Central Subway Project History

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Project History

During the first half of the 20th century, streetcars traveled up and down "Three Street," shuttling customers between downtown and points along the Bayshore Corridor. As the primary mode of transportation into and out of this area, this streetcar line helped spur the development of the Bayshore communities that exist today. Now, decades later, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), the City of San Francisco and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) are completing the Third Street Light Rail Project to reestablish rail service along this vibrant corridor.

The southeastern part of San Francisco has long been recognized as underserved by high-capacity transit. In the late 1980s an extensive planning process was undertaken by the SFCTA to prioritize transit corridors in the City. SFCTA officials identified four corridors in need of enhanced transit service and prioritized them as follows:

  1. 3rd Street
  2. Chinatown as an extension of the 3rd Street Corridor
  3. Geary Boulevard
  4. Van Ness Avenue

Prioritization of the 3rd Street Corridor was influenced by considerations of environmental justice and socioeconomic factors. The areas along the 3rd Street Corridor are home to lower-income and more transit-dependent residents than Geary and Van Ness. The disruption of access to Chinatown resulting from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was also a factor in the prioritization process.

In 1993 the Bayshore Transit Study reaffirmed the need for improved transit in these areas. The result, after years of planning, environmental review and construction, was Phase 1 of the Third Street Light Rail Project, the T Third Line.

Construction on the T Third Line, a surface-running light-rail line from Visitacion Valley to the 4th Street Caltrain station, began in 2001. The line opened to the public in April 2007, serving as a key infrastructure improvement to help support the revitalization of communities along the 3rd Street corridor. It directly serves Mission Bay, one of San Francisco’s largest redevelopment projects, and Bayview/Hunters Point, where 10,000 new housing units are planned for the old Naval Shipyard and the former Schlage Lock Factory redevelopment site.

The Central Subway Project has been included in local and regional financial plans, as well as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Regional Transit Expansion Program (RTEP), as Phase 2 of the Third Street Light Rail Transit Project.

A consensus was reached to support the Central Subway as a Bay Area priority for future federal New Starts funding. In 2002 the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approved the Central Subway Project for preliminary engineering. During the preliminary engineering phase, the SFMTA proposed shifting the project alignment in SoMa from 3rd Street to 4th Street to better address mobility and transit deficiencies in northeastern San Francisco. This change was eventually adopted.

In 2005 the environmental review process for the Central Subway Project began. More than 100 public meetings were held before the project received environmental clearance from the FTA in November 2008.

Since then, the project has continued to receive strong local, state and federal support, and the design process has continued to progress. In 2010 work to relocate utility lines commenced at the future site of the Yerba Buena/Moscone Station. Similar work began in 2011 to prepare the site where the Union Square/Market Street Station will be built.  For more information about key moments in the project since construction began, check out Project Milestones.