When Will the S.F. Transit Center Reopen? It Will Be Weeks Before We Have a Date

A view of the top of the Salesforce Transit Center from 21st floor of 201 Mission St., where the Transbay Joint Powers Authority has its offices. (Chloe Veltman/KQED)

Transbay Transit Center officials said Tuesday it will be weeks before they can offer an estimate about when the facility -- shut down for a month after workers discovered fractures in steel beams -- will reopen.

Mark Zabaneh, chief of the agency that oversaw the $2.2 billion center's construction, told a meeting of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority board that resumption of service hinges on the results of tests trying to determine why two beams in the structure cracked.

"By mid-November, we should get the test results back, and at that point in time, we'll be able to share with you what type of repair will be needed and how long it will take to do," Zabaneh said.

The flawed structural steel is under study by experts retained by Zabaneh's Transbay Joint Powers Authority and a peer-review panel set up by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Zabaneh offered no new details about the cracked beams, but acknowledged that the project's multi-tiered inspection process had failed.

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"It's a very unfortunate incident. We're very disappointed it happened," Zabaneh said. "... We did have a good quality-control plan in place at four levels. Unfortunately, it didn't work."

The center's closure has forced AC Transit, Muni and other bus agencies to relocate their operations to a temporary terminal at Folsom and Beale streets.

After Zabaneh spoke, his agency was the subject of what amounted to a vote of no confidence by the Transportation Authority board.

The board, which is made up of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors, voted to withhold $9.7 million in funds already promised to the TJPA to allow it to continue with preliminary planning of a long-dreamed-of rail extension from Caltrain's Fourth and Townsend station to the new transit center. The vote was 10-0, with Supervisor Ahsha Safai absent.

The board's resolution, offered by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, would hold up the funding pending a review of the agency's management.

Peskin said in an interview Wednesday the review is necessary because of a long string of problems involving the transit center. He noted that the transit center is about $800 million over budget, was finished more than a year behind schedule and that the joint powers agency is now the target of a $150 million lawsuit filed by the project's principal contractor.

Those problems and others, including the Sept. 25 discovery of cracked beams in the sprawling structure, raise doubts about the TJPA's competence and its ability to handle the downtown rail extension.

"The organization that developed the Transbay Terminal is out of its depth, out of its league and needs a new governance structure," Peskin said. "I think it's time to rethink this to make sure we have an organization that can actually deliver a remarkably complex project."

The downtown rail extension has been discussed for decades, and planning has been underway for several years. The city's preferred project involves building a rail tunnel along the Caltrain right-of-way from near 22nd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue -- just east of Potrero Hill -- to Fourth and Townsend and then to the transit center at First and Mission. The estimated cost is about $6 billion.

While the Transportation Authority board embraced Peskin's resolution, Tuesday's meeting heard from several transit advocates who objected that holding up planning for the project now could delay its completion well beyond the currently projected date of 2027.

Ron Miguel, who chaired the city's Rail Alignment and Benefits Study that looked at alternatives for the downtown extension, said he recognized the need for a review of the TJPA. But he and others said it's crucial that the review be conducted quickly.

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"I would not like to see this project derailed -- that's an understatement," Miguel said. "I'd like to see it start up again in six months -- not in three years."

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