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Originally expected to cost $1.6 billion, the budget to build San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center was raised to $2.1 billion two months ago.  And yesterday, transportation officials warned that the expected budget to complete the project should be raised by at least another $48 million, and possibly by as much as $244 million, as reported by the Chronicle.

The contract with the general contractor for the Transit Center doesn’t include a maximum price which could continue to grow and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA), which is in charge of the project, has been accused of displaying “a pattern of inaccurate estimates on contracts and overly optimistic assumptions.”

Keep in mind that the numbers above don’t include an additional $3 billion, and climbing, which will be required to extend the train tracks from Fourth and King to the Transit Center, the proposed timeline for which has been pushed-back from 2020 to 2024.

And in order to fund the ballooning budget for the Transit Center, the TJPA has already diverted a portion of the funds which had been dedicated to the downtown rail extension for Caltrain and High Speed Rail service and changed the skin of the terminal from glass to perforated aluminum.

San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center is currently slated to be operational, sans rail service, in late 2017.

56 thoughts on “Transbay Transit Center Budget Balloons Past $2 Billion”
      1. Actually referring to the park around the little cable-stayed offramp, but yes, there will be the Oscar Park nearby, too.

  1. So substantially more than the Fulton Center in NY that connects 10 subways lines.

    I wish they’d give up the fantasy that this will ever be anything more than a mall with a bus station inside. Caltrain is NEVER going there.

      1. She helped secure funds for the Central Subway, but only to reach Chinatown. If she had any real interest in our transit situation she should have pushed for the CS to North Beach and beyond.

          1. They certainly did bore all the way to North Beach, with zero provision for a future station at Washington Square (aka, a station shell) which clearly shows that there was no interest to ever extend the line past Chinatown. Same concern for the future Union Square station…no provision for a station on a future Geary rail line.

      2. Or we could just elect smarter politicians with better priorities. Considering San Francisco is about 80% democrat, there is not much pressure placed upon current board representatives

        1. We could but won’t. At the state and federal level the GOP will won’t even allow a transportation bill to be passed and don’t like public transit or even the suggestion the highway trust fund is underfunded and gas taxes or another source of taxes need to be raised

      1. That is literally (and I use the word carefully) negligent. It is literally (ditto) asinine, idiotic, and stupid. All of the time and work they had to put into planning this, and all the digging and tearing up of streets, and not one person in charge of making a design decision here said “Hey, let’s actually connect to other transit!”?

        *That* is what the easily-riled should be protesting and picketing and litigating over – not some few minutes’ extra shadow on a park here or there.

        1. there are plenty of train stations all across the globe where you need to walk a block or so to switch to another line, or another mode of transit / type of train. they work just fine. Now, if they never looked into connecting, OK, that’s dumb. But if they looked into it and found it not feasible, then it’s not the end of the world as folks can walk a block.

          1. You’re a fool if you spend billions of dollars to create a transit center and you don’t provide access to existing mass transit. It’s 2015 and transit riders shouldn’t just have to suck it up to walk a block outside to make a connection. The TTC should be connected to the Montgomery or Embarcadero stations via an underground tunnel which will be shorter in length than the Union Square/Powell connection of the Central Subway.

          2. And I’ll warrant that most of those train stations were build 100+ years ago, versus under construction today. And even then, I’ll warrant that they’re the exception, and/or are being remedied – in Boston, you’ve been able to walk over a block underground from Downtown Crossing to Park Street since at least the 1980s (and from the look of it then, from the early 1900s!), and in the 1990s Boston changed the Green Line North Station stop so that it was integrated with the North Station commuter rail – it used to be a separate elevated line above the commuter rail station. And for the Boston trifecta, several years ago they also moved the intercity bus terminal to a platform built above the tracks at South Station, so there’s now full intermodal connectivity there (bus, train, and subway). If Boston can do all that within the boundaries of its nearly 400 year old street grid, then surely we can dig a pedestrian tunnel one block under Main Street or First Street…

            So, yeah – unheard of to have disconnected transit? No. Idiotic to have disconnected transit for a newly-built “terminal” in the 21st century, being built a block from two separate rail-based transit systems? Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.

