S.F. Examiner file photoThe first option: Muni’s original proposal was to bring up its tunnel-boring machinery in this tiny park on Columbus Avenue.

S.F. Examiner file photoThe first option: Muni’s original proposal was to bring up its tunnel-boring machinery in this tiny park on Columbus Avenue.

Muni's Central Subway tunneling decision may not make North Beach happy

Muni’s list of preferred alternatives for removing its Central Subway tunnel-boring machines in North Beach doesn’t include an option popular with the community and could result in the agency resorting to a method strongly opposed by many locals.

As part of its $1.6 billion expansion project, which will extend underground Metro service from the SoMa District to Chinatown, Muni originally proposed to bring up its tunneling machines on Columbus Avenue, a plan that would result in a lane closure on the busy thoroughfare for most of 2013.

North Beach residents and businesses criticized the plan, forcing the agency to come up with a list of alternatives to its original proposal. Of the five options, a very popular plan among locals was to leave the tunnel-boring machines below the streets of Chinatown. That plan wouldn’t result in any construction in North Beach — which neighborhood advocates regarded as fair since no stations are planned for the neighborhood anyway.

However, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, isn’t considering that option anymore. Instead, it is considering leaving the tunneling equipment below Columbus Avenue or bringing it up at an abandoned building site on Powell Street. But if a feasible plan hasn’t been determined for those options by Feb. 1, the agency will resort to its original proposal to bring up the equipment at Columbus Avenue.

“These options address the construction concerns of the North Beach community without significantly impeding the possible future extension of rail service to Fisherman’s Wharf,” said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose.

Supervisor David Chiu, whose district includes North Beach, said he was pleased that the agency appeared to be “moving away from the current plan toward a path that can garner more community support.” However, some of his constituents were less hopeful.

“This seems like an inefficient, inept, and insulting set of choices,” said Jon Golinger, president of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers. “So this must be Muni decision-making.”

Golinger said that if the agency returns to its original plans for extracting the tunnel-boring machines, it will be opposed by “99.9 percent” of North Beach.

Golinger, like many others in the neighborhood, supported leaving the machines below Chinatown. However, that would preclude the agency from pursuing any future extension projects of the Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Meanwhile, storing the equipment under Columbus Avenue would cost the agency an extra $3 million to
$5 million and would extend the duration of the project by two months. Although the construction impacts would be minimal, it could also potentially jeopardize extension plans to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Bringing up the equipment on Powell Street at the abandoned Pagoda Palace theater wouldn’t affect the project timeline, but it would entail potentially pricey negotiations with the owner of the private building.

On Tuesday, the agency board of directors will vote on its preferred alternative.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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