SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other local and federal officials announced Thursday that $942 million in federal funding has been secured for the city’s Central Subway project.

That amount is expected to cover the majority of the cost of the $1.6 billion project to create a new branch of San Francisco Municipal Railway’s T-Third line to link the city’s South of Market neighborhood to Chinatown.

The subway is expected to open to the public in 2019.

“This project is a vital enhancement of our public transit system,” Lee said, “It will connect to some of the most densely populated and rapidly developing areas” of the city.

Pelosi said she and her family are very familiar with that transit corridor because they have waited for packed 30-Stockton Muni buses to go downtown.

“We’d say, ‘Here comes the bus, here comes the bus, there goes the bus! Because it was always crowded,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein also spoke at Thursday afternoon’s announcement, saying that the Central Subway is projected have the second-highest ridership per mile of all subway and light-rail proposals seeking federal funding nationwide.

“There’s no question it’s expensive, but it’s worth it if people use it,” Feinstein said.

Some have criticized the cost of the project.

One group of opponents filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to halt construction because of its impact on Union Square, the proposed site of one of the subway’s stations.

The lawsuit was filed by the group, which argued that the city charter forbids building a structure on park property without first getting approval from voters.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who also attended Thursday’s event, said the lawsuit will not stop construction.

“This project has been scrutinized probably more than any project in the country. It’s been under a microscope for many, many years,” LaHood said. “We’re moving ahead.”

Lee noted that the project has drawn past lawsuits that have not slowed down construction.

“I think they’re somewhat baseless,” he said, adding that he thinks the most recent suit “borders on ridiculous.”

The Central Subway will start above ground near the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets, then enter a subway tunnel on Fourth Street under the Interstate 80 overpass. It will have stops at Yerba Buena/Moscone, Union Square/Market Street and Chinatown.

Muni officials say the subway will cut by more than half the time it currently takes to move along the 1.7-mile route by bus.

Updates on the project can be found at

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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