Transbay Transit Center Aerial
rendering by steelblue

Overruns have added $300 million to the cost of constructing San Francisco’s $1.9 billion Transbay Transit Center, and unless the City can raise $24 million in private donations and grants, the project will open without its signature rooftop park as budgeted dollars are diverted to complete the terminal.

According to J.K. Dineen and Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) spokesman Adam Alberti, “the park would be built eventually, but that it will be “phased” and not necessarily ready when the transit center opens in late 2017.”

When the projected cost for the first phase of San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center rose from $1.6 billion to $1.9 billion last year, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority diverted a portion of the funds which had been dedicated to the second phase of the project (the extension of track for Caltrain and High Speed Rail from Fourth and King to the Transbay Center at First and Mission) and changed the skin of the terminal from glass to perforated aluminum.

When the projected costs for the terminal increased by another $150 million, the TJPA stripped $53 million in “cosmetics” from the building to help keep a lid on the overall $1.9 billion budget and announced that private donors and sponsors would be sought to help pay for a number of rooftop park features.  Apparently one of those features is now the park itself.

84 thoughts on “Transbay Transit Center $300M Over Budget, Rooftop Park Waylaid”
  1. Not good news but the priorities are right. Ideally the Caltrain extension to Transbay should also take higher priority too.

  2. What is the proposed date for completion of a Caltrain extension? I thought it was put off for at least 10 years after completion of the terminal building?

  3. Of course; first they tart-up the design with bait-and-switch cladding, and now drop the major feature that let this design get approved in the first place. No accountability.

    1. A roof-top park was never the major feature of a transit center. Yes, the park was a nice amenity, but by definition, the purpose of a transit center is to serve as a public transportation facility, not as a public park.

      Also, perhaps the design should have never been “tarted up” in the first place, especially when there clearly does not seem to be the money to design even the basic facility without diverting funds from elsewhere.

      But, this is typical San Francisco design by committee. Get a bunch of special interest groups together and have them list their demands that must be satisfied to support any construction project, whether public or private, and drive up the cost of construction sky-high in the process. Then, when the money runs out, or you end up building something that is way over-budget, let the blame game begin.

      1. I went to the final presentation to the City by the architects for this project. Each “starchitect” had time to describe his plans. Cesar Pelli spent 95% of his allotted time describing the park and almost NO time talking about the skyscraper. That was the key selling point of his proposal. The most distressing word in this story is “eventually.” By saying that they will build the park “eventually,” that could mean a year or a decade.

        1. The tower and the transit facility are two separate projects. The tower is just that, a commercial office tower on land that was sold to fund this boondoggle transit facility. Again, a park is a park, a transit facility is a transit facility. There are plenty of parks in the city, with many of them not well maintained by the city. Instead of all the bells-and-whistles, perhaps only a basic transit facility should have been proposed in the first place–now the city has to steal funds from the planned Caltrain expansion to build the transit center.

          It is time for San Francisco to learn to live within its means and to stop the usual pandering to special interest groups that drive up the cost of nearly every construction project in the City. As a 20-year resident of the City, I still love SF, but I am tired of having a local city government run by individuals who do not seem to have even the most rudimentary fiscal management skills.

          1. “It is time for San Francisco to learn to live within its means”
            You’re right – why should we build an expensive bridge across the Golden Gate Strait, the ferries work just fine!

          2. Yes, I am right. You can live within your means by simply building a basic transit facility. Your childish remark, just marks you as a fool. You are engaging in the fallacy of a straw man argument. I did not say do not build a new transit facility to serve modern needs, I said the City needs to live within its means. It is quite possible to build a new transit facility that serves the City’s needs without busting the budget. But, logic is lost on SF’s elected leaders, and apparently people such as yourself.

          3. I agree with Chris and hate the stupid straw man Golden Gate Bridge comparison.
            Did the city need a new bus transit facility? Yes.
            Could we afford or need to spend 2 billion dollars on it? No!
            Since there are NO connections to BART, Caltrain, HSR or MUNI rail, what are we spending 2 billion on? Not a silly funicular that was to go to the “park” that is now removed as well. Not the oh so trendy curved glass skin that has been removed from the design and replaced with an ugly metal screen.
            For 2 billion you could almost buy an entire new bus fleet for the city.

