a gambling man and I’m willing to roll the dice,” Supervisor Chris Daly, a Transbay Joint Powers Authority director, said during the hearing. “High-speed rail is happening in California. It’s coming to downtown San Francisco. Everyone’s excited, but if [initial construction of the train station] doesn’t happen, we’re in the hole $15 million.”

Pre-building the train station would save an estimated $100 million in construction costs. But no word on whether or not they’re still proposing to pre-build said station the wrong (or right) way.

30 thoughts on “Transbay Terminal: Banking On Stimulus Funds And Opening In 2015”
  1. It seems bizarre to me that a RE development whose very reason for existence is transit would make contingency plans for not having any transit.
    Until we have a powerful regional planning authority – one that can simply override San Mateo’s (or any other small town’s) desire to be free of public transit, we’ll be dealing with this kind of made-in-california nonsense.

  2. “I’m a gambling man and I’m willing to roll the dice,” – Chris Daly, 2009
    “I do think I do not want the same kind of focus on safety and soundness that we have in OCC and OTS. I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing” – Barney Frank, 2003
    I like to roll the dice too – with other people’s money!
    (For other “prescient” quotes of our dear leaders, see

  3. @Jim –
    Are you suggesting that TJPA should NOT build the train box under the station and incur an additional $100 million cost later rather than $15 million now? Or are you just one of the those knee jerk armchair critics who prefers to be criticize everything Daly says without actually being informed on the subject first?

  4. The rendering in the Examiner looks seriously value-engineered. Even the rooftop park mentionned in the article is gone…
    That being said, now is a good time to build the entire project: the bids should come significantly under budget.

  5. The rendering in the Examiner is seriously outdated.
    That is an over a year old conceptual rendering prior to an agreement with Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects to design the center.
    Agree, now is a good time to build the entire project.

  6. Agree, now is a good time to build the entire project.
    no way. HSR is a great idea for California, but not until California can get it’s financial house in order. California can barely afford to pay its civil servants, or return people’s tax return money. I think HSR is a great idea, but not for a nearly bankrupt state.
    you don’t commit large sums of money to a project when you face default on your bonds. yes, the Federal Govt will likely step in and bail out CA, but don’t think for a second there won’t be some serious pain with that.
    after getting its financial house in order, it them must work on its political will. HSR to SF is unfeasible if it has to go 30mph through the southbay suburbs or if it has to be submerged.
    SF can’t even integrate Caltrain vs Bart vs Muni (politically or practically). building a trainstation before those questions are answered is a boondoggle of massive proportions.

  7. It is taking so long that the image looks architecturally dated! (At least to me.) Why does this design remind me of the EPCOT (W.E.D. Imagineering) designs from the mid 70’s? All you need is mouse-ear balloons, cotton candy, and “Spaceship Earth” in the distance.

  8. I’m no engineer, but it makes sense to me that they should build from the bottom up instead of building the top and then going back to excavate and create the the bottom.
    As an aside, the problem with basing infrastructure and other public asset funding on projected fees from private development without a Plan B is risky. That became apparent after I showed the Planning Commission last Thursday a couple of pictures of the sidewalks on the south and north side of Harrison Street between Main and Fremont that cannot be navigated by a person in a wheelchair. Thankfully (maybe), the DPW is looking to ask voters to pass a bond in the fall to freshen up the streets and do SOME pedestrian-related work – hopefully they will fix the lack of a continuous sidewalk on the south side and the stairwell down to Beale Street blocking handicapped access on the north side of Harrison Street with that money* (*IF they convince 2/3 of voters to vote yes, but that’s a high hurdle when the City has resorted to nickel and diming residents every little chance they get – see the stories on the trash/recycle/compost penalty).

  9. ex-SF-er I agree that California has to get its house in order, but I would make a difference between transportaion infrastructure – partially privately financed – and social services and corrections, that have ballooned over the past few years.
    On the other hand – and I realize it is anecdotical evidence – but the movie The Soloist depicts a schizophrenic man originially from Michigan who somehow ended up in LA, and California is taking care of more than its share of people in need of social services.

  10. Not only does it save $100 million but to do otherwise is to admit we’re building a $1 Billion bus staion. Construction prices will just continue to rise as we’ve seen on the Bay Bridge project. The longer it takes the higher the cost.

  11. Perhaps if the empty train box could be put to some sort of temporary use (underground parking garage ? urban paintball range ? Giant sativa garden ?) then immediate revenue could mitigate some of the costs.

  12. I agree that CA needs to get its financial house in order before embarking on large-scale transportation infrastructure projects like this one.
    As a move toward that, how about cutting all the subsidies for automobile transport by 30% over the next few years. By adopting a Singapore-style toll system, all roads can effectively become toll roads and we could use clear and accurate economic signals to let people know the real price of their car use.
    As for the department of corrections, I think stricter laws about lobbying and lawmaker accountability would simply do away with much of our prison population and the attendant class of people who guard them.

  13. I am confused. Are there going to be trains coming to this terminal, or only bus transit?
    Whether HSR is to be built or not, wouldn’t Caltrain be eventually coming to Transbay?

  14. If HSR is not built, CalTrain will indeed come to this terminal eventually. But during the life expectancy of the new building?

  15. Perhaps if the empty train box could be put to some sort of temporary use…
    Is that sex club still looking for a home?
    The Train Box… it’s a natural.

