The shovels were lined up in a tidy row. Not the kind that do any work -- the kind that bureaucrats swing for those ceremonial groundbreakings.
This time, however, their symbolic meaning carried a bit of extra truism because San Francisco has a lot of digging ahead. As in $2 billion worth.
The ceremonial tossing of the dirt kicked off official construction on the Central Subway Project, which really began earlier this week.
Crews have begun the very unglamorous job of relocating utilities, which doesn’t look nearly as cool as a bunch of suits tossing dirt with fancy shovels.
One by one, the speakers said it was a “great day for San Francisco” and how the new system was going to ease congestion along Chinatown’s Stockton Street.
“[The] Stockton corridor is one of the most congested corridors in the city,” said SFMTA Director Nathaniel Ford. “This will be a welcome relief in the next few years.”
In reality, it will be about eight years before you should ever worry about breaking out the Fast Pass for that underground trip to Chinatown.
The project will link up with the Third Street light-rail line at the Caltrain Depot at Fourth and King Streets. It will run down Fourth Street and drop underground around Folsom. There will be stations at Moscone Center, Union Square and end in Chinatown near Stockton and Washington Streets.
Raymond Hung’s photo shop sits on Stockton Street where crews will begin boring underground in a couple of years. As far as opinions on the project went, Hung was riding the fence.
“It was a good idea I think, but good idea always have two sides,” said Hung, who is not a diplomat. “One in good and one in bad.”
On the bad side, he worries the construction will hurt business. On the good, he hopes it will bring more locals back to Chinatown.
“The local people don’t come to Chinatown anymore,” he said. “The parking is too expensive.”
Chinatown resident Mark Kim was picking up a new batch of photos in Hung’s shop. He said the sidewalks of Stockton Street are so congested, he mostly just walks in the road. Even so, he didn’t think the subway made much sense.
“It’s a big waste of money and it’s going to inconvenience a lot of people,” said Kim. “The money could frankly go to other aspects of the city.”
The project still faces a few key hurdles, like who’s going to pay for it. Although the City has gotten a commitment of federal and state money, the checks aren’t exactly in the mail. But SFMTA director Nathaniel Ford said the agency has already secured the biggest part of the funding.
Still with Muni facing layoffs, fare increases and further service cuts, some wonder about the logic of digging a subway below existing bus lines.
“There’s a whole long list of things that could make [Muni] better that are not being done because all the attention and money being poured into this one poorly conceived subway that’s not going to be much benefit to anybody," said Gerald Cauthen of the group Save Muni.
But with the prospect of cruising from South of Market to Chinatown in 10 minutes, many riders will be quick convert -- even if they may qualify for a senior discount by the time it’s done.