Pagoda Theater’s Central Role In The Central Subway Criticized

marinatimes – excerpt

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is facing opposition to its plans to use North Beach’s abandoned Pagoda Palace theater as the site for removing two tunnel-boring machines that are creating the Central Subway. The Pagoda itself was selected after community opposition to the original plan to remove the machines through a shaft on Columbus Avenue by Washington Square Park.
SFMTA says that of all of the options it studied, the Pagoda “is the only option that would minimize construction impacts in North Beach while leaving no physical impediments to a potential future extension of the T-Third Line to North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf.”
The group Save Muni, which campaigns against the Central Subway project, argued that the Pagoda site is a mistake “for a variety of reasons, including major geotechnical and groundwater problems, potential ground subsidence, threatened historic structures and threatened incursions into public parks.” The group has urged the City to prepare a new or supplemental environmental impact report on the project.
SFMTA estimated that the costs to remove the machines at the Pagoda site would be about $9.15 million, including leasing the property, construction costs, and reimbursements to the property owner… (more)

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Fate Of Central Subway Excavation Machines Stirs SF North Beach Debate

Reporting Chris Filippi : CBSlocal.com – excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— The question of what to do with two huge tunnel boring machines that will dig the hole for the Central Subway project in San Francisco is generating more controversy.
On Wednesday night, over 100 people packed a community meeting in North Beach where some neighbors questioned why the machines can’t be left underground.
..
SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said getting the machines out and tearing down a building many consider an eyesore seems like a win-win for the community.
“I’ll note also that there was no support in this room at the time to leave the machines buried here in North Beach,” Reiskin said… (more)

The more they learn the less they like.

Maybe people object to the soaring costs that turned up the minute the contract was signed, or maybe the disagreement between engineers cause some to pause and re-think the plan, or maybe the fact that reports on the bolts were ignored prior to installing them, and only when they obviously failed were they defects taken seriously. What are we NOT seeing that we need to concern ourselves with and who do we trust?

Grout Expectations: The Central Subway Plan Tries to Compensate for its Shortcomings, but May Just Frack it Up

By Joe Eskenazi : sfweekly.com – excerpt

In the days before cell phones, bored undergraduates in the restrooms of institutions of higher learning passed time by scrawling puns in the grouting between wall tiles: “The Grout Gatsby;” “It’s the Grout Pumpkin, Charlie Brown;” “Grout Expectations;” and, of course, “Three Strikes and You’re Grout.”
This, incidentally, is called “groutfiti,” and could be the first, last, and only time many people gave a moment’s thought to grout. North Beach residents, however, may be thinking a grout deal about the stuff in the coming weeks. As part of the ongoing plan to extract Central Subway tunnel-boring machines from the derelict Pagoda Palace theater, an engineering firm contracted by the city has proposed injecting “compaction grouting” into the earth to prevent nearby century-old, brick-foundation structures from sinking during the subterranean construction project…

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Expect a face off over Central Subway at Wednesday meeting

Meter Madness

C.W. Nevius :SFGate.com – excerpt

Jon Golinger, president of the North Beach neighborhood association the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, says he expects Wednesday night’s community meeting about the Central Subway to be “challenging.”
That’s one way of putting it. Asked what she expected, neighborhood activist Julie Christensen, who supports the subway, cracked, “I’m thinking a lynching. It could escalate to that.”
She’s kidding of course. But nearly everyone is expecting a packed house of 100 or more for the 6:30 meeting and you can bet some voices will be raised.
Now that the Municipal Transportation Agency has decided not to tear up Columbus Street to remove the massive digging machines, the focus shifts to tearing down the Pagoda Theater, a perennial eyesore, and pulling the machines out there.
Critics want to know how much this will cost, what provisions have been made to protect surrounding buildings, and how this will…

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Central Subway Audit Uncovers Illegitimate Expenditures

Liz Melchor : potreroview.net – excerpt

ome 2018, transit riders should be able to get on the Muni T-line at Fourth and Brannan streets and take a train all the way to Chinatown, via the San Francisco Municipal Transportation’s Agency’s (SFMTA) Central Subway. The controversial subway extension is expected to cost more than $1.6 billion, a large portion of which will be spent on consultants.
And it seems that when municipal transportation expenditures get so large, private contractors try to work the system to their benefit. A recent audit by Sacramento-based firm Sjoberg Evashenk found that 10 of 14 consulting firms working on the Central Subway were overcharging the City, to the tune of $900,000. The most egregious companies tried to pass along expenses like a wedding cake, personal vacations, and tables at charity golf tournaments.
The Central Subway project has been criticized for its high cost since its inception. A 2011 Civil Grand Jury report, Central Subway: Too Much Money for Too Little Benefit, compared the Central Subway to another famous 1.7 mile transportation construction feat in San Francisco: the Golden Gate Bridge. To replace the bridge would cost $1.2 billion, they asserted. How could the Central Subway cost so much more?… (more)

Due Diligence and Questions Yet To Be Answered

CENTRAL SUBWAY:  Liability and High Construction Risks
The Shifting of Unforeseen Costs To Contractors and Taxpayers, and why the public needs to be involved in all large development decisions before any contracts get signed and why protecting CEQA is important.

