The Central Subway now will not be opening until mid-2021, a full three years behind schedule, and a year and a half later than we were last told. Construction isn't even set to be finished until the middle of next year, and then a year of train testing begins.
We learned in July that another delay was imminent on this cursed, $1.6 billion project, even though back in April an SFMTA spokesperson was still talking about a possible December 2019 opening, and saying that February 2020 was more likely. We're now hearing from KPIX and the Chronicle that those dates had to have been complete hogwash, and that construction is much further behind than anyone previously admitted.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose constituents in Chinatown and North Beach have been giving him an earful about the construction impacts for years, tells the Chronicle this is a "bummer," but it's "no surprise." "But at least they’re finally telling the truth when they should have told the truth a long time ago," Peskin says.
The mayor issued a statement through a spokesperson saying "San Francisco has to get better at large-scale project delivery," and "Our residents deserve better, and we will do better."
Just to back up a second: This project, which broke ground in 2010, was supposed to be up and running for revenue passengers by 2018. Once complete and operational, it will connect Caltrain at 4th and Brannan with Chinatown via a light-rail line, with a total of four station stops — also including Moscone Station at 4th and Folsom, and Union Square Station at Stockton and Market/Geary. According to the most recent timeline posted, testing was supposed to have begun last year in order for revenue service to begin in late 2019 — it also says the project's "on budget." The obvious lie that's been going on here is that if construction is still a year from being complete, everyone on the project had to know that testing was over a year behind schedule, and no one was admitting this.
At issue, in part, has been a battle over change orders and other issues between the SFMTA and the contractor on the Central Subway, Tutor Perini. The project also got a new director in July, Nadeem Tahir, who previously managed rail projects in Los Angeles, Chicago, and D.C., and the agency said when he started on the job that he would be doing "a comprehensive review of the Central Subway budget and schedule." Tahir is the third person to take over management of the project, after John Funghi and Albert Hoe.
As Tahir told the Examiner in an interview last month, one thing he was hoping to fix is the change-order process, which the contractor has blamed for all the delays. Tahir said some of these should likely have been "technicalities" or "fee change notices," but he said he would try to pay up all the change-order bills quickly to get the project back on track.
The latest delay seems like it will inevitably send the project further over budget, though those details haven't yet been shared. (We heard as of several months ago that the contingency budget was already gone.) As the SFMTA wrote in July, "Like most major infrastructure projects, the Central Subway is incredibly complex. Accurately predicting a completion date is always a challenge, and there are always risks that can delay a project or add unanticipated costs."