Patience Wearing Thin

Politico – excerpt

The chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee called Thursday for the resignation of Dan Richard, chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority’s board of directors, and for stronger legislative oversight on development of the bullet train after a scathing audit was released this month, reports POLITICO’s Angela Hart…

Richard responded Thursday evening: “Today, Vice Chair Tom Richards and COO Joe Hedges had a productive dialogue with members of the Legislature. Our primary focus remains continuing to improve this transformative project – the biggest job creator in the Central Valley in decades – we are proud of our accomplishments, always open to constructive advice, but have no need to respond to errant and uninformed attacks.”

Looks like this blame thing is going around. All kinds of mistakes are surfacing as the politicos attempt to shift the problem to a person and not their concept or system that is not performing as they would like. Could anyone have made this turkey fly?

This is being hailed as the “biggest job creator in the Central Valley”. And here we thought it was supposed to replace the need for air traffic between SF and LA. If the intention is to create jobs, the High Speed Rail must be a big success.

Maybe the better use of taxpayer funds would be to move the businesses to the Central Valley where the workers need jobs and housing is not a problem. Moving jobs where they are needed solves three problems: Jobs, housing and transportation and the corporations can pay for construction of the new offices and building, saving the taxpayer billions in expenses.

Where the SFMTA’s Prop. A money has gone

By Will Reisman : sfexaminer – excerpt from April 14, 2013

Prop. A, five years later: The second part in a two-part series explores where funding from Proposition A has gone since voters passed the initiative in 2007. It was intended to give the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency more control over revenue from parking meters and off-street lots to put toward the Transit Effectiveness Project. It appears that money has been put toward other uses...

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages Muni, is projected to collect $31 million in revenue this fiscal year from Proposition A, a ballot measure passed in 2007. Prop. A gives the agency more control over revenue collected from parking lots and meters, and the money is supposed to go directly toward the Transit Effectiveness Project, a long-awaited plan to improve Muni service.

However, funds have been directed to areas that seemingly have ambiguous links to transit service, according to records obtained by The San Francisco Examiner…

Overall, the funds will pay for 217 transit agency employees at a cost of $23 million. Along with funding these positions, Prop. A revenue will go toward a new dump truck and 50 Go-4 Interceptors, the small vehicles used by parking control officers…

Paul Rose, a spokesman for the transit agency, defended the expenditure plan.

However, former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who advocated for Prop. A in 2007, said the funds are being misspent.

“We gave the SFMTA and its commission unparalleled authority and took away oversight from the Board of Supervisors,” Peskin said. “But it has been a failure because the SFMTA has simply not used the money properly. I think it’s time to put oversight of the funds back into the elected officials who represent Muni riders.”

Quentin Kopp, a retired Superior Court judge and also a former board president, called the expenditures an expropriation of taxpayer funds…(more)

Wonder how Peskin feels about dealing with the SFMTA now. Of course he has his hands full with the Leaning Tilting Sinking Millennium Mess and the Transbay Terminal Terminal.

Hopefully someone on the Board of Supervisors will find the time to hasten the restructuring of the SFMTA Board that just killed the taxi industry, and is doing everything in their power to hand over control of the streets to their corporate buddies, Lyft, Uber and the rest of the disruptors.

Central Subway problems persist

Op-ed by Gerald Cauthen : sfexmainer – excerpt

ed-head1

Have you ever wondered how the Central Subway project, a 1.7-mile rail extension of Muni’s Third Street line from Fourth and King to Chinatown, managed to get so bollixed up? Here’s a brief history of what happened:

At the end of 2017, it was announced the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Central Subway manager, John Funghi, was leaving his post for the $1.6 billion project to work on Caltrain electrification. His departure came shortly after Tutor-Perini, the station contractor, released a report Nov. 1, 2017, showing that the project is more than two years behind schedule and burdened with more than 1,300 construction contractor claims outstanding — only 73 of which had at that time been addressed by the SFMTA — leaving the remaining 94 percent awaiting “processing.”

