New SF Subway Line Taking Longer to Build Than Golden Gate Bridge

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The new SF Subway Line connecting the SOMA with Chinatown, is taking twice as long to build as it took to build the entire Golden Gate Bridge in the 1930’s.

There are some amazing similarities between the new ‘Central Subway Line’ currently being built from Chinatown to 4th & Brannan St. and the construction of the famous Golden Gate Bridge back in the 1930’s.  Both the new subway line and the GG Bridge are approximately 1.7 miles long, took 5 years to complete, and cost $35 million to build.  No wait, what I meant to say is both are approximately 1.7 miles long, the central subway line (if completed with new projections) will have taken twice as long as it took to build the Golden Gate in the 1930’s, and will cost more than $1.6 billion to complete, and that’s if nothing else goes wrong…

Station roof decking being installed for the mezzanine portion of the station, south of the southern headwall, between O’Farrell and Ellis.  Photo

From 1932 to 1937 it took a brilliant engineer named Joseph Strauss and a team of Depression-era workers, 5 years to build perhaps the most iconic bridge on the planet using 1930’s technology.  Meanwhile, today’s standards of efficiency have clearly changed.  The Central Subway Line broke ground in 2010, and after delays because of having to move unforeseen ‘power and gas lines’, (how those were unforeseen is beyond anyone), a delay because the rock they were drilling through was, “harder than expected.”

Tunnel building under San Francisco, Photo

Now the latest delay (and this is brilliant), contractors installed the wrong kind of railroad tracks.  That’s right, they were asked to build a railway line, and somehow, they didn’t get the memo on which railroad tracks to use.


MUNI is now asking them to kindly put in the correct tracks, and that’s going to cost someone a lot more money, and cost everyone a lot more time.

New MUNI subway stations (when completed):

  • 4th and Brannan Station at 4th and Brannan streets (street level)
  • Yerba Buena/Moscone Station at 4th and Folsom streets (subway)
  • Union Square/Market Street Station on Stockton Street at Union Square (subway)
  • Chinatown Station at Stockton and Washington streets (subway)

Tutor Perini is the big construction contractor on the subway project and is being paid $840 billion of the $1.6 billion allocated (that figure is of course before they find more reasons to jack-up costs) Tutor Perini has hinted that the line may open as late as 2021.  11 years, to go 1.7 miles.

Golden Gate Bridge ‘safety net’

Now you may be saying, “you can’t compare bridge building with subway building, they’re completely different feats of engineering”!  And we take your point, tunnels are different than bridges.  So let’s compare this project to another railway system, let’s say BART for example.

Bart employees in the 1970’s. Photo

BART began construction in 1964, and began operations in the East Bay in 1972, and by 1974 BART was taking passengers from as far away as Concord, underneath the Bay, then underneath miles of Market Street in San Francisco.  That means they built over 70 miles of track, underground, above ground, and underwater, in the same amount of time that it will take Tutor Perini and their team of contractors to dig 1.7 miles of track under San Francisco.

Tutor Perini is one of the biggest civil construction companies in the world.  It was one of their subsidiaries ‘Tutor-Saliba’, who built the International Terminal at SFO in the 1990’s for example.  They won the airport contracts with a $620 million bid, but in the end charged the city $980 million.  This caused the city to sue them for fraud.  The city settled the suit and forced Perini to pay back $19 million, while the city’s legal costs for the lawsuit ran between $9 and $10 Million dollars.

So here we go again, with more or less the same cast of characters.  We hope to see you on the train to Fisherman’s Wharf sometime in 2076.

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor and co-owner of this little experiment. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

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