SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) – Why is the Van Ness Improvement Project taking so long? That question is answered in a new report by the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury released on Monday.
The Mission Street to Lombard Street project will create San Francisco’s first express bus system with dedicated bus lanes, improved boarding, and technology to keep buses moving. It will also replace a 100 year old aqueduct and sewer.
Businesses along the two-mile stretch of San Francisco have long had a different name for Van Ness Avenue.
“It’s a mess,” said Farzin Kaveh, owner of Audio Symphony.
The chaos also caught the attention of the 19-member San Francisco civil jury.
RELATED: SF’s Van Ness Improvement Project is referred to by some as the “Van Mess”
“With 5-6 years of construction, you can imagine that many of us, including our friends and acquaintances, have asked why Van Ness is taking so long,” said Simone Manganelli, juror and chairman of the Van Ness Investigation Civil Grand Jury.
The recent Civil Grand Jury report found that the cost of the project rose to $ 346 million, which is $ 37 million over budget. This bus service is also scheduled to begin in 2022, three years later than promised.
The city said the delays were due to unexpected findings beneath the surface of Van Ness, but the jury found that the SFMTA could have reduced delays and cost overruns if it had done more before construction began.
“In terms of the design, planning, contracting and pre-building process,” said Manganelli.
The Civil Grand Jury found deficiencies on both the city side and the contractor’s side.
On the municipal side, the jury found that the relocation of bus-S-Bahn lines in the middle of the lane made transit times smoother, but led to delays because existing supply facilities such as water and sewage had to be relocated to the roadside.
The jury also found that the city did not conduct any exploration tours.
“Exploratory potholes would have helped them see how different the official supply maps under Van Ness Avenue were compared to reality,” Manganelli said.
RELATED: SF Companies With Losses During Van Ness Construction Project
On the contractor side, the jury noted that Walsh may have cost less upfront, but not in the long run.
“Walsh and the city didn’t work together the way they wanted on this deal,” said Manganelli.
“They all focused on meticulously resolving these issues with delays and schedules rather than trying to innovate and move the project forward,” he continued.
Something that companies suffering from Van Ness haven’t lost. I interviewed Kaveh again in 2019 and today.
“It’s no longer a welcoming area, people avoid it, so as business owners and other businesses, people don’t come here and you can’t blame them,” said Kaveh.
In a statement sent via email, the SFMTA said, “We appreciate the work of the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury on the Van Ness Improvement Project. It raises certain issues that have been identified in previous internal audits and we are actively working to translate the lessons learned from these issues into successful projects across the city. The SFMTA has resolved several claims made by the contractor regarding the issues in the report, including several where the contractor has acknowledged its shortcomings. We regret that the report does not properly reflect the roles and responsibilities of a general contractor for construction management on a construction project as complex as the Van Ness Improvement Project.
Now that the underground work is complete, we are almost on schedule and on budget for the surface component of the project. Our teams apply the lessons learned from the Van Ness Improvement Project to other projects in our SFMTA portfolio – including the successful Geary Rapid Project. The recent pace of construction above ground also reflects the experience of the contractor and we look forward to working with them on a successful final phase of this project. “
Walsh did not respond to the I-Team’s request for comment.
The agencies named in the Grand Jury report have 60 or 90 days to respond. The board of directors will hold a public hearing as soon as these responses are received.
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