SFMTA considering different options for Central Subway work in North Beach 

click to enlarge Street fight: Residents have complained about plans to rip up Columbus Street during subway construction. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Street fight: Residents have complained about plans to rip up Columbus Street during subway construction.

Muni is exploring new options for retrieving tunneling equipment in or near North Beach, including one that could save the agency $23 million while keeping the machinery underground indefinitely.

As part of its $1.6 billion Central Subway project, which will extend underground Metro service from South of Market to Chinatown, Muni wants to extract a tunnel-boring machine through Columbus Avenue. Preparation for that process began this year and will be finished by Thanksgiving 2013.

But local business owners and residents, backed by Supervisor David Chiu, oppose the project, saying the work will increase traffic congestion and hurt local businesses. To appease such concerns, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has devised four alternatives.

Many residents like a proposal to store the tunneling machinery indefinitely below Washington Street in Chinatown. That would save Muni $21 million to $23 million and shave three months off the project’s timeline, while reducing aboveground construction impacts, agency documents say.

North Beach Restaurant owner Lorenzo Petroni said his neighborhood’s recovery from the recession is fragile, and such construction could jeopardize it. And because current plans don’t call for a subway station in North Beach, the neighborhood would be unfairly hurt, said Petroni, who supports underground storage.

But while keeping the equipment underground would cost less and save time, it could hinder the agency’s chances of building a North Beach station and extending the Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf. The environmental studies exploring possible such possibilities were predicated upon the tunnel boring machines traveling to North Beach, Muni spokesman Paul Rose noted.

Extracting the equipment at the abandoned Pagoda Theater on Powell Street — an alternative that also has received support — would allow for extending the subway and building a North Beach station. But while it would reduce the impact on North Beach, it would cost an extra $6 million to $8 million and entail negotiations with property owners.

The other two options appear to have little agency or community support.

Rose said Muni will consider the feedback and make a final recommendation to its board, possibly by Dec. 4.
Chiu, who organized a community meeting Monday to discuss the project, said he supports an option less disruptive to North Beach than the one currently under way. He also noted that two-thirds of the residents at the meeting supported an eventual North Beach station, so the agency should factor that into its decision.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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