Coming to a street near you

The people in my neighborhood got so sick of looking at piles of city construction materials on our street — left untouched for weeks at a time — a neighbor decorated one pile for Christmas. The piles are from a project to replace water mains on our street that has dragged on since last April, with months of inconvenience and delay.

We know the replacements have to be done, but two key communication problems — with residents and between city departments — made a difficult situation a lot worse. If The City has ever torn up the street in front of your house, you’ve probably had a similar experience.

The Department of Public Works sent a letter explaining the project nearly a year ago to the neighbors, and that’s the last time we heard anything official — other than the “No Parking” signs that come and go in front of our houses.

At least when a sign appeared, we knew they were going to work on our block. Except when they didn’t, and the signs stayed up anyway. Other times, the signs appeared only the night before work began. Both are violations of city policy, but fines to the contractors for the violations are so small they’re not much of a deterrent.

At one point, the contractors laid asphalt to temporarily cover the trench dug on two blocks of the street. The soft asphalt couldn’t handle the traffic, including Muni buses, and those two blocks became so rough and potholed, drivers risked knocking their tires and axles out of alignment every time they passed over them.

And it stayed that way for over a month.

Apparently, that’s because it took the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission three weeks to send someone out to run a video camera through the new mains and “sign off” on their installation. Until that was done, the contractor couldn’t seal the trench with concrete. So the neighbors were left with weeks of bone-rattling potholes.

Then work on the street stopped entirely because the contractor pulled his crew to finish similar work on a commercial street before the holiday shopping season began. Good for the merchants, but bad for us mere residents, who had to endure more weeks of delay while the street stayed bumpy and the unused materials and equipment took up nearly 10 parking spots on our four-block-long street.

My neighbors and I are frustrated with the delays, loss of parking, early morning jackhammers and continual disruption in our lives. If you add in PG&E tearing up the street for a few months not long before this project began, we’ve been dealing with this for more than a year.

To make things better for future projects, I suggest Department of Public Works either mail quarterly updates to all neighbors or host periodic meetings for everyone. Then people won’t feel forgotten like we did and, maybe, with more information about what’s happening, residents will be more understanding when problems arise.

There is no excuse for DPW and the PUC to not have better coordination. Projects like ours shouldn’t be delayed for weeks because everyone is waiting for someone from the water department to arrive.

Last week, we were told the project could be completed in one to three more months, depending on rain and how long it takes the water department to show up and connect everyone’s house to the new mains.

The sign erected at the corner, which proudly describes the project, says it is scheduled to last from April 2015 until September 2016, an absurdly long amount of time for the work involved. Ironically, despite the long delays, this September end date means the contractor and DPW can, if the project actually finishes in March, brag that the project was completed “ahead of schedule.”

Hopefully the piles and equipment on the street will be gone before we have to decorate them for St. Patrick’s Day.

Sally Stephens lives in the West of Twin Peaks area.

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