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Years ago, San Francisco Mayor London Breed wrote a message on a tunnel boring machine — named Big Alma and used for the Central Subway project — that she hoped to see the equipment someday return to dig beneath Geary Boulevard.

Her hope was not fulfilled, but Breed said at a ceremonial event on Thursday for the start of the first of two phases of the Geary bus rapid project that the buildout of the system was the next best plan to improve Muni service along the corridor:

“Well my dream project is to basically go underground on Geary Boulevard, but as you know the money is not there necessarily to do that, but we’re doing the next best thing.”

The estimated $35 million BRT system will dedicate red transit-only lanes along the center and side of Geary Boulevard for Muni’s 38-Geary bus lines, which include local, rapid and express routes.

Ed Reskin, the director of transportation with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said planners in the past had identified Geary as an important transit corridor and that today showed just how important it really is for commuters:

“The Geary corridor is one of the highest if not the highest bus ridership transit corridor in the western United States.”

Bus lines on Geary carry roughly an average of 54,000 passengers a day.

Transit officials said the project aims to speed up Muni buses by having coaches drive in their own dedicated lanes.

Breed said she believes the BRT system will have a significant impact for residents and commuters who live in the west side on how they will travel:

“Providing the Geary BRT is really going to provide what I think is going to change how people are getting around [and] making it a lot more efficient and making our public transportation system much more reliable than in the past.”

The project will include the buildout of the BRT system along with underground utility work and street resurfacing from Masonic to Van Ness, bringing the total cost of the project to $300 million.

Additionally, the project will include a number of pedestrian safety improvements along the corridor, such as countdown signals at intersections that do not have them, pedestrian curb extensions, bus sidewalk extensions, and a new signalized crosswalk at Geary and Buchanan.

Plans call for removal of the pedestrian bridge at Geary and Steiner later this year due to the bridge not being ADA-compliant. A new crosswalk with medians will replace the bridge.

Utility work is already underway on the corridor as the original groundbreaking was scheduled for late last month but was canceled due to rain.

Critics of the project include merchants who say construction will hurt businesses. A lawsuit filed in 2017 to block the project was dismissed last year.

Breed said The City will work with merchants during construction. The Board of Supervisors last month approved a spending a plan on how the transit agency would spend its “windfall” funds, which included using $5 million for businesses impacted by construction of SFMTA projects.

The transit agency last year completed bus stop changes and side-running transit-only lanes for the project.

The SFMTA expects to complete the Geary BRT project in the spring of 2021.

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