As the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) in San Francisco wraps up repairs to the fractured steel beams at its $2.2 billion Salesforce Transit Center, it’s looking ahead to not only the transportation hub’s reopening but to the next stages in its plan to bring rail service to the transit center.
However, before moving forward with its next multibillion-dollar, multiyear project, Mark Zabaneh, executive director of the TJPA, asked the American Public Transportation Association to conduct an independent peer review of the agency’s project management and oversight practices. And, after praising the authority for its work at the transit center, that’s exactly what APTA did.
Organization and staffing
APTA found that the TJPA relies too heavily on consultants and that, while it seems to be managing the transit center effectively with its existing employees, the authority needs to beef up its in-house staff if it’s going to successfully deliver the next phase.
The TJPA's Phase 2 plans include an approximately $4 billion, 10-year project that will connect the transit center via the Downtown Rail Extension to Caltrain's San Francisco station. The panel said that without adequate staffing, the TJPA is at risk of losing institutional knowledge that will help it transition into the next phases of its capital program and recommended the authority hire key positions, including a Phase 2 project director, a chief engineer/tunneling engineer, a design manager and a planning/environmental manager.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority has recently come under fire for handing over a significant piece of bullet train management and oversight to consultants. In its latest project update, however, the CHSRA said it would return control of many functions to in-house staff.
The APTA panel noted that the TJPA did not realize the usual collaborative benefits of the construction manager/general contractor (CMGC) delivery method. To the contrary, the project was beset by inaccurate estimates; significant and “untimely” changes to the scope of work; delays; cost overruns and a small pool of interested bidders, resulting in high subcontractor bids.
Before moving on to Phase 2, the APTA panel said the authority should review all possible project delivery methods — i.e. design-bid-build, design-build, public-private partnership — to determine which will best align with the experience and capabilities of its in-house staff and the large scope of work, which includes a tunnel.
Reviewers suggested that the TJPA hold a workshop with its staff, stakeholders and the local design and construction community, as well as review similar projects, in order to come up with the best method of project delivery.
As for the Phase 2 scope of work, the panel suggested that the authority rethink whether or not they want to include elements meant to accommodate high-speed rail — without eliminating the possibility altogether — given that the bullet train route into San Francisco is up in the air right now. Soon after new California Gov. Gavin Newsom took office, he suspended all but the 119-mile Merced-Bakersfield segment of the high-speed rail — including the segment that was supposed to serve the city of San Francisco — after cost overruns in the billions and significant delays in the schedule.
Oversight and communication
The panel noted that the amount of stakeholder coordination during construction of the transit center was “extraordinary,” but recommended tweaks for future phases. These included making sure all stakeholders are on the same page as far as strategy and vision; better defining roles and responsibilities; enlisting a “strong, external stakeholder” — i.e. Caltrain, a city official — to champion the project; hiring an independent engineer to monitor the project and report back to the TJPA board; and promoting the overall success of the transit center within the community to maintain a high level of support.
Despite the criticism, TJPA members took the critique well, and thanked the APTA panel members for the review. "These are folks who are at the top of their field,” Ed Reiskin, head of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and TJPA board member, told those attending the meeting, "and have very big day jobs, and the fact that [they] are willing … to take time to do this for the benefit of another transit agency ... I really appreciate that and thank you.”
As for the transit center, repairs are complete and the building will undergo recommissioning through May. The authority has not yet set a reopening date.