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August/September 2000

Airy Multimodal Terminal Takes Shape
After years of debate by San Francisco and East Bay officials on what to do about the aging Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco, a grand plan is winning kudos from all sides.

Dubbed "Great Expectations" by the architect and planners after the Dickens novel of the same name, the concept is to build a new terminal on the existing site (which has direct access to the San Francisco/ Oakland Bay Bridge) that would serve AC Transit, San Francisco Muni, San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans), Golden Gate Transit and Greyhound buses, plus provide underground space for a future downtown Caltrain commuter rail station.

The 61-year-old, gray concrete terminal would be replaced by an airy, four-story, glass-and-steel structure extending over three blocks between Beale and Natoma streets. Muni bus and streetcar lines and Golden Gate Transit and SamTrans buses would run along the street level; shops, restaurants and other businesses would line a second-floor concourse; AC Transit would have 30 bus bays on the third floor, allowing a 50 percent increase in its transbay bus service; and Greyhound and other private bus carriers would occupy the top level. The underground rail station could accommodate six tracks.

Thumbnail of daytime view of terminal design Thumbnail of nighttime view of terminal design
Renderings of SMWM's new terminal design (click each to enlarge)

The design is the outcome of a two-year, $2.2 million study commissioned by MTC and conducted by a consulting team led by the San Francisco architectural firm Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris (SMWM). A Transbay Terminal panel -- with representatives from AC Transit, the city and county of San Francisco, Caltrans, MTC and other key stakeholders -- was charged with overseeing the study and resolving long-held differences over whether to replace, rebuild or relocate the terminal. By all accounts, the panel succeeded. According to MTC's manager of Bridge and Highway Operations, Rod McMillan, "Everyone actually applauded when the consultants made their final design presentation."

"This was the most open and extensive public outreach process I have ever encountered," said Maria Ayerdi, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown's project director for the terminal. "It is a magnificent design, and it will become the West Coast's own Grand Central Station."

The panel's next hurdle promises to be as challenging as reaching consensus on a new terminal: finding funds to pay for its hefty $900 million price tag. The consultants estimate $140 million could be secured from existing federal funds and bridge toll revenues and

$350 million raised from joint development of publicly owned property around the terminal site. They propose closing the remaining $400 million funding gap with state or federal grants or potential new toll revenues.

The Transbay Terminal panel will oversee refinements to the current design, as well as specific plans for funding, construction and operation of the new terminal. If all goes well, a terminal could be under construction by 2003 and completed a few years later.
--Marjorie Blackwell