Now three years beyond its original deadline and nearly $40 million over budget, the so-called Van Ness Improvement Project apparently went off the rails because we started digging without knowing what was underneath.

The no-end-in-sight Van Ness construction project has been a tragic running joke of frustration for so long that you may forget that San Francisco voters approved the project in 2003. At this point, we’d feel lucky if it were finished twenty years later, as the current proposed completion date is early 2022 after countless delays. The project did not even break ground until 2016, so at this point, we are on Year Five of construction on what's essentially two surface bus lanes. For perspective, the Golden Gate Bridge took four years and three months to build.

The construction was supposed to be finished by 2019, and the cost was supposed to come in at $309 million (it has since ballooned to $346 million.) An appointed Grand Jury oversight board just released their report on what all went wrong entitled “Van Ness Avenue: What Lies Beneath” and details that a lack of knowledge of the underground infrastructure was a primary culprit in the delays.


The executive summary of government-blaming is seen above, but the primary cause of delays was that SFMTA did not really know the complex, outdated water and sewage lines they’d find once they broke ground. While the SFMTA says they knew “1800’s-era” water pipes were down there, the report says that “adequate assessment of the utilities during the planning and design phase of the project would have resulted in a more accurate project timeline and would have avoided setting unrealistic completion dates,” and that design decisions “were made without adequate knowledge of Van Ness Avenue’s subsurface infrastructure.”

“Given the importance and prominent visibility of the corridor, the Van Ness Project has been watched closely by the public from its beginning,” the report concludes. “The ongoing delay in project completion and the multiple reported completion dates have damaged the public’s confidence in SFMTA to keep its promises. It is understandable that a project of this magnitude and complexity would take many years to plan and construct. But the missteps during the planning and preconstruction phases that eventually impacted construction adversely affected users of the roadway as well as residents and businesses along the corridor.”

We don’t recall the public’s confidence in SFMTA ever being terribly strong, but that’s just San Francisco. Traffic delays and cost overruns are a normal part of civic improvement. The truly heartbreaking aspect of this has been the ruin of small businesses along the Van Ness corridor. The aging water and sewer pipes may be fixed, but the permanent damage has been done for shuttered businesses like Bootleg Bar & Kitchen.

Related: Four Years Into Van Ness Bus Lane Project, Red Concrete Gets Poured for Lanes [SFist]

Image: @Transiting via Twitter