San Francisco, California/Third Street Light Rail Project Phase 1

Printer Friendly Version

Third Street Light Rail Project Phase 1

San Francisco, CA

(November 1999)

(click here for map)


The San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) has proposed implementing a 7.1 mile light rail transit (LRT) line and maintenance facility in the heavily transit-dependent Third Street corridor in eastern San Francisco. The primary purposes of the Third Street Light Rail Project are to accommodate existing and forecasted transit ridership with greater reliability, comfort, and speed, and to facilitate economic development opportunities along the corridor. The proposed project would operate on the surface from the Caltrain Bayshore Station at the San Francisco County line to the south, connect to the existing LRT system in downtown San Francisco via Third Street, and extend into a subway terminating in Chinatown. The project would provide regional connections to BART and CalTrain at multimodal stations. Third Street Light Rail operations would include exclusive (subway) as well as semi-exclusive (street median) rights-of-way, using MUNI's existing high floor light rail vehicles.

Capital costs for the complete Third Street Light Rail Project total $1.38 billion (escalated dollars), to be constructed in two phases. Phase 1, which is evaluated in this profile, is a 5.4 mile minimum operable segment (MOS), which would operate as a surface extension of the J-Church MUNI Metro line between the Market Street Subway and the Bayshore CalTrain Station. The estimated capital cost for the MOS is $500.1 million (escalated dollars). Phase 2, the New Central Subway, would extend the line underground to a terminal in Chinatown, and is estimated to cost $876.1 million (escalated dollars) to construct.

Summary Description

Proposed Project:

Light rail line (MOS)

5.4 miles, 19 stations

Total Capital Cost ($YOE):

Section 5309 New Starts Share:

$500.1 million


Annual Operating Cost ($2003):

$5.0 million

Ridership Forecast (2015):

80,100 avg. weekday boardings

2,000 daily new riders

FY 2001 Financial Rating:


FY 2001 Project Justification Rating:


FY 2001 Overall Project Rating:


The overall project rating of Recommended is based on the strong transit supportive land use policies in place along the corridor, and the adequate local financial commitment to construct the project. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.


In October 1996, FTA authorized the initiation of Preliminary Engineering and the preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIS/DEIR) on the Third Street corridor. In November 1997, MUNI began Preliminary Engineering for Phase 1 of the light rail alignment as well as the Metro East Maintenance Facility. In June 1998, the San Francisco Public Transportation Commission (SFPTC), which governs MUNI, designated a 2-phase light rail project as the Locally Preferred Alternative. A Record of Decision on Phase I of the project was issued in April 1999. MUNI anticipates being ready to advance into final design in early 2000.

Phase I of the Third Street Light Rail project is included in the regionís long-range plan. The complete 7.1 mile project would leverage approximately $560 million in federal funds with over $800 million in state and local resources. The SFCTA is currently pursuing the inclusion of the full Third Street Light Rail Project in the regional transportation plan.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(79) authorizes the San Francisco Bayshore Corridor for final design and construction. To date, no Section 5309 New Starts funds have been appropriated for this project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA's Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. Criteria are presented only for the 5.4-mile Phase 1 MOS. In agreement with FTA, the project is not evaluating separate No Build and TSM alternatives; these have been merged into a single alternative for the purposes of the environmental analysis. As a result, New Start criteria are reported for the comparison of the New Start (Phase 1) to the TSM alternative, and not for the comparison to the No Build alternative. N/A indicates that data are not available for a specific measure.

The project is rated as being in preliminary engineering. The project will be re-evaluated when it is ready to advance into final design.


The Medium project justification rating reflects the strong the transit supportive land use policies in place along the corridor and the projectís anticipated mobility improvements, but notes the projectís poor cost-effectiveness in terms of attracting new riders to the transit system.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium-High

The Phase 1 3rd Street LRT would serve 80,100 average weekday boardings and carry 2,000 daily new riders. MUNI estimates that Phase 1 would result in the following annual travel time savings.



Mobility Improvements

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours)


1.3 million

Based on 1990 census data, there are an estimated 5,988 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the MOS corridor, representing 16 percent of all households located within ½ mile of the corridor.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

The San Francisco Area is a maintenance area for ozone, and in attainment for carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. MUNI estimates that in 2015, Phase 1 would result in the following reductions in emissions.


Criteria Pollutant

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Carbon Monoxide (CO)



Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)



Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)



Particulate Matter (PM10)



Carbon Dioxide (CO2)



Values reflect annual tons of emissions reductions.

MUNI estimates that in 2015, Phase 1 would result in the following increase in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units - BTU).