    2. I agree. The trade was higher density for badly needed open space. They tried the same thing at the Yerba Buena Center. Only a lawsuit kept the City on track to build the park, and even now, with additions to the convention center, they are chipping away at the park for more building space.

    3. they aren’t dropping it, they’re just phasing it. it will still be a major feature when the funding comes in. i’m willing to wait as long as they keep their promise and build it!

    4. No, the design was approved because Hines offered twice as much for the land than the next highest bidder, than, after approval, cut their offer in half, blaming the “economy.” Now they are building on some of he most valuable real estate in the country and world.

      SF politicians are about as business saavy as the Italian Army.

  4. Let’s see: no HSR, no park until who knows when. What was the original purpose of all of this? They should have sold it as a skyscraper development project. Not as sexy and less public funds, but a more accurate description.

    1. well, because of the downturn in 2008, the sales of the transbay sites brought in a lot less money than they’d budgeted…

      1. numbers please? my understanding was that the more recent sales have brought in *more* than had been budgeted.

  5. Since Google can – let them buy naming rights to the park — and move on. NY will have 50 buildings taller than Transbay 1070′ by the time we get this one building built.

    Not competing, just a reminder of one city that knows how.

    Lean forward SF.

    1. Amen, Major projects underway in NY include the 2nd street subway, LIRR to grand central (!), hudson yards, 7 extension to 11th, AND the Fulton street transit center. Yes, it’s a much larger city, etc, but NY can get things done. SF has completely forgotten how

      1. How can you say “forgotten how” when the goal seems to be cronyism and kickbacks? It’s just different priorities.

      2. Having lived in NY for a while I look forward to the completion of these projects, but the city is just as screwed up as SF. The 2nd Ave Subway is 90+ years in the making and only the first segment to 96th St. has been completed with an opening date of 2016 for 3 stations. The other segments still have not secured funding so there is no guarantee that they will be built in our lifetime. No different than the promises of extending Caltrain to the TTC. Both of these projects should be major priorities, but keep getting pushed to the back burner. A better reference point in our country would be LA where several transit lines are either under construction or soon will be. Outside the US, look at cities in China or even Madrid. Stockholm, a city of 880,000 people (over 2M for the entire metro region), has a robust Metro system with ridership of nearly 900,000 daily riders.

        1. Just about everywhere in the world is put to shame when compared with how efficiently China can build infrastructure.
          Also, the Bay Area has at least 1.6 million daily transit riders when you add up all the different agencies.

        2. Stockholm transit fares are triple those in SF. Beijing has a fantastic subway system, with very low fares.

          1. London fares are expensive too. I’d be more than happy to pay more for better service.

  6. How many times has this thing gone over budget and it’s not even out of the ground. Every few monts they announce cost overruns and they rob Peter to Paul, cut corners. I suspect by the time they are finished it will be an open air bus stop only with a bench and a plaque dedicating the thing as the ED LEE TRANSBAY BUS STOP,

  7. The cost of the park is only about 1% of the total cost of the project. The city should insist that the park be built with the tower. The rents on the tower are going to far higher than projected when Hines got the big discount on the property. The money is there.

  8. $24M shouldn’t be that much to raise to keep this on track. How the hell does a project like this go over budget like this anyway? Where is that extra cash being spent?

    Wasn’t the park being built as the ‘privately-owned public open’ space for the tower?

    The park is undoubtedly the best public feature of the entire development.

    1. Excellent questions – unless these result from City change orders (which doesn’t appear to be the case – the only City change orders are to reduce amenities and scale) – then why isn’t the contractor eating some of these cost overruns? If the City negotiated that bad of a contract, some people should be fired, at a minimum.

  9. This situation reminds me of Trinity Plaza at 8th & Market where there was one nice building built to the original approved design only to have the follow on buildings cheapened.

