Construction on Loop Expected to Start though Opponents Appeal

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As the contractor is readying its shovels, a neighborhood group is appealing to temporarily stop construction of the Mission Bay Loop, a turn-around for light rail vehicles on the T-Third line. Contractor Mitchell Engineering has the go-ahead from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and construction is expected to be complete by the end of November, SFMTA spokeswoman Kelley McCoy said last month.

However, a neighborhood group calling itself Committee for the Re-evaluation of the T-line Loop is challenging the adequacy of the project’s environmental review in court. If the court sides with the group, then the Loop will be built elsewhere along the T-Third line. The group’s Attorney David Lanferman made a request on June 8 for an oral argument before the court in the First Appellate District of the California Court of Appeals.  The court has not yet set a date to hear the argument.

Lanferman says in a court brief that the SFMTA did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act or proceed as required by law when in 2014 it approved the Loop. City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s Office is defending the city’s effort to build the Loop. In a court brief, attorneys for his office said the Committee is claiming that the Loop “will cause permanent and irreparable environmental damage.” City attorneys said that claim is “unfounded.”

According to a legal brief filed by the city attorney’s office, “Muni operates 71.5 miles of standard gauge light rail tracks across six rail lines. Together, these trains operate next to schools, next to homes, and in commercial districts throughout the City, and have been part of the City’s urban fabric for over 100 years. In carrying more than 175,000 passengers per day, Muni light rail vehicles help improve the environment by keeping a substantial number of cars off the street, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollutants.”

One business has concerns though, that construction of the Loop will exacerbate traffic and parking challenges and pose a threat to the health of preschoolers. “Our outdoor playspace and classrooms run close to the corner of 19th and Illinois Street,” Mimi Kawakami Kloster, director of Potrero Kids at Third Street, said. “There will be substantial work done to put in rail tracks on 19th Street, which we anticipate will cause a lot of noise in the immediate area. It will be very difficult for our children to have leisurely playtime in addition to soothing nap times during the construction. We also have many students with heightened asthma and allergies to dust that may be triggered during construction.”

Kloster also expects that during and after construction, the already limited parking area will decrease, making it more difficult and expensive for her employees to work at the preschool, many of whom already have to park in paid lots in order to get to work on time. It is also problematic for parents to pick up their children on time when there is a Giants’ game, which Kloster anticipates will worsen because of the Loop’s additional stop lights at the intersections of 19th and Illinois streets and 18th and Illinois streets.

Members of the Committee calling for a reevaluation of the Loop, such as William Schwartz, said that it makes more sense to build the Loop elsewhere. He said so many changes have happened in the Dogpatch neighborhood since the SFMTA approved the location in 1999.

“The changes have been extreme,” Schwartz said. “And there are much better locations for this Loop.” He believes that the location at 18th, 19th and Illinois streets is a residential neighborhood and the trains will disrupt residents’ lives.  With game day traffic at the ballpark and the additional traffic that is anticipated once the Warror’s stadium is built nearby, Schwartz is worried about how congested the area will become.

“We feel the court has not taken into consideration the full significance of our argument,” he said.

SFMTA spokeswoman Adrienne Heim said the Loop should benefitcial to everyone. “We’re essentially doubling the service on the T-Third line,” she said. Service to the Bayview will increase to seven to eight minutes during peak travel hours and service between Mariposa Street and Chinatown will increase to every three to four minutes during peak periods. “It’s a real benefit for everyone involved,” Heim said.