Blame swirls over Van Ness BRT delay

The Van Ness Improvement Project, which includes the installation of San Francisco’s first bus rapid transit system (BRT), is failing behind schedule by nearly six months.

Walsh Construction, the primary contractor for the Van Ness Avenue project, took longer than expected to finalize a bid for the utility work on the corridor, which includes sewer and water main work, said Peter Gabancho, project manager with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Weather during the last winter also played a role delaying the start of the utility work.

Construction on the $316.4 million project began last October with crews ripping out the medians and trees from Van Ness Avenue, removing the Muni overhead contact system, and relocating traffic signals.

Commissioners of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, who also serve as the Board of Supervisors, received an update on the project on Tuesday, including more details about the cause of the six-month delay.

The SFMTA used a method called the Construction Manager-General Contractor, where Walsh worked on finalizing the design and planning out the construction for the project, which included putting out bids for subcontractors.

Only one contractor submitted a bid for the sewer and water main work at $39 million, said Gabancho.

The SFMTA had estimated that the work would cost $19 million. Walsh was able to negotiate the cost down to $30 million, but it still left the cost for sewer work $11 million over the estimated cost.

Walsh is now making a $4.3 million claim against the SFMTA for causing the 179-day delay to the Van Ness project, said Gabancho:

“The contractor has written us several letters explaining why they feel The City is responsible for the lack of competitiveness in bids, and the delay in getting the project awarded.”

SFMTA officials are now working on a dispute-resolution process on the claim.

Gabancho said the SFMTA is working on recovering the time lost, but has not yet finalized a plan yet.

Ideas include having crews work on Saturdays, longer shifts from eight hours to 10 hours and possibly exempting the project from The City’s holiday moratorium where normally construction would cease in areas considered a business district.

The SFMTA would need to have 100 percent of businesses to agree on crews working on the project during the holiday moratorium, which is usually between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, said Kate McCarthy, a spokesperson with the SFMTA for the project.

A city traffic engineer manager would make the final decision if crews will work through the holiday moratorium.

If businesses reject crews working during the holiday moratorium, crews may work at night, inconveniencing residents who live above the businesses, said Gabancho.

Supervisor Mark Farrell expressed his frustration upon hearing the news of the project delay first from reading the story and headline from the San Francisco Examiner on Monday:

“I really hate reading these headlines in the paper first.”

The project encompasses several supervisorial districts including District 2, represented by Farrell:

“Make up time is impacting residents in my district.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin said while work on Van Ness continues, work is also going on another northbound and southbound corridor on Polk Street:

“It’s like the perfect storm for the northeast corner of the City in districts 2 and 3 and I cannot tell you how frustrating it is and how pissed off our constituents rightfully are.”

Peskin is calling for the SFMTA to report back to the transportation authority in November.