  10. Where are Eric Mar and Jane Kim with a Billionaire’s tax for the city to support open space? If you live or do business in the city of San Francisco and you are a billionaire you can afford to pay $1mm annually to support city initiatives. Why not call it Dorsey park or Zuckerberg park and get it done?

  11. Weren’t the tower developers supposed to pay a certain amount of additional monies in their original bid, and then reneged? That money could of gone to cost overruns. They should have rebid the tower portion.

  12. 2bn for a bus stop only serving one small segment of the area population: those who take AC Transit from the East Bay? No rail stop, trolleys and BART a long block away. That area has always been a pain with lots of transit but no clear hub. Will this bus stop do anything about crowding at Embarcadero and Montgomery BART’s during peak hours? Anything short of this is a failure by design .

    1. Yea based on that criteria, this is a failure. Maybe one day if Caltrain goes here? Eh, even still it really needs a BART connection. But even if a new transbay tube was built I doubt it would go through here. However if HSR actually gets built, and it goes here, then yea success.

      1. It’s only two blocks from an existing Bart station. I’d be satisfied if they just built an underground walking connection between the two.

        1. An underground connection to the Embarcadero station is a no-brainer and should have been part of the design from the beginning. Once again, zero foresight from a self-proclaimed Transit First City.

  13. no surprise here. No HSR. No Caltrain extension. No underground connections to Bart and muni. This city is a complete joke

  14. Transbay has become the equivalent of building an airport terminal without any runways or airplanes.

    1. Someone needs to call Jennifer Friedenbach and tell her that the homeless garden needs to be built!

  15. The City should have reached out more to the homeless as they will be inhabiting the place the same way all other bus stops are: dark, dank and dirty. Add to that the fact that it will almost see no traffic other than during commute hours. I liked the old Transbay: it was really dirty, filled with refugees and not just a bit scary. Does anyone remember that terrible bar on Fremont btw mission and market. The characters in that place were indescribable. If you missed the once an hour bus late at night, that’s where you were hanging. I also liked how the men’s room in the terminal with no doors on the stalls. It was a must see on any “real” SF tour.

          1. I meant to say: add Caribbean Zone. That place was iconic. I remember the name of that bar it was called “attitudes two” and I have memories enjoying a very late night drink with a friend across from a massive homeless transvestite whose make-up looked like one of my three year olds self portraits. I’m offering a 5 buck Starbucks card to anyone who remembers it and name exactly where it was. You probably need it!

  16. This is fast becoming a joke. It really is embarrassing. Honestly, how can effective transit be this bad and this difficult to implement in the 2nd densest major city and in the 5th largest metropolitan area (by CSA) in the US?

  17. Isn’t this the most expensive transportation project in the world? And only a bus stop for MUNI and AC Transit. I guess the California politicians and the mayor don’t care about their legacies.

  18. Of course! Why stray from the pattern of disappointment after disappointment, which started the very moment they picked Pelli over SOM and has run unabated ever since.

  19. I still remember the jaw dropping SOM videos of what Transbay COULD have been. HSR trains running under Bart and Muni trains with busses above and thousands of people being able to easily connect from one transit mode to another.

    For the record, I am tired of being lectured to by some that “all you have to do is walk two blocks to BART, etc” For 2 billion dollars we should be getting a real transit terminal and not a bus station that was sold to us partially because It HAD a rooftop park. Los Angeles is building its Union Station into what Transbay was to be and will have more train and subway lines interconnecting there than any other station in North America except for Chicago and New York.

  20. Let all the sf-haters take note: we will have a nicer bus stop than NY. Have not heard great things about the Port Authority!

    1. Agreed, although BART/MUNI would still be a block away, but in theory connected by an underground passage.

  21. My comment was meant for Anon’s post. Somehow it got tacked on here.

    As for Port Authority, it’s a crap hole like most bus terminals. But at least NY has Grand Central.

  22. Agree with a previous commenter , the whole project needs a new city wide ballot measure changing the name to the Edwin G. Lee Memorial Bus Stop. Heck, they could even add Grand to the title. This would only befit the man who presided over such a momentous plan. It will be a worldwide tourist destination and a feat of unparalleled engineering. To bad the whole plan could have been done by prisoners in state jails making parking signs and license plates. Opportunity missed.