          3. @SJ: don’t forget, it took years of wrangling over the CS alignment to move it from 3rd to 4th St…and that was a huge sell to make that change. The fact that transit planners even came up with the concept of running it under 3rd (IB/OB split between 3rd and 4th south of Harrison) and twisting its way north of Market to Stockton (with ZERO connection to existing BART/MUNI at either Powell or Montgomery) is beyond comprehension. Seems like irrational planning is the norm in this town.

        2. Um guys, there has always been a plan for a ped tunnel to connect to Embarcadero Station.

          It’s part of phase 2, you know, when trains actually start coming to the Transbay Terminal.

          1. Why should it be part of phase 2? People coming off AC Transit busses won’t want to transfer to BART or Muni underground – only Caltrain or HSR passengers would transfer to BART or Muni underground? Fail.

          2. Um, guess again. Trains won’t be arriving at the TTC for at least another generation and the money likely earmarked for the ped tunnel in Phase 2 will be squandered on cost overruns. Once again, it amazes me what people in this town will settle for.

          3. Um, SierraJeff, the AC Transit buses are coming above ground, and the whole train box (the underground portion) isn’t even being finished until phase two. I think it would be fine to have a half-finished underground section in the meantime, but I don’t think it’s completely crazy for them to not be doing that.

          4. Soooo… people can’t have a convenient, traffic- and stoplight-free, weather-protected route from their bus to BART and Muni, because their bus is arriving above ground?

            If that’s seriously your best argument, then just stop there.

          5. Why not build an above ground walkway from the bus to BART?

            Look, I’m not really defending the city on this, I’m just saying that in the big scheme of things it’s not a big deal. When we actually need a direct connection, there is one planned. The walk now will be the same that it’s been for 50+ years from the old terminal as well as the current temporary one.

            My larger point is that this is just not a case of city or regional incompetence, as the Central Subway and BART to SJ are (the two worst transit projects in the country, by a loooong ways).

          6. anon – If you want to call out a project that is silly, BART to SJ is not one of them. That corridor will draw heavy use as you can see from the current congestion on I-880. And usage will get even higher once the link actually reaches San Jose instead of a barren parking lot on the outskirts of town.

            For a silly transit project, how about the Oakland Airport Connector? Expensive, unnecessary, and underutilized.

          7. BART to SJ is atrocious and silly. It may draw decent ridership, but that still doesn’t make it not silly. The Caltrain Dumbarton rail connection was the correct choice for this area. Even still, BART to SJ could have been less silly if it was not atrociously expensive per mile (costs more than new subway lines being built literally in the dead center of Tokyo) and/or if it would have actually been accompanied by some decent TOD. Instead, we’re getting a few 3-5 story apartment buildings at a couple stops, each with two parking spots per unit.

            You’re correct though, not as bad as the Oakland Airport Connector.

  2. Agree CalTrian never likely to go there. Also believe HSR will never go there. Cost overruns, time delays, opposition on Peninsula. It will ultimately go to Oakland instead.

    Maybe the lack of bids for parcel F is in part is because developers realize the original vision will never happen, or not in our lifetimes, and the plot is not worth that much.

    They already cut the stream from the park – could it eventually go altogether? Nothing would surprise me.

    1. Why in the world would we assume that building a station in Oakland would be cheaper. You are aware that the Bay Bridge east span (in Oakland) ended up costing $6.4 billion, originally estimated at $740 million?

