SF Budget Office: Lack of Accountability Drives Delays, Higher Costs in Transit Projects

  • A lack of accountability led to millions in cost overruns and significant delays in San Francisco transit improvement projects, an audit found

  • In one instance, poor communication about a service shutdown led to $35 million in extra costs on a Twin Peaks Tunnel improvement project, which was plagued by delays and safety concerns

  • SFMTA’s 20-year plan includes $31 billion in capital spending, with the majority allocated to transit "expansion and optimization" projects

A new report issued by the San Francisco Controller’s Office found that subpar communication and collaboration drove years of delays and millions in cost overruns in transit improvement projects.


The report examined four capital projects managed by SFMTA, the agency overseeing public transit and transportation infrastructure in San Francisco, and found that an overall lack of accountability led to inefficiencies, delays, and millions in unnecessary spending.


In one example, “inadequate collaboration” in the Twin Peaks Tunnel Trackway Improvement project added $35 million in extra costs after the agency failed to properly communicate about a planned shutdown of parts of the tunnel, leading to the cancellation and re-bidding of a key contract.


That misstep also delayed the completion of the project, which replaced the track structure and other structural upgrades in Twin Peaks Tunnel, by 440 days, according to the report.


In October 2020, SFMTA officials disclosed to the agency’s board that parts of the Twin Peaks construction project would have to be redone because of an ill-fated decision to leave in place decades-old ballast rock that acts as the foundation for rail tracks.


That decision added up to $9 million in additional work across 15 to 17 weekends, the audit found. In another instance on the same project, SFMTA’s due diligence protocols did not detect prior safety violations of a contractor, Shimmick Construction, A technician employed by Shimmick Construction was fatally crushed by a steel beam during the construction.


“SFMTA does not hold its divisions and employees accountable for effective communication and collaboration in capital planning or project delivery,” the Controller’s report said. Three out of four projects that were audited suffered cost overruns and delays as a result of ineffective communication and collaboration.


In another instance, an improvement project at Green Light Rail Center near Balboa Park was delayed because of an unexplained “communication breakdown” that under-reported the duration of the project by 63 days. Likewise, inadequate communication between SFMTA and SF Public Works, which oversees sidewalks and street infrastructure, led to 620 days of project delays and $23,000 in change order costs on an improvement to the 5 Fulton Muni route.


SFMTA’s 20-year plan includes $31 billion in capital projects spanning transit route expansion, fleet upgrades, street safety improvements and more.


The agency’s biggest planned expenditure is transit optimization and expansion, amounting to 31% of that spending.


Two of SFMTA’s major projects in recent years, the Central Subway project and the Van Ness Improvement project, have run into cost overruns and significant delays.


The Van Ness project, intended to add a bus-only lane, underground sewer replacement and other upgrades to the street, kicked off in 2017 and originally slated for completion in 2019. Following multiple delays, the completion date has now been extended to 2022.


Construction on the Central Subway project, intended to extend the T-line to Chinatown, began in 2012 and was originally slated for completion in 2018. Multiple delays have pushed the estimated completion date to 2022.

Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup
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