Central Subway construction under Chinatown has taken significantly longer than expected. (Lola Chase/ Special to SF Examiner)

Central Subway project projected to run $55 million over budget

San Francisco’s $1.6 billion Central Subway is roughly $55 million in the hole, transit officials said Tuesday.

The project will need an additional $100 million over its budget to cross the finish line, roughly half of which will be covered by its contingency fund.

But the other half — roughly $55 million — may eat into yet another rainy-day fund meant to buffer the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in an economic downturn.

The SFMTA, then, may soon have to consider whether to pay for the Central Subway’s final days of construction with funding meant to aid other transit projects.

Also on Tuesday, in a joint letter, Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin called on the SFMTA to fund further services and aid for Chinatown following last week’s revelation that delays on the Central Subway have pushed it back by three years.

The project is now expected to debut in June 2021.

The SFMTA Board of Directors on Tuesday approved $32 million in funding to settle dispute claims with the contractor, Tutor Perini Corp.

“No one likes overruns, no one likes delays,” said Steve Heminger, a member of the SFMTA Board of Directors. But, he added, “what they like even less is overruns when you don’t know they’re there, or delays when you don’t disclose them.”

Tuesday then, was largely seen as SFMTA ripping a bandaid off of Central Subway’s harsh realities.

“I view today as an act of coming clean,” Heminger said. “That’s the first step toward reestablishing credibility for the project.”

Some of these numbers are solid, and were approved Tuesday, and some are projections from top Muni officials.

On top of Tuesday’s $32 million approvals, SFMTA Acting Director Tom Maguire gave a “ballpark” figure at Heminger’s request, saying the project would likely require another $70 million on top of its original budget.

While $15 million of that funding will likely come from Central Subway’s contingency fund, roughly $55 million may need to come from SFMTA’s agency-wide contingency fund, a broader pool of money used to buttress the agency in hard times.

That action would require SFMTA board approval. Nadeem Tahir, Central Subway project director, told the San Francisco Examiner he anticipates that request within the next two or three months.

Tahir attributed the Central Subway’s delay to a number of reasons, but Heminger cited a rooftop plaza requested by the Chinatown community as one sticking point that led to outsize delays.

That request came as construction was already underway on the Chinatown Rose Pak Station portion of the Central Subway, causing a cascade of changes to project construction, including a required elevator redesign that delayed its installation by a year.

Elevator mechanics are particularly difficult to hire amid San Francisco’s construction boom, agency officials noted.

“That’s the culprit to me,” Heminger said.

Chinatown aid

Meanwhile, Chinatown merchants and community members continue to struggle amid the now three-year Central Subway delay.

In a Tuesday letter to the SFMTA, Breed and Peskin asked for a “dynamic and culturally competent” advertising campaign across The City signaling that “Chinatown is open for business,” “transportation options” for visitors to those merchant corridors from other Chinese communities and tourists, and public safety investments in Chinatown.

“We cannot afford to let our small business community bear the brunt of our construction delays and unintended impacts,” Breed and Peskin wrote jointly. They requested mitigation funding be approved by the end of October.

The Chinatown Transportation Research and Improvement Project, an advocacy group, filled out details of such a plan in a request to SFMTA. The group’s co-chair, Queena Chen, said in a statement that greater frequency of the 8X, an “NX”-style Express bus between the Sunset and Chinatown, and between the Richmond District and Chinatown, would go a long way to uniting Chinese communities impacted by Central Subway construction.

Chinatown TRIP also asked for police overtime funding to patrol Stockton Street, a tourist shuttle between San Francisco’s cruise terminal, North Beach and Chinatown for tourist traffic, and power washing along Stockton Street.

“The last two yers have been brutal on the people of Chinatown,” Chen wrote in a statement. “Let’s make it easier for people to make their medical appointments, get their groceries, and visit their grandparents.”


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