    2. I don’t believe HSR can go to Oakland without another election and if we vote on it again it is dead. Also, nobody is going to Oakland so that would be a waste

      It would be a shame if Caltrain never made it to the transbay. This is the single best transit project in the Bay Area. All the money being wasted on BART to San Jose should be funding this but we are dysfunctional

    1. I’l bite…I do not think that word means what you think it means!

      The venerable Willie Brown said it best back in 2013: “News that the Transbay Terminal is something like $300 million over budget should not come as a shock to anyone. We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost. Just like we never had a real cost for the Central Subway or the Bay Bridge or any other massive construction project. So get off it. In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

          1. I think Willie Brown would disagree as well. This is a fairly common tactic in civic infrastructure projects. Having worked on them before, as the “private” half of a “private-public partnership” type project – its called getting the public agency “a little bit pregnant”. You get them to push enough money out the door on the front end that they’d be too embarrassed to do a 180 and stop the project. And since the average elected official has never heard of the principle of the sunk cost, and is way more concerned about getting to the ribbon cutting – its how you get these kind of deals off the ground.

            Willie is right – if the general public was ever told the realistic cost for these projects on the front end, nothing would ever get approved.

      1. The original Bay Bridge came in under budget, I believe. And was constructed, from design to drivability, in something like 5 years. (Authority established 1929, Naval approval of use of Yerba Buena in 1931; construction began in 1933 and the bridge opened in 1936.) We are a sad, sad shadow of our former selves, in terms of what we can do with transportation and infrastructure.

        1. Well, in fairness, the new east span came in at less than ten times budget. Keeping it within an order of magnitude is kind of a win.

  3. The world’s most expensive bus station and homeless shelter.
    Urban planning and execution at its worst. What a wasted opportunity.
    A decade from now we will regret it was ever built. The current “temporary” bus station works just fine.

  4. I’m sure it is more complicated but the design hasn’t changed all that much and things seem to be moving on schedule. Don’t the firms building these things have to give some sort of fixed bid? Not sure how you mismanage this to the tune of 25%. Considering the tub infrastructure of the facility is already in place its hard to believe that caltrain wouldn’t eventually find its way there at which point any high speed rail line would have a direct path making it an obvious destination. Oakland? No chance.

  5. Is anyone really surprised at the outcome given the Bay Area track record for completing massive projects like this one? Wiener’s recent a-ha moment about beefing up transit with additional subways should focus more on getting projects that have been promised to us, like the Caltrain extension, completed first. What happened to Christensen’s push last year for extending the Central Subway to the Wharf? That idea seems buried with the tunnel boring machines at the Pagoda site.

    Oakland gets dissed way too much on this site, and unfairly so most of the time. The Bay Area is comprised of 3 major cities, Oakland being one. HSR should connect all three. The best way to do that is run it from San Jose to Oakland and then in a tube to SF. The new tube could also carry another regional rail line for further expansion in SF and points east.

    1. I agree, San Francisco needs to get over itself! I have lived here for 10 years and really find nothing extraordinary about this City. For expensive living you get:

      Lousy Transportation
      Some of the worst maintained city streets in the country
      Dirty sidewalks
      The living dead (homeless addicts) creating filth everywhere
      Highest rate of vehicle thefts and break-ins
      Over-regulation by City government

      And yes – I am on my way out, enjoy your “transit” center — when it is finally completed in 2035!

      1. You also get citizens with wonderful personalities, like the hipster mustache 39 year old man child that almost killed that woman with his bike lock because she wouldn’t get out of the entitled cyclist’s way after he cut her off at a green light and riding the wrong direction.

    2. I don’t have any problem with Oakland, but some posters here seem to think that capital projects cost less in Oakland, which really isn’t true.

  6. Still WAY better, financially speaking, than the $4 billion World Trade subway stop that hasn’t opened yet. Although it is looking quite spectacular. Still, $4 billion….

  7. So all this was then is an excuse to upzone parcels, allow developers to make off like bandits, all at the expense of the taxpayer? A $2.5 billion+ bus stop? Really?

  8. I am surprised so many people are shocked that it takes $2bn to build a bus terminal in SF. Transit first, after all! Besides, land is so expensive you cannot just build ‘ordinary’ buildings anymore, you have to build luxury apartments and condos, ultra-modern offices and avant-garde government buildings, so naturally the bus terminal has to be constructed to the highest caliber money can buy. I do believe that after the terminal is completed, AC transit will have to purchase $5m red ferrari buses in order to keep the expensive look up.

