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Bay Area Transit Hub Is Shaping Up

What is now a four-block hole in the ground will soon give rise to a five-level multimodal transit mecca with striking wave-like walls. With the recent arrival of structural steel and crews working hard on bus ramps this fall, the impending transformation is becoming all the more evident.

When it opens in 2017, the Transbay Transit Center extending south of Mission from Second Street to Beale Street in San Francisco will house 11 different transit systems, a smattering of shops and restaurants, and a large rooftop park. 

The Transbay Transit Center replaces the old 1930s Transbay Terminal with a regional hub that will host AC Transit, BART, Caltrain, Golden Gate Transit, Greyhound, Muni, SamTrans, WestCAT Lynx, Amtrak, paratransit and California’s future High Speed Rail system. BART is nearby, and the 1.3-mile expansion of Caltrain into the Financial District will provide much-anticipated relief for commuters from the South Bay.

The construction team has made considerable headway in recent months.

"The Transbay Transit Center project has continued to make impressive progress with the mat slab completely poured, the lower concourse well underway, the bus ramp project moving forward and even the beginning of steel assembly," said Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) Senior Construction Manager Dennis Turchon. "In the next few weeks the steel skeleton of the Transit Center will emerge above ground."

Created in 2001, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) is in charge of design, construction and operation. TJPA selected Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects to design the structure and Turner Construction to build it. This $1.9 billion undertaking is the first phase of the Transbay Transit Center Project. The second phase includes the extension of Caltrain to the Center and eventual High Speed Rail service. 

Maximizing use of natural light, the building-in-progress is a contender for LEED gold certification. The quarter-mile-long, 70-foot structure will also offer multiple opportunities for local artists to showcase their work. The building’s distinctive design is a work of art itself, featuring an undulating profile clad in a thin, semi-transparent skin made of perforated metal. 

Work on the bus ramps began mid-summer. The ramps will allow transbay buses to travel directly from the freeway to the second above-ground level of the Transit Center, bypassing traffic. Shortly after crews started this aspect, they met a landmark on another: the final concrete foundation pour occurred on October 11.

The Transit Center is a Buy America project, meaning virtually every permanent piece, down to nuts and bolts, is manufactured in the United States. Structural steel shipments have come from various locations along the West Coast, and crews are beginning assembly. With walls that are three feet thick, the building is built to withstand the most catastrophic of earthquakes. 

“This is a really robust project,” said Turner Construction Superintendent Monique Hawn on a recent tour of the site.

The preparation work for the project was substantial. Starting excavation at the end of 2011, crews dug 65 feet underground, off-hauling 654,000 cubic yards of dirt and unearthing a slew of treasures. There was the 10,000-15,000-year-old mammoth tooth (now exhibited at the California Academy of Sciences), ancient human remains and a small gold nugget. Crews had to build three temporary bridges to be able to easily navigate the expansive construction zone.

In the completed Transbay Transit Center, the bottom-level train box will serve Caltrain and the future high-speed rail. A second basement level will hold a ticketing booth and retail. The first above-ground level, the Grand Hall, will have an open-air entrance, a colorful installation by San Francisco artist Julie Chang and additional retail. A bus plaza will be located outside. The second floor will feature traveler information and will connect to the bus ramp. The roof will double as a 5.4-acre public park.

The Transbay Transit Center project (including demolition of the old Transbay Terminal) has created 4,137 jobs onsite in San Francisco, and 2,984 elsewhere throughout the United States. Currently there are about 200 workers at the construction zone between Monday and Friday, with some 24-hour and weekend work. 

The finished product will accommodate over 100,000 visitors each day: throngs of commuters from all corners of the Bay Area, community members looking for entertainment at the rooftop amphitheater or playground, employees in SOMA and the Financial District meeting friends for lunch, and passers-by ducking in to admire the art. A statue made out of concrete from the demolished Transbay Terminal will welcome them all to the site. 

“It’s really going to bring community together,” Hawn said. “This is for all of us. That’s what we’re building here.”

The Transit Center is funded by a combination of local, regional, state and federal sources. MTC contributed $353 million in bridge toll funds to the project.

— Natalie Orenstein

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