Supes freeze funds for Transbay Terminal

Nearly $6.8 million in funding for the second phase of the Transbay Transit Center project was put on hold this week as supervisors demanded more information about potential costs and liability from the sinking Millennium Tower.

San Francisco supervisors, acting as the San Francisco County Transportation Authority board, voted 7 to 3 Tuesday to withhold nearly $6.8 million in Proposition K sales tax funding for design work on the transit center’s second phase.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who introduced the motion to hold the funding, said significant questions remained over the project’s alignment, impact on neighboring properties and other issues.

The Transbay Transit Center project’s first phase, a six-story building and hub for Bay Area bus systems at First and Mission streets that began work in 2010, already has a history of cost overruns. The Board of Supervisors most recently voted in May to approve a $260 million bailout loan and increased city oversight for the project after overruns increased the budget from $1.6 billion in 2010 to $2.3 billion.

The second phase, which is not yet fully funded, is expected to eventually extend both Caltrain and the California High Speed Rail system from Fourth and King streets to the station.

Peskin said this week:

“Quite frankly, when we go into Phase Two we should go into it with our eyes wide open.”

Questions remain as well about potential costs connected to the Millennium Tower, a 58-story high rise neighboring the Transbay Transit Center project site, supervisors said.

The tower, completed in 2009, has sunk 16 inches so far, well beyond its projected lifetime settlement, and developers have blamed groundwater pumping at the transit center site for the problem. The authority, in turn, has blamed the developers for building an inadequate foundation.

Mark Zabaneh, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority’s interim director, warned that withholding the design funds could kill momentum for the downtown rail extension.

Supervisors Katy Tang and Scott Wiener were among those voting against the postponement, with Tang arguing that the authority could not reasonably answer many of the board’s questions until it completed additional design work.

Wiener said before the vote:

“They’re not asking for the moon.”

The board is expected to review the funding issue again after obtaining more information from authority officials at a meeting next month.

The first phase of the transit center project is expected to be completed in December of 2017, according to Zabaneh.