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

By Joe Eskenazi : – 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…

For years, Douglas Ahlers hoped to transform the Pagoda Palace back into a thriving theater. That never happened. Doing so would have required rivers of money rivaling the actual river Ahlers suspects flows beneath the Palace.
His hopes to build a basement for scenery storage and a prop shop were quashed when “the report from some test borings showed that there were some issues with water — likely an underground stream coming off Russian Hill,” he writes in a recent e-mail. Excavating the site “was put to me as something well outside of the budget.”
Ahlers, however, didn’t possess the resources of the city, its Municipal Transportation Agency, and the federal government, all of which are intent on pushing through the Central Subway, the Tropicana of politically juiced projects. Over the past decade, its price tag has leaped by 150 percent while the line’s estimated ridership has fallen by 65 percent. In order to stave off the debacle of extracting tunnel-boring machines from the middle of Columbus Avenue, the city has proposed the two-for-one deal of doing away with the eyesore that is the Pagoda Palace while unearthing the machines out of the public right-of-way. Last week, new construction estimates pushed the anticipated price of the endeavor from $9.15 million to $13.7 million. The cost was pegged at $8 million in February and was sold as adding only $3 million to project costs as recently as December. Whatever the final total, the money will be siphoned from Muni’s general reserve…
“I would think it prudent to have at least one very well-sampled boring that went at least to that depth [42 feet] and maybe 10 or 20 feet below the maximum intended depth,” Hamilton says. “You don’t know what you’re dealing with without information like that.”
Muni spokesman Paul Rose noted that more borings for soil samples — which, hopefully, will go as deep or deeper than 42 feet — will be undertaken prior to construction, slated for next month. If need be, Rose adds, “the retrieval shaft will be amended as necessary to address those conditions.”.
Because the last thing anyone wants is non-consensual fracking… (more)

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