  16. I continue to maintain my original wager, that if this thing is built, it will cost as much, in real dollars, as the Marshall plan.
    If there are any takers, I am willing to pay 1 donut for every billion dollars that this is cheaper than the Marshall plan, and expect receive 1 donut for every billion dollars that this goes over the cost of the Marshall Plan.
    For purposes of this wager, the Marshall plan cost 115 billion dollars. Moreover, by “cost”, I mean all money expended by state and local governments for the purpose of lobbying for, lobbying against, holding special elections, money pored into the campaigns of said special elections, building and tearing down edifices, legal costs, erecting mandated barriers and mandated capital improvements, and money just misplaced from start to completion. Completion is defined as the building of all planned terminals as promised to taxpayers during the various special elections, and commencement of passenger service on the monorail — err high speed rail.
    I am also offering additional side bets:
    1. The project will be delayed at least 7 (seven) years — 2 chocolate bars base, with a chocolate bar for additional year deltas.
    2. At some point in the execution of this project, there will be at least 2 (two) protesters that will need to be removed from a tree or equivalent man-made barrier — 3 chocolate bars + extra chocolate bar per protester removed.
    3. During the course of various official hearings regarding this project, at least 10 housewives will publicly weep about damage to their neighborhoods — 1 cherry pastry for each additional housewife above the 10 wife threshold.
    4. At least 75% of the operating equipment (by value) will be sourced from foreign countries — 1 organic strawberry for every percentile above or below this threshold.

  17. I think the whole “3 strikes” thing has a lot to do with our prison population exploding, but again, that’s just office chair guessing on my part

  18. Robert, do you mean completion of all of the terminals agreed to so far? Your cost estimate is way off, I will take that bet.
    If you mean “completion” like every single terminal that will ever be built is built, then there is no point in making the bet, because it will be so wildly successful that it will get expanded, just like the Interstate system has been expanded and is still not “done.”

  19. NVJ, I don’t mean building more extensions after the system is up and running — I’m referring to feature creep of the first release only. Not service packs or future versions.
    So, when the money runs out, they will go back to the voters for more, but they can’t just ask for more. They will need to promise more goodies of some sort, better service, expanding the route, etc. They will need to do this for several rounds before any actual trains are running from LA to San Francisco.
    So, you need to add up the costs of that, too. I.e. you can’t just calculate the theoretical cost of some platonic project, but the actual cost of what is politically and organizationally feasible. In the california sausage-making machine, that means lawsuits, “mitigation” grants, special elections, work training programs, and aid as far as the eye can see. Hell, we’ll probably get a few petting zoos and arboretums out of this.
    Now, once the thing is built and running, it will be possible to estimate the cost and I’m sure that PPIC or an equally well-respected organization will do it. From that point forward, any additional extensions are not included. Only those extensions (if any) that needed to be promised to voters in order to fully fund the thing are counted.
    Anyways, I am happy to take your bet. We’ll have to meet in 20 years to see who won. As a taxpayer, I don’t mind being proved wrong.
    In the interests of full disclosure, I am a fan of high speed rail, petting zoos, and deficit spending/money printing during credit deflations. But, I know a boondoggle when I see it, and this money would be better spent on education — particularly in the trades, basic research, and fixing deficiencies in our existing infrastructure stock. Or, just cut people a check and let them pay down debt.

  20. I think the whole “3 strikes” thing has a lot to do with our prison population exploding, but again, that’s just office chair guessing on my part
    The official talk was that after two strikes, many hard-core guys decided it was in their best interest to move to another state.

  21. “In the interests of full disclosure, I am a fan of high speed rail, petting zoos, and deficit spending/money printing during credit deflations. But, I know a boondoggle when I see it”
    Bravo Robert! This project tries to have all of the bells and whistles of a Swiss or German transit hub, but there is only one problem…. NO High Speed Rail! This is a pure boondoggle. Transbay reminds me of some of the North Korean projects that are created to look great to foreign visitors, but in reality do not actually function the way they appear to.

  22. Copious amounts of glass + soft soil = major catastrophe. Plus as others have said, where’s the beef (high speed trains)?

  23. If there are no fast ass trains that will take passengers from SF to LA in under 3 hours, then this will be worse than the big dig, which was like 3th or 4th most expensive project in the world.

  24. “Transbay reminds me of some of the North Korean projects that are created to look great to foreign visitors…”
    For monuments to the foolishness of central planners playing with other peoples money nothing beats the Ryugyong Hotel.

  25. 3th?
    The Big Dig was awesome. It sustained an entire generation of toothless Southie construction workers.
    And Ted Kennedy couldn’t have asked for better payback for his years of toadying up to the Democratic leadership.
    It’s a win-win!
    Nancy Pelosi will provide for SF too, don’t worry.

  26. Ooh, wait, nnona, please now tell us why I’m racist for characterizing Southie construction workers as toothless mooks.

  27. Hmmmm… Southies are ethnically Irish, right ? I think Jimmy is experimenting with pushing buttons here.
    On the Ryugyong Hotel comparison, I certainly hope that the new transbay is not nearly that kind of central planning boondoggle. The DPRK makes their neighbors in the People’s Republic of China look like a libertarian paradise. They are up there with Zimbabwe as a shining example of bad governance.
    One possible transbay plan : build nothing until rails (whether HSR+Caltrain or just Caltrain) are on their way. The “temporary” terminal should be able to service bus traffic just fine until then.

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