As things stand, the trains won’t be rolling into Chinatown before Spring 2021, at least 29 months behind schedule.

The true extent of the project’s construction cost and delay problems are now revealed: The Tutor-Perini report submitted to Supervisor Aaron Peskin lays out the problems in detail and asks Peskin, who is also chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, to help resolve the hundreds if not thousands of outstanding issues between it and the SFMTA. In view of the many months of the Federal Transportation Administration’s Project Oversight Reports repeatedly warning of unfilled SFMTA positions and other staffing problems, and of accumulating contractor claims and accruing project delays, this came as no great surprise.

Yet, as recently as three months ago, the leadership of the SFMTA was still contending that, although the actions of the contractor had delayed things by nine months, the project was still within budget. That was before the 1,300 claims came to light; it is now clear the project is both way behind schedule and way over budget. From what has been revealed to date, it appears that because of a “head-in-the-sand” response to serious Central Subway design and construction problems, the ultimate cost of the project has increased substantially, thereby placing the SFMTA and San Francisco taxpayers in financial jeopardy… (more)

Gerald Cauthen represents SaveMuni, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization created to help find ways of improving Muni and the other transit services leading into and serving San Francisco.

Lack of jobs is hardly a problem. A lack of talented workers is. This is exacerbated by an agency that can’t say no to every hair-brained scheme special interest groups come up with. If the SFMTA were only allowed to work on one large construction project at a time and finish it before starting another one, we might have a system and city that functioned.

We understand SFMTA is giving project managers multiple projects to manage. We were told that is what happened on Potrero. Their excuse is that if they don’t start a project they lose funding for it. The SFMTA and the director have bitten off too much to chew and they have buried their heads in the sand in hopes we won’t notice their incompetence. They will continue the blame game while biting the hands that feed them until they are put out to pasture. The voters have a say if the Supervisors give them a chance to restructure the department.

Costs to upgrade Muni’s Sunset Tunnel soar — partly thanks to neighbors

By Michael Cabanatuan : sfchronicle – excerpt

Work to strengthen and modernize Muni’s Sunset Tunnel will end up costing $4 million more than planned — due in part to neighbors’ complaints about noise and late-night work.

The Municipal Transportation Agency board voted Tuesday to approve the additional payment to contractor ProVen Management, for a total of $23.3 million, because of delays, mostly associated with neighbors’ appeal of a night work permit, and additional work requested by the agency…

Money to pay for the increased cost will be siphoned from a project to rebuild the turntable in the Cable Car Barn, part of an effort to rehabilitate the cable car system. Muni will delay that work until 2019 while it looks for new funding… (more)

Leave it to SFMTA to blame the neighbors. The will blame anyone rather than assume the blame themselves. How much longer will people put up with them?

CA bullet train authority postpones critical $30M contract award

Kim Slowey : constructiondive – excerpt

Dive Brief:

  • The California High Speed Rail Authority has postponed awarding a key, $30 million operations and management contract for the first leg of its new rail line through the state’s Central Valley region, according to Courthouse News Service. CHSRA was scheduled to award the contract at its monthly meeting Thursday.
  • The CHSRA had planned to tap DB Engineering & Consulting USA, a subsidiary of German rail company Deutsche Bahn, for the project, but Spain-based bidder Renfe protested the decision at the last minute. Renfe objected based on its scoring process, during which the company said it received high marks in two out of three categories.
  • The CHSRA’s reluctance to move forward with an operations contract led some meeting attendees to suggest that the authority was dragging its feet at a “critical time” in the bullet train’s schedule. The agency, which is already late in delivering the first segment of the high-speed rail by eight years, will address the contract award issue at its next meeting in November…

Dive Insight:

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times published a June CHSRA report that said the 119-mile line through the Central Valley cost $1.7 billion more than originally forecast, which raised the total price tag to $8 billion. The CHSRA chalked up the increases to the rising cost of land, the cost of utility relocation and negotiations with freight companies over the logistics of running high-speed trains near their tracks. It is unknown whether this add-on will raise the entire projected cost of the rail past its current budget of $64 billion… (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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