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Muni signage project now $1.5 million over budget, four years late

It isn’t just Muni’s trains that are running behind.

A project to upgrade Next Muni digital signs — the ones telling you just how slow your N-Judah is chugging — is being penalized for running late, too.

The ongoing effort to install new, upgraded train arrival signs and also fiber-optic network cables throughout the Muni Metro subway is now slated to finish six years late.

While the signs have been installed, The City is set to approve an additional $1.5 million in funding for the $24 million project contract to cover its tardiness, with other aspects still awaiting completion.

On Tuesday the SFMTA Board of Directors will consider the additional funding and the new estimated project completion date, which is now estimated at mid-2020. The signs were originally slated to be installed in 2014.

Those 76 subway signs were actually installed by 2018 and are now operational, which constituted “substantial completion” on the project, according to SFMTA. But in years past they hung from Muni subway ceilings wrapped in plastic, only to be turned on at various times for brief tests.

It is unclear if the portions of the project that need to be completed are signage or related fiber optic cabling.

And the entity to blame? Well, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency called the cause an “SFMTA delay” in a public staff report, but also described the project snowballing amid related computer upgrade difficulties by another contractor.

What is known is that the project has been at least seven years in the making.

Planned in 2012 and first approved by the SFMTA Board of Directors in 2013, Blocka Construction Inc. was awarded a $24 million contract to install the new train arrival signage throughout the Muni Metro system. The Muni Metro System Integrated Systems Replacement Project isn’t just about signs, however, but building out a fiber broadband network to facilitate computerized train control.

The signage portion of the contract met a delay when another computer software-related project, the Advanced Train Control System Upgrade Project, itself met delay due to the “complexity” of upgrading an older operating system to Windows and “lack of sufficient resources” from that project’s contractor, Thales Transport & Security Inc., according to a public SFMTA staff report.

Thales’ delayed automatic train control upgrades were meant to feed train location data “critical to the testing and deployment” of the signage from Rocka Construction.

No data, no signs.

While Blocka Construction requested $3.2 million for the delay, SFMTA engaged a consultant who reviewed available data and concluded SFMTA owed $1.1 million for the delay. SFMTA also owed additional money for a separate delay, bringing the bill to $1.5 million.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez covers transportation for the San Francisco Examiner. He also writes the weekly political On Guard column. Reach him at joe@sfexaminer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzTheReporter.

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