SFMTA responds to civil grand jury report on Van Ness Improvement Project

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco's Government Audit and Oversight committee met on Thursday to discuss a Civil Grand Jury report on the Van Ness Improvement Project.

The project from Mission Street to Lombard Street will create San Francisco's first bus rapid transit system with dedicated bus lanes, improvements to boarding, and technology to keep buses moving. It will also replace a 100-year-old water main and sewer. Many say it's taking too long and creating a mess on Van Ness.

The meeting was a chance for the SFMTA to respond to the Civil Grand Jury's June report. It found the project was over budget and over time. Bus Rapid Transit passenger service on Van Ness is slated to begin in early 2022, three years later than originally promised at the start of construction.

"It's a mess."

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Business owners like Farzin Kaveh of Audio Symphony have been impacted by the construction for years.

Delays and cost overruns caught the attention of San Francisco's 19 person Civil Grand Jury. In June, it found that the cost of the project had increased to $346 million dollars, 23% over budget.

The city has said the delays were driven by unexpected findings under the surface of Van Ness, but the Jury found that the SFMTA could have lessened delays and cost overruns had it done more prior to the start of construction.

At a Government Audit and Oversight Committee meeting on Thursday, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman acknowledged what the delays have really cost the city.

"Frankly, it's a project that I think has undermined confidence in city government," said Mandelman.

The SFMTA is now responding to the Civil Grand Jury's findings.

"Improving project delivery is something that is really important to us. We know that we're not where we need to be," said Tom Maguire, SFMTA Director of Streets Division.

Walsh Construction is the prime contractor for the project.

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"It's up to us to hold Walsh accountable and we have some techniques for doing that. Walsh is supposed to be a partner and some of the issues that were called out by the Civil Grand Jury are instances where we weren't really feeling that partnership," said Maguire.

Simone Manganelli is a member of 2020-2021 San Francisco Civil Grand Jury.

"Yes, we understand that the contractor bears some of the responsibility for some of the problems that were happening but the MTA's MO should be the buck stops here," said Manganelli.

The conversation about the project's shortcomings will continue next week, but Supervisor Mandelman made a motion for it to be in closed session.

Manganelli said he understands disputes and contract modifications might make that necessary.

"However, as a civil grand juror and a San Franciscan I really hope that the closed session discussion is summarized for us in an open session or in some public document."

Walsh Construction did not comment at Thursday's hearing. ABC7 News I-TEAM reporter Melanie Woodrow reached out to them and did not hear back.

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