  9. At least Los Angeles is creating a regional transit hub where subway, train and future high speed rail lines will all intersect within and directly underneath their “Union Station” regional hub. When completed, 4 subway lines and over 20 rail lines will be accessible within one station. The station “master plan” preserves the historic architecture of the original station while adding a large multi-platform modern terminal that serves train, bus and subway traffic.

    1. So true. After decades of inducing sprawl on the region, LA has wised up to the error of its ways. Sadly, the Bay Area has not.

      1. Non-snark question: was there ever such a thing as a “regional hub” in the Bay Area?
        Amtrak gets you to Emeryville or Jack London. Seriously the closest we have right now is Millbrae.

        And as compelling as that rooftop park looked on paper, I wish someone from TJPA could explain to me why Caltrain linking was a second-order priority over it.

        1. The original transportation hub of San Francisco was at the ferry building location. In addition to ferries to Oakland, Sacramento, etc, as early as 1870s the transcontinental railroad terminated there (photo with some history at namelink).

          FWIW, there wasn’t much of a region to hub until the population growth that coincided with the automobile. At the time of the 1906 quake, half the population of the bay area lived in San Francisco and a third of the rest lived in Oakland-Berkeley. So the ferry building was as much of a regional hub as was needed for a long time. It connected to what used to be a much larger streetcar network.

          The old Transbay Terminal was built as a kind of commuter hub. Trains from the east bay used the lower deck of the Bay Bridge and the old elevated ramps to bring in commuters from Oakland-Berkeley. From the Transbay Center website (

          “The Terminal was designed to handle as many as 35 million people annually with a peak 20-minute rate of 17,000 commuters. Ten car trains arrived every 63.5 seconds. In its heyday at the end of World War II, the terminal’s rail system served 26 million passengers annually. After the war ended and gas rationing was eliminated, the Terminal’s use began to steadily decline to a rate of four to five million people traveling by rail per year.”

          Car culture killed that in the late 1950s. Since then all the bridge capacity and the freeways allowed folks to live in suburbia and drive into SF. The conversion of the Santa Clara valley from mostly farmland to the other major job center in the bay area is all in the car age and built for cars. So, it never had a hub, but it does have an axis: 101. The private-car-as-personal-transport-hub system scaled until the Bay Bridge and 101 in the heart of silicon valley both reached saturation around the late 1980s. Since then BART has about doubled in ridership into the SF CBD and commute times/distances have increased for most of the region. Now BART is nearing capacity.

          It is not clear that SF or LA need regional multi-modal hubs. Probably both would do better with a network containing a few well-connected nodes like the DC metro. The appropriate hub for the valley is a router or more realistically PAIX and other Internet exchanges.

    2. That’s why it’s so silly when boosters say Transbay will be the “Grand Central of the West.” The West already has a Grand Central; it’s in LA and it’s called Union Station.

      1. The Grand Central of the West comparison is particularly silly considering that just 50 miles south San Jose’s station continues to and will always serve more trains than SF.

      2. Call it whatever you want, but LA’s Union Station has about the same ridership as the Montgomery BART station. SF has more need for a central modal hub than LA because it has a much higher percentage of jobs within walking distance of a hub than does LA.

        FWIW, in the city of Los Angeles has 11% of working residents commute to work by transit. While, the city of San Francisco has 33% of working residents commute to work by transit. Los Angeles County has ~4.3 million workers, of which ~310k commute via transit. The combined counties of SF, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin have less than half as many workers as LA County, but more commute via transit. Which region is ahead on transit?

        LA is about where the Bay area was a generation or two ago. Nice to see them making relatively trivial steps, but they are unlikely to ever catch up to even the much maligned SF MUNI/BART/Caltrain amalgam.

        The key to any large increase in transit in the Bay Area is a second BART tube and more BART and/or MUNI subway stations in the SF CBD, not a central hub.

        1. That’s a good point about the need for a hub. It does seem more symbolic than pragmatic. A better network is what we really need.

  10. San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center – with no connection to the Caltrain or HSR until 2024 – 9 years – at the soonest for a connection. The farce is amazing.

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