By Thomas K. Pendergast
The second phase of the Taraval Street revamp is set to start next year, after a $57.2 million contract to fund it was awarded to the contractor by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) Board of Directors.
The first phase – Segment A – of the L-Taraval Improvement Project, between the San Francisco Zoo and Sunset Boulevard, started in September of 2019 and was completed this past summer. It involved collaboration between the SFMTA, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and San Francisco Public Works.
The project is funded in part by Proposition K sales tax dollars from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.
NTK Construction Inc., the contractor for Segment A, was also awarded the contract for the second segment after the first phase was completed. Transit officials said the first project stayed within budget and was completed on time.
Like the first phase, Segment B will include construction of concrete transit boarding islands, replacement of the light-rail tracks and the overhead electrical contact system, as well as pedestrian safety improvements, like bulb-outs and high visibility crosswalks. Water and sewer lines will be replaced, the street will be resurfaced with fresh asphalt, traffic signals will be replaced, plus new trees and landscaping will be added.
Work on Segment B is expected to last through the end of 2024. In the meantime, transit service for the L-Taraval line will utilize a combination of buses and trains.
The SFMTA says that over the course of the project phase, there will be five equipment staging locations: Santiago Street between 22nd and 24th avenues; 20th Avenue between Ulloa and Wawona streets; Wawona Street between 21st and 23rd avenues; 36th Avenue between Taraval and Ulloa streets; and Taraval between 12th and 15th avenues.
The L-Taraval light rail line carries more than 33,000 riders daily, according to the SFMTA, and the surface portion of the line operates at an average speed of under eight miles per hour “due to close transit stop spacing, frequent stop signs, and traffic. Taraval Street is also a high-injury corridor for pedestrians, with 46 pedestrian injury collisions in five years, 22 of which involved passengers getting on and off the light rail trains at stops without a boarding island. Most of the existing track and overhead electrical contact system infrastructure was last replaced in the late 1970s and is due for replacement.”
The total cost of both the first and second phase together, including the sewer and water line replacement along with other utilities, is projected to be more than $103.7 million.
“This project is an investment in the Sunset and benefits all of San Francisco,” said District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar. “Investing in transit is investing in small businesses, climate justice, economic justice and better opportunities for working people and families.”
At the SFMTA Board of Directors meeting, Director Sharon Lai asked about “streamlining design changes” to avoid problems associated with “coordination challenges that we experienced with other agencies” which plagued the Van Ness Improvement Project and has led to prolonged delays in completing it.
“Primarily, confirming design scopes and confirming the basis of design before we open up the project site so that we don’t fall into a pattern that we fell into with Van Ness BRT, which is kind of live-designing a project while the site is open. That’s very costly,” Lai said. “But also, some of those changes with the Van Ness BRT were essentially requested from our partner agencies, kind of out of our control. But it did cascade into a lot of financial costs for the agency.”
The agency’s project manager Keanway Kyi said they did learn some lessons from both the Van Ness project and the recently completed first section of the Taraval Street project.
“Segment B is about two or three times larger than Segment A,” Kyi said. “We have learned lessons from segment A…. We don’t want to repeat the same mistakes.”
Kyi said they have been “proactively potholing” in coordination with PG&E to identify potential problems. Potholing is creating holes on the surface to identify potential underground utilities to deal with them ahead of construction.
He said they are also trying to minimize change orders by improving coordination with their partner agencies.
“I do recall there were a couple of instances where basically design requests unrelated to underground utilities came about from other agencies later on,” Lai said. “That did change our signal location poles and our island designs. I’m just trying to look for assurance that we’re not going to get into that situation if, let’s say, another agency decides to redesign part of the project for us late in the game, that we’re not held financially accountable for their late decision making.”
Another SFMTA official said this project is less complicated than the Van Ness project, so they do not expect as many surprises and changes will be necessary.