The Presidio Parkway project is going to affect the Marina for generations. Later this spring, Doyle Drive is going to be closed for three days while construction crews permanently reroute drivers off the current Doyle Drive and onto a temporary route for the new Presidio Parkway. This change is just around the corner, and given that most drivers and residents I’ve spoken with are not aware of what lies ahead, I wanted to provide more background on the project and some current issues.
The Golden Gate Bridge approach, commonly referred to as Doyle Drive, was built in 1936 and has been seismically unsafe for years. Each weekday, nearly 100,000 vehicles travel between Marin and San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge along Doyle Drive – the only direct link between the San Francisco peninsula and northern California counties. After years of delay, we are finally witnessing the construction of the new Doyle Drive (called Presidio Parkway), which is slated for completion in 2015.
A mid-February tour of the Presidio Parkway construction site revealed – and I won’t be the first person to tell you – that the new Presidio Parkway is going to be amazing. The roadway itself will include two short tunnels, bridges and landscaping, and will actually blend into its surroundings. Not only is the Presidio Parkway going to be a better experience for drivers, but the resulting aesthetics are going to change the Presidio and Crissy Field area forever.
How the Project Became Shovel Ready
The need to replace the seismically unsafe Doyle Drive structure was never in dispute. Doyle Drive received a federal sufficiency rating of 2 out of 100 (with 0 being completely deficient), which made it one of the most dangerous transportation structures in the United States. To put that number in context, the Mississippi River Bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145, had a rating of 35. The entire span of that bridge broke into sections and collapsed into the Mississippi River during evening commute traffic. If Doyle Drive were to collapse, the economic and life-safety impacts would be catastrophic.
However, before construction on Doyle Drive began, years of intense feuding over how to fund the project pitted various agencies and counties against each other. Proposals to add a toll on Doyle Drive and to increase Golden Gate Bridge tolls during commute hours met with heavy resistance from Marin County and were dubbed a “Marin commuter tax.” This resistance pushed officials to be creative with funding sources.
In February 2009, local, state, regional, and federal officials, including then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mayor Gavin Newsom, came together to announce that $100 million from the federal stimulus package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, would finally close the funding gap for rebuilding Doyle Drive. These newfound funds allowed the construction to begin in September 2009 – about a year ahead of schedule – saving taxpayers up to $90 million dollars.
Those same officials gathered on Oct. 17, 2009 – the anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake – to celebrate the commencement of construction, touting the project as a successful example of the use of funds from the federal stimulus act. Today, Phase I of the Presidio Parkway project is nearly complete, and Phase II is slated to begin shortly.
Recent Issues in the Press
A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle indicated that the funding package for the Presidio Parkway was not as rosy as it once seemed and threatened to delay the $1.1 billion project, just as it passed the halfway point. Specifically, the article stated that the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) needed to come up with $60 million so that the public-private partnership that will build Phase II of the project could begin construction. Under the public-private partnership agreement for Presidio Parkway, the lead contractor is responsible for designing, building and maintaining the roadway for 30 years. At the end of the 30-year period, the state will retain responsibility for the project’s ongoing maintenance.
The Presidio Parkway public-private partnership is a first in the state of California, and I believe the wave of the future for public infrastructure developments. Compared to projects completely funded by the public, this structure allowed us to begin construction years earlier and defer over $400 million in upfront construction costs in exchange for modest built-in profit margins for the partnership. Most importantly, this partnership protects the public from bloated project cost overruns – at present, the Bay Bridge construction is $4 billion-plus over budget (you are reading this correctly), and taxpayers have no recourse. With the Presidio Parkway project, we are protected from this type of disaster.
Nevertheless, two recent funding issues have come to light. The first is $34 million in California state transportation funds that have been pledged but are not being dispersed quickly enough. According to the SFCTA, this is a cash flow timing issue, not a budget or funding gap. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Bay Area transportation planning and financing agency, has proposed to advance San Francisco County’s dollar share, which is what they have done on many other projects. Not advancing that money would result in delaying the project by a year or two, which is completely unacceptable as it would inconvenience users who would be crammed onto a half-finished project and the cost of the project would be significantly increased. The California Transportation Commission must still approve this proposal.
Second, there is an unresolved shortfall of $26 million. The 2009 finance plan developed by the MTC included redirection of two federal earmarks: the Devil’s Slide project in San Mateo (for $6 million) and Port Sonoma (another $20 million). In 2009, when the MTC proposed this financing package, it was already known that these federal earmarks were not going to be utilized; however, redirection can only happen as part of a new authorization bill in Congress, and as of February 2012, no such bill has been introduced. Personally, I believe the use of earmarks in Congress has been destructive and a fiscal nightmare; in San Francisco we are now left picking up the pieces of the shortfall.
While I cannot imagine a potential $26 million shortfall is going to threaten the completion of a $1 billion-plus project, we cannot take any risks. As a result, I have engaged our Congressional delegation and convened a meeting in City Hall with all relevant local stakeholders (including the mayor, SFCTA, and MTC) to devise a permanent solution. In my opinion, elected officials and agencies that came together in a “Kumbaya” moment in 2009 to agree on the project’s funding package cannot suddenly get amnesia over their promises. We cannot forget the dire need of replacing this seismically unsound infrastructure – we all want to see it completed, and completed on time.
Ultimately, the Presidio Parkway is going to be an incredible addition to our transportation infrastructure, and a legacy for those of us who are fortunate to live on the north side of San Francisco. We should all be excited about what’s ahead.
For more information on the Presidio Parkway project and to view a simulation of the completed roadway, visit www.presidioparkway.org or call the project hotline at 415-295-4636 with any questions.