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Central Subway project faces up to 10-month delay

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The Central Subway Project would expand the Muni Subway network, connecting Chinatown to BART via Union Square. (Courtesy SFMTA)
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Muni’s Central Subway project may be delayed by almost a year.

If the construction contractor, Tutor Perini, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency do not catch up with ongoing construction delays, the project is forecasted to open 10 months late, according to the project’s required monthly monitoring report released in late May, the most recent report available.

That report, known as a Project Management Oversight Committee report, wrote that the SFMTA and Tutor Perini need to reach an agreement over scheduling conflicts, or those forecasted delays may increase.

“If we don’t change anything of what we’ve done so far, we will be 10 months late in revenue service,” Central Subway Program Director John Funghi confirmed to the San Francisco Examiner.

The nearly $1.6 billion Central Subway project will see Chinatown net its first subway, connecting the neighborhood to BART and the Muni subway network downtown via Union Square. Construction began in 2012, according to the SFMTA.

Muni trains were first set to glide through the sleek new Central Subway to the sound of sleigh bells on Dec. 26, 2018, the day after Christmas. But the monitoring report, written by David Evans and Associates, Inc., which is required for large-scale construction projects by law, forecasts the Central Subway’s opening day as Nov. 14, 2019.

Funghi said he hopes the SFMTA and Tutor Perini can make up for lost time.

“Tutor has fallen behind in the completion of this contract,” Funghi said. “I think it’s going to be a difficult task to make up 10 months, but we’re trying.”

Part of that effort involves what Funghi called “targeted acceleration,” where the Central Subway project will use some of its “contingency funding” — a budgeted-for rainy day fund — to pay for extra man-hours to quicken the construction pace.

Tutor Perini did not respond to requests for comment.

Chinatown businesses’ hopes may rest on the SFMTA speeding up Central Subway construction, as local shops are already seeing a drop in business due to the large machines and loud work at Stockton and Washington streets, according to some neighborhood advocates.

“I think the impact is quite trying, is the way to put it,” said Phil Chin, head of the transportation advocacy group Chinatown TRIP.

Chin said neighborhood merchants are conducting meetings even now to discuss the continued impacts from Central Subway construction, though they may be heartened by more foot traffic when it is complete, giving San Francisco’s Chinese community better access to the neighborhood.

Gerald Cauthen, a retired engineer who worked on city projects for more than 35 years, said the delay, while worrisome, is not the worst seen of a transit project in the Bay Area.

“It used to be regarded as incredibly outrageous. But these days after the Bay Bridge debacle, everyone is sort of used to it,” he said, referring to the decades-long delay in construction of the eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

“But,” he added, “after a year’s delay [to the Central Subway project], someone ought to know why.”

The cause of the delays is a point of disagreement between Tutor Perini and the SFMTA, as the pair have had consecutive mediation meetings that will continue through July.

Though the SFMTA was not able to immediately grant access to documentation of the dispute, Funghi described the arguments of the two entities:

Tutor filed a claim asserting the SFMTA changed some Central Subway designs during a “submittal process” which in turn delayed Tutor’s ability to start the work, Funghi said, which they claim entitles Tutor to more than $1 million because SFMTA changed the design.

“The City’s position,” Funghi said, “is [Tutor] started the work late because Tutor submitted the paperwork late.”

Though the delays may spell bad news for Chinatown and Muni riders, the SFMTA does have some cause to celebrate, as the project is so far being completed within budget, and only dipping into its contingency funding (which is part of the budget) within expected norms, the report found.

But while the Central Subway project isn’t busting its purse strings, the ongoing dispute between Tutor Perini and the SFMTA is leading to ever-increasing delays, the monitoring report found.

“The ongoing month-by-month extension of the projected [Revenue Service Date] is detrimental to effective management of the project,” the report’s author wrote, “because the project team does not have achievable schedule targets to manage to.”

Cauthen said in the past, such rigid schedules have sometimes led to lawsuits on behalf of the contractor — which may ultimately balloon the project’s cost — due to “rigidly” forecasted schedules by city agencies.

But Funghi said should Tutor Perini sue The City, well, they’ve “forecasted” that expenditure too. That’s because the project has avoided many risk “events” that would require use of its contingency funding, which now sits at $76 million.

“Even if we realize all those ‘events,’” including a lawsuit, Funghi said, “we’re going to come in under surplus.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story featured a headline that mischaracterized the status of the transportation project. The headline has since been updated.

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