Delayed T-Third loop project still has future

Despite years of delays, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency plans to complete the Mission Bay Loop project, which would allow the transit agency to turnaround T-Third trains on Illinois Street between 18th and 19th streets.

The Mission Bay Loop would be particularly important when there are service delays, gaps in service, bunching of trains or special events, said SFMTA transportation director Ed Reiskin.

The turnaround had always been a part of the T-Third service plan since federal and local transit officials approved the T-Third rail project in 1999, yet the project stalled due to a lack of funding and phased-in buildout of  T-Third infrastructure.

Reiskin said the loop was partially built during the construction of the first phase of the T-Third, which opened in 2007, but was never completed. Now the transit agency has the opportunity to finish the project before the Central Subway opens for service in 2019.

Reiskin said the loop would help the transit agency better manage the T-Third line and allow for more flexibility of the rail line:

“It provides a short line that will enable us to increase the frequency more so in the areas that have the highest density while making sure we can properly serve the entire T-Third line as well.”

The T-Third has received criticism from Muni riders over the last few years because of switchbacks and long commute rides from downtown to the Southeast part of The City.

Reiskin said the transit agency has made improvements to the rail line by fixing the traffic signal issues along the route and at Fourth and King streets — a known bottleneck area for the T-line.

The transit agency is also expecting 24 new light-rail trains specifically for the Central Subway.

The added trains will help increase the frequency of service on the T-Third and the loop will help “”intensify” service between Third and Mariposa streets and Chinatown — an area expected to grow in the next few years with residential, retail and new jobs, said Reiskin.

The SFMTA projects trains to run every nine minutes between the loop and Chinatown and improve over time to four minutes by 2030.

Service frequency further south of Mission Bay is also projected to start also around nine minutes, but expected to improve by five minutes, said Reiskin.

More than a decade has now passed since the completion of the environmental review of the T-Third line and a lot has changed since then with new residential and retail development. Not to mention the proposed Warriors stadium planned in the Mission Bay neighborhood.

Residents and Supervisor Malia Cohen, whose district surrounds the T-Third line, had concerns over the environmental report and whether or not Illinois Street between 18th and 19th streets was still an ideal location for the loop.

Cohen questioned whether the environmental report included the recent development and growth in the Mission Bay neighborhood since the last assessment of the project was more than a decade ago.

Reiskin said at a hearing with City supervisors Monday at the Land Use and Economic Development committee that the transit agency completed an updated Environmental Assessment with the Federal Transit Administration of the loop project, which issued a finding of no significant impacts in a letter dated June 30, 2013.

Dogpatch resident Bill Schwartz said the transit agency should reconsider the loop location to the Muni Metro East facility so that trains would also be able to serve Dogpatch before they turn around. The facility is on Illinois and 25th streets.

Schwartz said moving the location of the loop would move it away from a residential neighborhood and provide more transit service to a “booming” area of Dogpatch.

Reiskin said because of the federal transit funds tied to the project, the transit agency cannot change any aspects of the project. The SFMTA also has a deadline to use the federal funds for project by Sept. 2018.

He also said the facility, which is used as a maintenance and storage facility, presented operational challenges for trains to turn around and could result in slower and costly service.

The SFMTA board plans to award a contract to complete construction of the loop sometime in the late summer or early fall. Construction could begin within a year and completed before the Central Subway opens for service in 2019, said Reiskin.

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