  23. Oh great. With Mayor Lee at the helm this thing is going to be an aluminum can sponsored by Pepsi made of stacked shipping containers by the time cost overruns eliminate every decent part of it. Why do we even consider lame deals like this? I wouldn’t agree to have a single commuter enter the city until after the park is open for residents.

  24. The Roof Garden as proposed made little sense , instead it should be rethought so that it can have connections to every new building going up that is adjacent ,

  25. Didn’t the exact same thing happen with the Presidio freeway? They had to raise private donations to pay for the rooftop landscaping, and it was a similar amount of money, if I recall. I believe they succeeded in getting the money. Seems like it shouldn’t be too hard to do the same, what with there being even more rich people looking down on it.

  26. Not just a fiscal disaster, architecturally it will look like the blob that ate SOMA. This would have never been approved north of Market. But our supervisor doesn’t care.

  27. There are many things wrong with this project, but it really doesn’t have much to do with Ed Lee.

    The project is owned and run by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which has 6 members: 1 appointed by the Board of Supervisors; 1 appointed by AC Transit; 1 appointed by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board; 1 appointed by Caltrans; 1 appointed by the SF Mayor; and 1 appointed by the MTA (which is controlled by the SF Mayor). So Ed Lee has 2 out of 6 votes.

    The site was selected when Frank Jordan was mayor; the project lurched along through his administration and the 8 years of Willie Brown; 7 years of Gavin Newsom; and now Ed Lee. The developer was selected by the TJPA; the surrounding land was mostly Caltrans land which was transferred to the former SF Redevelopment Agency (a quasi city-state agency), which made the deals with the private developers.

    Since the demise of Redevelopment, the Redevelopment portfolio has been transferred to the Successor Agency, a city agency under state supervision. This is the one place the mayor has leverage that he isn’t using to force Boston Properties/Hines to perform.

  28. And the open space goes to…no one. Thank you SPUR. I can’t tell you how many times Gabriel Metcalf has said “if you build it “it” (open space) will come.”

    Way to go guys, millions of square feet of office and ZERO open space. Pull their damn permits until they figure out how to provide and pay for the “promised” open space.

    1. What permits? The open space is atop the TRANSIT facility, which is a public facility being built by the city. The office building was used to fund the transit facility, and there was no promise by the developer to pay to build any open space. Pulling permits would get the city (a) sued, (b) the permits reinstated by a court-order, and the (c) the city paying the legal fees of the developer.

      Also, why are we building a park on top of a transit facility–how many people will even use it? And, there are zero shortage of parks in the city where they actually make sense—in the residential neighborhoods and in highly trafficked public areas.

      Instead of blaming SPUR, how about you place the blame where it logically belongs–squarely on the screwed up San Francisco city government that constantly over-promises and under-delivers and now has to rob Peter to pay Paul. Then, you can place the blame on the ignorant SF voters who seem to elect the worst qualified individuals to govern the city almost every time they have a chance to vote.

      1. Agreed, the blame rests with the city government officials. The worst part is this design does not afford the interior daylight opportunities some of the other plans did (especially SOM’s) because the roof was to be a park, and not glass or open in places. Someone wrote above that the whole discussion amongst officials for wanting to select this design was because it was “giving” a park to this neighborhood. If the park was never going to happen, and the glass skin was not possible as well, this design would have NEVER been selected and we could be building a much better design (See image when you click on name).

  29. “Eventually”. Does “eventually” mean within the next 30 yaers? You might want to read yesterday’s online version of the Los Angeles Times. The proposed dates for Caltrain extension to Transbay and HSR are being pushed back to the point where it could exceed 25 years from now or more. Note that Southern Californians are gloating over the fact that their version of Transbay (Union Station) already has more subway and rail lines than our Transbay would even with HSR and Caltrain. Add to this the already funded and under construction additional rail, subway and bus stations at Union Station and you have to wonder why they are able to get things organized down there and we only get a bus station.

    1. “Eventually” will occur once the lawyers representing the NIMBY opposition determine that they have milked that particular revenue stream dry.

