Poor communiation during construction on the Twin Peaks Tunnel in 2018 forced The City and contractor to go back and redo some of the work, causing delays and cost increases. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Poor communiation during construction on the Twin Peaks Tunnel in 2018 forced The City and contractor to go back and redo some of the work, causing delays and cost increases. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Audit finds SFMTA communication deficiencies cost the city time, money

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has cost the city millions of dollars and up to nearly two years of delays on four projects through communication failures and insufficient collaboration with other agencies, according to a City Controller audit released Tuesday.

The audit reported that ineffective employee evaluation, inconsistent design reviews, unaddressed safety and service issues, lack of training to improve collaboration and poor decision making from the Transportation Capital Committee — which oversees SFTMA’s capital planning process — all contributed to project delays and cost overruns on projects.

For example, the SFMTA did not fully communicate the need to test for and remove hazardous material for the Twin Peaks Tunnel Trackway Improvement Project, which led to $523,000 in change orders, and the contractor estimated a potential $3 to $9 million spike in cost to replace contaminated material.

The audit also found that poor communication with the city’s Public Works department caused a 1.7-year project delay and $23,000 in change order costs for the 5-Fulton Outer Route Fast Track Transit Enhancements Project.

The report included multiple recommendations to improve SFMTA’s accountability, communication and collaboration, such as requiring collaboration training, holding employees more accountable for mistakes and improving the attendance of the Transportation Capital Committee.

The audit included a survey of SFMTA staff opinions on their agency’s ability to communicate and collaborate with other agencies effectively. The majority of surveyed employees believed that SFMTA was good at collaboration, but a majority also reported that there is little accountability for managers who do not collaborate well.

In the four projects surveyed by the audit, one did not include a preliminary engineering report and the other three contained mistakes.

In a response letter, SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin said that the Project Management Office has begun developing training to improve communication and collaboration among SFMTA employees. His office will also set more clear definitions for budget management — a key part of the audit’s recommendation.

Tumlin noted in the letter that SFMTA’s Project Management Office will work to implement the rest of the recommendations.

In an email, SFMTA spokeswoman Erica Kato noted that the SFMTA has a portfolio of 300 successfully delivered projects.

“We appreciate the work of the City Services Audit staff throughout the course of this audit on our projects from two years ago. We found of particular value the audit’s review of inter-divisional collaboration and communication and its impact on project delivery. Thankfully, the Controller’s important recommendations align with efforts we already have underway to improve project delivery,” Kato said.

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