Porkmistress Pelosi

Madam Speaker says she wants to tame pork-barrel spenders. Takes one to know one.

What's left is a project that exists merely to exist.

"What is the role of capital investment in a transit system?" writes Matoff, transportation planner for LTK Engineering Services. "It should represent either an opportunity to reduce operating expenses, or represent the most efficient way of bringing better service to additional markets. As proposed, this project does not appear to do [either]."

According to Matoff (who didn't wish to comment for this story), the project understates what it will cost to run the subway line, and exaggerates how much time passengers might save by using the proposed subway. In addition, in order to cut costs, the proposed line places boarding stations far away from where passengers most need them.

The project was originally touted as serving the city's southeastern neighborhoods by helping the new Third Street light rail line link with the rest of the region's transit lines. But recent re-engineering has erased that benefit: Commuters from the Bayview will have to walk a third of a mile from the proposed line to BART at Market Street, the Matoff report says. The current Central Subway plan "will kill the transfer opportunity for any practical purpose, and makes this concept completely unacceptable," Matoff notes.

He cites another vanished rationale — helping complete the city's transit grid: "One of the original concepts that made the Central Subway 'Central' was the proposed joint use of the infrastructure by both the Third Street and future Geary light rail lines. That feature, should it prove workable, seems to have completely disappeared."

The project may even harm commuters who are well served by the bus system, Matoff writes. Construction of the Central Subway will disrupt the numbers 30 and 45 Muni electric bus lines, which carry 40,000 passengers per day.

In a press conference three months ago, Muni bureaucrats floated the idea that the subway might one day carry passengers all the way to North Beach and through to the Presidio, turning what is now a proposed boondoggle into a major transit line. But a recent round of downsizing made boarding areas and other facilities so small that any theoretical expanded ridership would have nowhere to go.

Matoff closes his report by noting that the Central Subway's purported goal of hastening San Franciscans' trips through Downtown and Chinatown could be achieved by rerouting automobile traffic and installing vastly cheaper surface rail and bus lines.

"Just plunking down a Metro line in a congested part of the city without a more complete treatment of traffic and transit does not make sense," he notes.

It doesn't make sense unless one employs the logic of pork-barrel spending, in which politics, not efficiency, determines budget priorities. Nancy Pelosi has sent signals suggesting she wants to banish this sort of logic from Washington. As she decides whether to fund or kill the Central Subway, she'll either sow the seeds for an era of competent female Democratic Party leadership or preside over a continuing wallow of boars and sows.

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