North Beach residents angry about Central Subway construction plans

North Beach residents and business leaders are fuming about a Central Subway construction project that could shut down vehicle lanes, alter traffic patterns and leave the neighborhood cluttered with heavy-duty equipment for two years.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which is overseeing the $1.6 billion project, is proposing to store and eventually extract its tunnel-boring equipment from below Columbus Avenue. The plan includes public utility relocation, along with tearing up streets and sidewalks.

Businesses in the area, many of which support the Central Subway, had no idea the project would entail such major impacts to their neighborhood, said Daniel Macchiarini, who owns a family-run jewelry shop on Grant Avenue.

“We are a destination shopping area, with many small, unique shops,” he said. “If you lay heavy equipment down on Columbus Avenue and destroy our transportation corridors, you will basically render this entire area inaccessible.”

Macchiarini estimated that 25 to 60 percent of the small businesses in the neighborhood could close due to the construction.

Marc Bruno, a local resident who is heading up a group formed specifically to oppose the construction project, said more than 100 businesses in the community are against the plan. The construction project would reduce Columbus Avenue from four lanes to two lanes between Filbert and Vallejo streets, Bruno said. With no plans yet to build a station in North Beach, Bruno said the neighborhood is bearing an unfair burden for a project that has no direct community benefit.

According to Bruno, SFMTA planners told neighborhood groups about the Columbus Avenue lane closures, but agency spokesman Paul Rose said specifics on the construction work have not been finalized.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, whose district includes North Beach, said the SFMTA needs to change course.

“Since I learned of the SFMTA plan, I have shared and communicated the frustrations of my neighbors about the construction impact,” Chiu said. “I hope we can get better answers from the SFMTA and come up with a different plan.”

Rose said the agency will work with residents, business leaders and Chiu to address concerns. It’s important, he said, that the utility relocation and retrieval shaft of the equipment be located in North Beach, since it offers the option of extending the subway to Fisherman’s Wharf or adding a station near Washington Square Park.

Currently, the SFMTA plans on beginning light construction work by the end of this year, with heavy construction starting in 2013.

Meanwhile, excavation work on Fourth Street between Harrison and Bryant streets in South of Market is starting today in preparation for the tunneling of the subway. Traffic impacts are expected.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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