Annual Energy Savings

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

BTU (million)



Values in [ ] indicate an increase in BTUs.

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

MUNI estimates that systemwide operating costs per passenger mile remain constant when comparing Phase 1 to the TSM alternative.




New Start

System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2015)




Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Low

MUNI estimates the following cost effectiveness index.


New Start vs.


New Start vs.


Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger



Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: High

The High rating reflects the urban character of the corridor and the successful efforts of local agencies in encouraging transit supportive development.

Existing Conditions: The 3rd Street light rail project serves a very dense regional CBD (over 220,000 jobs in a 1.25 square mile area) as well as medium- to high-density (14 to 29 units per acre) urban residential neighborhoods with integrated commercial uses. The proposed project will also serve some industrial areas, several of which are being developed for various residential, commercial, and entertainment uses. A new major league baseball stadium is currently under construction near the northern terminus of the MOS. Neighborhoods throughout the corridor are pedestrian-scaled and walkable. Parking is extremely limited in the CBD and throughout the north end of the MOS. Existing zoning regulations are supportive of moderate- to high-density, transit-oriented development throughout the corridor.

Future Plans and Policies: San Franciscoís General Plan has long encouraged higher-density transit- and pedestrian-oriented development. The city is currently preparing detailed plans for redevelopment areas of the corridor, including specific plans for the Mission Bay and Bayview - Hunters Point communities. In addition, urban design guidelines were recently completed for the Phase I corridor. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) has special powers to facilitate development, including land acquisition, land assembly, and tax increment financing.

Other Factors

Economic Development: One of the primary goals of the 3rd Street LRT project is to serve as a catalyst for the redevelopment of economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, including the Bayview/Hunters Point community. Concurrently with the light rail planning process, the SFRA is working with residents to produce a Revitalization Concept Plan to serve as the framework for the physical and economic redevelopment of the community.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 New Starts Share of Total Project Costs: 100%

The current financial plan for the Phase I MOS project does not include Section 5309 New Starts funds. The plan proposes $51.1 million (10 %) in Federal Section 5309 Rail Modernization and Surface Transportation Program resources; $90.1 million (18 %) in State funding; $351.8 million (70 %) in local Proposition B revenues; and $8 million (2 %) in private contributions. MUNI is proposing the use of $512.3 million in New Starts funding for implementing Phase II of the project.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the high level of local capital funding committed to the Phase 1 project at this stage of development.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: The capital financial condition of MUNI is considered strong. Dedicated Proposition B sales tax revenues administered through the San Francisco County Transportation Authority are projected at $779 million through 2010 to address capital needs.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Capital costs for the Phase I project are reasonable and include adequate contingencies.

Existing and Committed Funding: All proposed Proposition B funding --- covering 70 percent of project costs --- is committed to the Phase 1 project. $25 of existing State Transportation Improvement Program funding is also considered committed.

New and Proposed Sources: MUNI is proposing the use of $30 million in revenues from a proposed State Rail Bond Program. The proposed program is currently a bill in the state legislature. MUNI is further proposing the use of $8 million of as yet identified developer contribution and/or other private revenue to complete the financing for the Phase 1 3rd Street LRT. These private funds would be used to purchase the 10 additional light rail vehicles required by 2015.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium rating reflects the City of San Franciscoís increasing financial support for operation of the MUNI system.

Agency Operating Condition: Little recent information on the agencyís overall operating financial condition was provided by MUNI. In the past, FTA has found MUNIís condition to be

adequate, and the City has been increasing its financial support for the agency. MUNI has significant experience operating an urban rail system.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Implementation of Phase 1 of the 3rd Street LRT would result in a net increase of $5.0 million to systemwide operating costs. This increase represents a one percent increase in MUNIís systemwide operating budget.

Existed and Committed Funding: MUNI projects a 33 percent farebox recovery for the 3rd Street LRT. Local legislation passed in November 1999 (Proposition E) ensures that operating cost increases associated with current and expanded MUNI services will be met by a baseline budget adjustment (resulting in increased annual appropriations) from the San Francisco General Fund. Proposition E also transfers the administration of City parking revenues to a Municipal Transportation Agency, which is to include MUNI. These revenues are also available to fund MUNI system operations.

New and Proposed Sources: No new sources of operating funding are being proposed by MUNI.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)


Proposed Source of Funds

Total Funding ($million)


Appropriations to Date

  Section 5309 New Starts

Section 5309 Rail Mod





($0 in Section 5309 funds appropriated through FY 2000)

State Rail Bond Program



  Proposition B Sales Tax

Developer Contribution






NOTE: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.


Third Street LRT Project- Phase 1 (map)