Proposals to demolish the final 1.2-mile northern stretch of Interstate-280 as part of the development of a new Caltrain station at Mission Bay have been nixed, at least for the moment.
The suggestions were floated two years ago as municipal planners studied ways to get trains to the new Transbay Transit Center at Mission and Second streets. Noting that such a decision could stand for the next 100 years, designers believed it prudent to evaluate a multitude of track routing options based on how Potrero Hill, South of Market, Showplace Square and Mission Bay might change.
Under the latest version of what’s been dubbed the Railyard Alternatives and I-280 Boulevard Feasibility Study (RAB), a simpler solution has been reached. Trains will go underground at a new 25th Street tunnel and travel under Pennsylvania Avenue to the existing Fourth and King streets station. From there an underground connection to the Transit Center has already been approved. A passageway wouldn’t have been possible where the tracks are now without removing the columns supporting I-280.
Putting the tracks underground removes the need to make planning decisions above ground, such as trenching issues, highway removal and whether to route the train through Mission Bay. Ron Miguel, chair of the study’s Citizen Working Group (CWG), believes Caltrain, as well as Bay Area Rapid Transit, may ultimately extend to Mission Bay, but that decision can be made at a later date. “Nothing we are conceiving of doing would interfere with that,” he said.
It has yet to be determined whether the existing 22nd Street Station would remain a stop or be replaced with another Dogpatch station.
According to Miguel, there was complete consensus on the CWG that further consideration of the I-280 takedown and Mission Bay re-route would only complicate and slow their mission, which is to get trains Downtown in an expeditious manner. “Taking down freeways in San Francisco has always been a major topic of conversation,” he said, adding it was all people talked about when the RAB was discussed in public.
Miguel added that aboveground options would’ve proved problematic over time. The Bay Area is expected to experience a 41 percent population increase over the next 50 years; Southside San Francisco will be the fastest growing City area. “If you increase the number of trains going along that surface route now and you increase the number of cars per train,” he said, traffic issues will compound wherever there are street crossings. Those intersections would’ve been at 16th Street and at Seventh Street and Mission Bay Drive, two main pathways to Mission Bay, and would’ve required managing bike, pedestrian and car traffic across the train tracks.
Further study also determined that a Mission Bay station wouldn’t be as utilized as the current one at Fourth and King.
Planners have yet to decide what to do with the railyard abutting that station. The land is owned by Catellus Land and Development Corporation, Prologis Logistics Services Inc., and Prologis 4th and King LLC, with Caltrain having an operational easement on top of it. Caltrain requires that a storage yard be within 10 minutes of the Transit Center; that could place it as far as South San Francisco. Assuming an alternative location can be worked out with Caltrain, RAB planners are considering housing, commercial development or open space for the 20-acre railyard parcel.
The tracks will eventually serve high speed rail connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, estimated to be complete in 2027. Caltrain is also undergoing a $1.7 billion track electrification, allowing trains to start and stop faster and carry more cars.
The tunnel is expected to cost $6 billion and take nine years to complete. The underground connection from Fourth and King to the Transit Center is estimated to cost another $4 billion. Neither is funded yet. The Transit Center is slated to open for bus service in August.
City planners are also studying the feasibility of a second transbay tube under San Francisco Bay that, at minimum, would serve high speed rail and provide shorter Caltrain access to Sacramento. They aren’t currently contemplating connecting it to Oakland.