A recent report by a federally placed overseer monitoring the $1.6 billion Central Subway project laments that the controversial line is at risk of falling significantly below Federal Transportation Administration minimums for both time and money contingencies.
The subway’s current project schedule “reflects 4.7 months of buffer float,” according to the project oversight management contractor’s most recent monthly report to the FTA. That’s down precipitously from a 14.8-month contingency as of August 2012.
Since the minimum buffer allowed by federal officials is 10 months, Central Subway officials, per the report, “should submit justification to decrease the minimum schedule contingency and/or develop a recovery plan.”
“This report indicates serious problems with both the schedule contingency and cost contingency,” says Jerry Cauthen, a former Muni engineer and longtime critic of the Central Subway project. “Either one can increase the cost of the project way over the budget.”
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, however, has reportedly spent much time avoiding federal questions regarding lost time: “The Project Management Oversight Contractor has been requesting justification for the reduction in schedule contingency and/or a Recovery schedule from the Central Subway Project since October 2012,” reads the report, which was delivered to the FTA on Wednesday. Federal officials “are concerned it has taken the [Central Subway project] so long to address this serious deficiency.”
The minimum cost contingency the FTA will allow for the project is $160 million. The Central Subway, however, appears poised to drop nearly $100 million below that figure. The lowest of three bids received for “station and systems/trackwork” came in $90 million to $120 million more than anticipated. “If awarded, project cost contingency will fall to approximately $65 million, which is significantly below the required level,” notes the report.
Ominously, the report further highlighted a potential drain of even more time and money at the nascent Union Square-Market Street station. Construction work there initiated in January “has progressed very slowly” as construction crews are “having great difficulties installing the headwall piles.” Only six of 46 were completed in the project’s first three months; at that pace, installing the other 40 will stretch into June 2014. This project is scheduled for completion nine months prior to then, in September, and must be completed before the arrival of the first tunnel-boring machine, which is slated for November.
Transit agency spokesman Paul Rose emphasized that the project is on time and within budget. He added that the agency is “taking appropriate concerns” to address the time contingency questions. If the monetary contingency is drained, he added, the capital fund budget could be tapped.