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The Bay Area’s mass transit infrastructure is some of the most extensive and highest in quality of any region in the nation. But for it to serve working people well and continue to thrive, it must grow and change.

This is the third article in an ongoing series exploring the evolution of mass transit throughout the Bay from a building trades perspective. This month, we focus on Phase 2 of the Transbay Terminal project.

Transbay Phase 2 Promises Good Jobs for Building Trades Workers, Economic Revitalization for the City

By Robert Fulton | contributing writer

On Wednesday, November 1, spirits were high among labor leaders in the City.

After a tour of the Salesforce Transit Center with acting Labor Secretary Julie Su — and representatives from the State Building Trades of California, the California Labor Federation, and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority — SF Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Rudy Gonzalez treated the council’s executive team to celebratory refreshments four stories up on the transit center’s rooftop park.

While reflecting on a successful outing demonstrating to Su both the impact of federal transportation dollars and the craftsmanship of the trades, Gonzalez took in the scene: a vibrant SoMa neighborhood made possible thanks to the transit center. But today’s impact of what has been deemed “the Grand Central Station of the West” is just the tip of the iceberg.

Now, it’s on to Phase 2.

Making Connections

The Salesforce Transit Center opened in August 2018. Its construction created 24,000 jobs in 47 states and 13,500 jobs locally and provided nine transportation connections to eight counties while anchoring a revitalized San Francisco neighborhood.

This ongoing transformative infrastructure project now enters Phase 2. The Key Regional Rail Connector, which the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) has branded the Portal, will close a significant rail gap and incorporate Caltrain, high-speed rail, and more. The final product will allow transfers of up to 90,000 daily riders across 11 transit systems and provide a single ride to downtown SF from Silicon Valley via future high-speed rail.

The project went through a name change recently, with the powers that be deciding that “the Portal” had more of a ring to it than “Downtown Rail Extension.” The new moniker better reflects the project’s overall impact, said TJPA Communications and Legislative Affairs Director Lily Madjus Wu.

“We wanted to encompass something that spoke to the transformational nature — the connection — it being a linchpin for regional transportation investment and integration,” Wu said of the project. “We kept coming back to this whole idea of connection.”

TJPA is currently working on securing funding to kick off Phase 2 in earnest. That money will include a Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grant. The total cost for the project is expected to be $8.2 billion — that’s more than $700 million for an already-complete train box underneath the Salesforce Transit Terminal and $7.5 billion needed to complete platforms at the 4th and Townsend Caltrain station and the Salesforce Transit Center, as well as boring a tunnel to connect the two stations.

Construction is anticipated to begin in 2025 and be completed by 2032.

Creating Jobs

Of course, such a project is expected to create thousands of union jobs regionally and nationally at a time when work is desperately needed as the Bay Area continues its struggle to rebound from the significant disruptions caused by the Covid pandemic.

“[The project] is going to provide tremendous opportunities for the IBEW and all of the other crafts as well,” said IBEW Local 6 Business Manager and SF Building Trades Council Vice-President John Doherty.

The massive scope of the Portal means that some apprentices might end up working on the project for the duration of their training, and even beyond.

For Sprinkler Fitters Local 483 Business Agent Dan Torres, the Portal will benefit his members with much-needed hours.

“Getting this project off the ground will help out a lot of members, especially in the local that I represent,” Torres said. Forty-two of his members are currently on the out-of-work list.

“Having a long-term project like this is beneficial to all building trades members in the Bay Area,” Torres said.

For Doherty, Phase 1 of this project demonstrated what the building trades are capable of. He’s confident that that they’re more than ready for Phase 2.

“It still matters that you have someone with concrete physical knowledge of how to do something who can go and make a living off of those skills that they’ve learned,” he said.

Su on Our Side

In September, the SF Building Trades Council honored Julie Su with its Public Service Award. Su, knee-deep in UAW negotiations, couldn’t make the awards banquet but instead paid a visit this month.

Rather than meeting in a board room or over dinner, Gonzalez suggested a tour of the Salesforce Transit Terminal as “a way to not only showcase the amazing work we’ve done thus far but to also let her get a behind-the-scenes tour and see for herself the amazing ability for us to, as we say, make dirt fly,” he said.

“It’s just exciting to see and meet with […] the people who are building this transit center and the future of our country,” Su said in a post on social media following her tour.

Gonzalez further touted a new legacy for infrastructure projects, moving away from community-dividing, pollution-causing freeways to transportation corridors that actually bring people together.

“It’s exciting that we’ll have a hand in building this revolutionary new infrastructure for our region,” he said. “With this project, building trades workers will play a direct role in the reinvention and reimagination of how we move people from jobs to healthcare to housing, and they’ll lay the groundwork that will create more good middle-class union jobs throughout the Bay Area.

“In building Phase 2, our members will be doing more than just injecting the economic vitality that San Francisco so desperately needs,” Gonzalez said. “They’ll be putting their stamp on history.”

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