Years of planning and coordinating culminated with a few public acknowledgments lasting just a little longer than the time Caltrain doors stay open during a stop at the South San Francisco station.
But following state, regional and city officials digging their ceremonial shovels into loose dirt during a groundbreaking, Monday, Nov. 6, construction on the new South City station is now on track.
While the crowd’s applause was dwarfed by nearby highway traffic roar and periodic train horn blasts, the enthusiasm and anticipation for the new station intended to better connect to the growing downtown could not be overshadowed.
“Anything will be an improvement. But this will be outstanding,” said state. Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, jokingly referring to the antiquated condition of the city’s existing station east of Highway 101, at 590 Dubuque Ave.
According to the project plans, the existing station will be replaced with a new center boarding platform leading to a pedestrian underpass connecting travelers to downtown South San Francisco, at Grand Avenue and Poletti Drive. The improvements will also make the station fully compliant with Americans with Disability Act standards.
Work is slated to begin this month, and should continue over the next couple years with an expected delivery date in the summer of 2019. The plan is funded with $49.1 million in Measure A transportation tax funds from San Mateo County.
The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which owns and operates Caltrain, had contributed $4 million for the design of the project. The city of South San Francisco will contribute $5.9 million. The city also invested $3.3 million to purchase additional property for the project and remediate contaminated soil in the area.
The station is one the few Caltrain stations which still use an older configuration, center boarding platform. At these stations, safety considerations prevent more than one train from using the station at a time, creating an operational bottleneck on the railroad and requiring passengers to cross tracks to board trains. The construction will change that and signal and traffic work will be included as well.
The station redesign is planned to blend with the city’s vision for rejuvenating downtown South San Francisco by adding more homes and businesses to the commercial corridor spanning the central stretch of Grand Avenue.
With hundreds of residential units under construction within walking distance, officials have long pointed to the redone station as a key asset for the transit-oriented developments.
County Supervisor Dave Pine, who represents segments of South San Francisco, said the new station will be a central force in realizing the city’s vision for downtown.
“This brings it all together,” he said.
Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, who helped craft the plans for the site when he was on the South San Francisco City Council, said he was pleased to see the project come together.
“I consider this project my baby ... . Now we get to see this baby grow up,” said Mullin, who recently also pushed legislation through the state government offering financing for transportation projects.
Mullin also credited South San Francisco Councilwoman Karyl Matsumoto for her stewardship in locking down much of the funding from the county needed to complete the work on the project.
For her part, Matsumoto said she believed the new station will not only be a benefit for those who take the train to work at South San Francisco’s hub of biotechnology companies, but suggested it could be good for the train agency in boosting ridership.
“I hate the term win-win, but that’s really what this is,” said Matsumoto, who also pointed to the success in launching the rebuild as a testament to the city’s perseverance.
“South San Francisco is not disturbed by challenges,” she said. “We are movers. It is in our DNA.”
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