      There’s really no stopping SF-LA HSR. Even if the current incarnation of CAHSR is “killed dead”, another will rise in its place. HSR is just a matter of political will which will increase as fuel prices rise. But unfortunately so will the construction cost.

  30. I like that Representative DeLeon is forcing HSR to consider going back to the original design of “high speed” instead of using existing tracks that require trains to run below 40mph in many areas of the route. Remember , the big lawsuit is not from NIMBYS but from transit advocates who are worried of daytime journey times in excess of how long it would take to drive. The new “blended” rail plan is not what voters wanted, they want “high speed”.

    1. Transit advocates opposing the blended plan are either dupes or stooges. Most HSR began life as a blended systems. It allows service to come up and running quickly and cheaper. Then later they can be incrementally improved as new HSR trackway segments parallel to the conventional tracks are brought online.

      I understand the outrage about paying for full HSR but getting blended initially. That should be directed towards voting certain politicians out of office and firing those involved in creating the underestimates. But CAHSR should not be blamed for the millions hoovered up by the frivolous lawsuits.

  31. The lawsuit is by Quentin Kopp who was one of the people responsible for originally getting HSR going, he was one of the authors of the legislation! Can you provide any links showing that the blended system was the original plan, or that it will be phased out, because I have never seen this? Kopp is in court because he wants dedicated HSR tracks especially here in the Bay Area. 5 hour trip times to L.A. at a fare cost triple airfare and more than four times the cost of driving (on average) are not going to get people to take the train.

    There is nothing wrong with people demanding the system they voted for. Show me any reasonable link explaining when trip times on HSR will actually be “high speed”. Nobody can even forecast a date for when trains will come to Transbay at this point.

    1. I can’t forecast a date of when the blended tracks would be replaced with HSR but will predict that building a blended system will get us there quicker than the current analysis paralysis. Dedicated tracks on the peninsula don’t make sense because there’s considerable synergy sharing both the tracks and platforms with caltrain.

      By the way I’m not saying that a blended system was part of the original HSR plans. Just saying that most HSR systems started out life as blended. The original TGV link between Paris and Lyon was only HSR between Bourg-du-Nowhere to Noplace-ville.

      Quentin Kopp might be opposing blended HSR as a face saving move. It was his baby after all.

  32. “Rail buffs argue that subsidies for passenger service simply offset the huge government support of highways and airways. The subsidies “level the playing field.” Wrong. In 2004, the Transportation Department evaluated federal transportation subsidies from 1990 to 2002. It found passenger rail service had the highest subsidy ($186.35 per thousand passenger-miles) followed by mass transit ($118.26 per thousand miles). By contrast, drivers received no net subsidy; their fuel taxes more than covered federal spending. Subsidies for airline passengers were about $5 per thousand miles traveled. (All figures are in inflation-adjusted year 2000 dollars.)”

    1. And since 2002? Perhaps you’re forgetting that the highway trust fund has been topped off from general tax revenues seven times since then?

      1. Also, most “rail buffs” know that long distance Amtrak trains are the most heavily subsidized form of travel – and not worthy of the subsidy. Get rid of that and give the money to regional rail. Unfortunately, flyover states love them some pork belly Amtrak.

    1. So you’re only counting federal dollars? Not surprising then. Most auto subsidies happen at the state/local level, unless you’re looking at indirect subsidies (foreign wars, etc).

  33. Naturally, it’s “funding” Amtrak, but “subsidizing” roads.

    Uh, the letters to the editor on your link speak for itself.
    “Sorry, but your ‘analysis’ is so obviously biased and unscientific, that I’m embarrassed for GGW that it’s in there. Doesn’t David A. screen this stuff before it goes up? He should have politely said to you, ‘sorry, this is only going to make GGW look real bad. I can’t publish it.’ Some person even took the time to dig up the Shoup sources and found the numbers in the article were WAY off. Somehow I am not surprised.

    1. So you have no response that your study is for federal money only, and only covers the years before the Highway Trust Fund emptied and started having to be topped up from the general fund each year? Awesome.

      And again – I am NOT a supporter of Amtrak. It’s a pork fest.

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