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Two-mile-long Van Ness bus lane project faces two-year delay

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The rapid transit lane project spanning two-miles broke ground in 2016 but won’t debut until mid-2020. (Rendering courtesy SFMTA)
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The two-mile-long Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project is facing an almost six-month construction delay.

Piling onto other recent delays, the latest setback will stretch the service’s debut from January 2018 to mid-2020, according to city documents.

“The project has been delayed due to an increase of wet weather since the project started,” said Paul Rose, a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson, “as well as contractual challenges in getting a utility contractor on board.”

Left turns along Van Ness Avenue between Mission and Lombard streets were eliminated when construction began in 2016 to create bus lanes which are intended to speed up buses for thousands of Muni riders.

Costs have also risen on the $189 million project, which is part of a larger complimentary sewer and street light replacement project totalled at $316 million.

The new 179-day delay was revealed in the latest update on the project to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which engaged in some planning with the project. The project is ultimately overseen by the SFMTA.

Design changes also delayed the project, according to a memorandum from the SFCTA, which may also lead to litigation from construction firms.

“Construction cost for the project has trended upward due to a tight construction labor market and design changes,” the memorandum reads. “These changes may lead to potential claims.”

When the project is complete, bus-only lanes will stretch down Van Ness Avenue from Mission to Lombard streets, a key north-south corridor home to both the 49-Van Ness/Mission and 47-Van Ness bus lines. Golden Gate Transit buses also traverse the corridor.

Bus rapid transit corridors treat buses much like trains, so Van Ness Avenue will also see nine bus boarding platforms and new bus shelters.

“We are currently developing a plan to make up for the lost time,” Rose said. That may include increasing the number of construction shifts and adding another day to those crews’ work week.

The larger, unified Transit Improvement Project that includes Van Ness BRT also involves parallel projects such as new overhead trolley contacts, signal replacements, sewer and water improvements, and streetlights.

Neighbors previously complained about the replacement of historic streetlight poles for Van Ness BRT. Replacement poles made to look like the originals ballooned the project cost by $6.5 million, according to city documents, and additional sewer work taking place at the same time as the bus lane construction came in at $11 million over project estimates.

The most recent construction milestone for Van Ness BRT was in June, when the median of the roadway was cleared of trees and shrubs, and temporarily repaved to clear the way for construction of permanent BRT lanes, according to the report.

Construction on the “utility phase” began in August, during which a utility duct bank, water main, and sewer pipelines underneath Van Ness Avenue were replaced.

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