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Beleaguered Haight Street Public Works Project Begins Again

There goes the neighborhood?

Brace yourselves, Haight Street residents. Nearly a year after the start of the long-suffering infrastructure project that nearly blew the street up five times and collapsed it at least twice (neighbors and the city disagree on whether a third sinkhole in the area last year was related to the street work or not), it’s starting up again.

The $13.7 million project to replace aging water and sewer lines beneath the main drag of Haight began last April, and was supposed to last a few weeks at the most. But a constant string of near disasters put the whole affair into a legal limbo from which it’s only just now emerging.

The city by and large blamed Synergy Project Management, the subcontracting company whose workers were digging around beneath Haight and routinely busting gas lines and triggering sinkholes. After some legal wrangling, Synergy was summarily fired from the gig in January.

Synergy itself alleges that the Department of Public Works asked them to do an impossible job with unrealistic plans, and said that old trolley tracks beneath Haight got in the way of digging.

City officials were unmoved by the former subcontractor’s complaints. For the next five days, non-Synergy workers will survey conditions under the street to see how much of the job is already done, and then next Wednesday (March 16) the actual trench work begins. The whole thing is expected to last 14 months, meaning that, God willing, it will eventually conclude 25 months after it originally began.

"Fourteen months is the contractor’s estimate right now," Public Works spokesman Alex Murillo told Curbed SF. "We know merchants would like for us to get it done and get out of there as fast as possible, so we’re looking for ways to expedite it. We’re trying to fine tune the timeline."

Although Public Works is ultimately behind all of this, at a hearing before Board of Supervisors President London Breed in January, DPW officials complained that their hands are largely tied. By law, the city must award contract work to the company that puts in the lowest bid (San Rafael-based Ghilotti Brothers, in this case), who in turn hire the cheapest subcontractor (Synergy).

The city promises that this time there will be no problems, and repairs will be completed in a way that minimally impacts street traffic and doesn’t interrupt utility service. Seven or eight times bitten, eternally shy, but we’ll see how this plays out.