If the Central Subway Project is completed in 2019, most of today’s politicians will be out of office—“immune” from any fiscal crisis left behind. The Board and staff of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) will avert personal liability. Legally-crafted construction specifications will shift blame to general contractors, subcontractors and suppliers—and cost overruns will fall to taxpayers. However, in matters of life-safety, political immunity from construction failures should not be so easily granted, particularly when basic engineering and physics have known consequences.

Are high risks known?
Yes.  In the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) letter of 1-10-10 to the SFMTA:
The Central Subway Project is a high risk project located in a densely populated urban center.  It is the largest, most complex project ever undertaken by SFMTA.”
The FTA has knowledge of past construction accidents (See “History of Accidents” below) and risky excavation in older areas of Downtown, Chinatown and NorthBeach.  Unlike Hollywood Boulevard’s sinkhole or Cologne’s building collapse, the Central Subway is digging in narrower streets and in closer proximity to old buildings and shallow foundations—exacerbated by hilly terrain, underground water and saturated/ inconsistent soils.

What is the likelihood of construction cost overruns?
In the SF Weekly, 2-27-13,  “Central Subway: Muni’s Drilling Plan Strains Credulity
http://www.sfweekly.com/2013-02-27/news/muni-central-subway-plan-strains-credulity/
“An audit by the firm CGR Management Consultants pegged the likelihood of the Central Subway coming in on budget at 30 percent.”
Even highly-developed countries with the best engineers have been stunned by construction accidents involving deep excavations and tunneling (See “History of Accidents” below).  If the Central Subway goes over budget, the additional dollars will be taken from local Muni sources.

Have construction risks and liability been mitigated?
Not to the highest degree.  Like the proposed Pagoda Theater excavation (See “A Case in Point” below), rudimentary assumptions have been made regarding geotechnical and building conditions.  Nearby buildings have not had full structural analysis—only condition assessments.  More pre-testing would reveal  hidden aboveground and underground conditions.  Standard construction procedures are insufficient, given the inconsistent soil conditions.

  • For excavations underneath 100-year old buildings, into inconsistent soils with high water tables, basic physics can predict the immense forces that can stress structures, streets and utilities.
  • The excavations’ lateral proximity to existing structures increases the odds of soil subsidence and cavity formations, especially with sloping hills, intervening alluvial-filled valleys and fractured rock.
  • Excavating to depths from 40-120 feet, the structural loading of saturated soils, combined with the dead loads of buildings and their contents, is large—prone to increased hydrostatic pressures, collapse of voids and soil subsidence.
  • The 1906 Earthquake and Fire affected the narrow streets along the route of the Central Subway, leaving remnants of rushed demolitions, underground rubble, artificial fill and voids.
  • Hilly terrain and alluvial valleys propel rainfall and underground water, saturating sandy soils, creating instability, vertical displacements…..
  • Inconsistent soils are difficult to stabilize by compensation grouting alone, likely requiring expensive shoring, underpinning. slurry piles, tremie concrete construction…..
  • Even in recent American tunneling projects, property owners have complained of noise, sewage floods, cracked foundations and other problems—much less catastrophic collapses.

Are there fiscally prudent alternatives? 
Taxpayers, designers and builders need to assure due diligence to protect their own interests.  Existing and hidden conditions require thorough analysis.  Project contingencies must cover cost overruns.  The City’s underlying politics is to construct 2,000 foot tunnels for the northerly subway extension—-without environmental reviews.  Business associations and real estate interests want to escalate land values and large development prospects.  But fiscally prudent alternatives exist to conserve funds.  The SFMTA plans to spend $9.15 million from its operating funds for the Pagoda Theater Project, in order to retrieve two TBMs valued at $4.4 million.  Moreover, the twin 2,000 foot tunnels from Chinatown to NorthBeach will cost up to $70 million.  If the TBMs are extracted or buried at the Chinatown Station, SFMTA can save $79 million—better spent on construction contingency and Muni service enhancements.

Regards,  Howard Wong, AIA

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