Central Subway: Leaving Boring Machines in the Ground Won't Cost $55 Million
Did you know there's a guy who sings topical songs set to popular tunes at city meetings? Well, there is.
Audrey Fukuman A million-dollar idea...
If that's what passes for levity at a City Hall meeting, you can imagine the joys of neighborhood meetings regarding contentious issues. Yes, there's juice and chips in the back. But you'll need 'em: These things often last for hours, and everybody -- everybody -- gets up and talks. No one sings.
So, we're willing to concede that C.W. Nevius was likely accurate in summing up the joy that was a heated North Beach meeting regarding the Central Subway project and Pagoda Palace boring machine extraction.
But he was inaccurate in summing up what it's gonna cost. In fact, he was off by a factor of 12.
In Nevius' original column, he notes that the city doesn't actually own the boring machines - the contractor has purchased them and is passing on much of the costs to the city. So, leaving them underground - as many in North Beach are clamoring to do - would require paying that contractor "$55 million."
The revelation of this ownership structure - and the massive cost of abandoning the machines - is portrayed as resonating like a thunderclap at the crowded meeting. Critics of the Pagoda Palace extraction plan are presented as ignorant, impractical, whiners.
This they may be - but not because they didn't know about the $55 million figure. Because that figure doesn't exist.
Here's sworn testimony from Central Subway project manager John Funghi pegging the costs of obtaining a pair of boring machines at around $15 million and the projected resale value at around $4.4 million (boring machines have a shelf life shorter than an NFL running back's).
And here are the bid abstracts for the Central Subway project; you can see that eventual winner BIHJV priced boring machine "procurement and mobilization and segment mould procurement" at $27.5 million.
So, this was simply a mistake; Nevius tells us a correction ran in the Chronicle today. The column has been scrubbed online; it now notes that if the boring machines are left underground (or a pack of Boy Scouts or homeless men are given an acetylene torch and told to keep cutting until nothing's bigger than a golden retriever) "the city would have to buy them -- for roughly $5 million."
Of course, now Nevius is making the opposite point of the one he originally intended. It makes perfect sense to spend heavily to extract the machines if to do otherwise would incur a costly penalty. But it comes off differently when you're digging a $70 million tunnel to North Beach for the ostensible purpose of salvaging $4.4 million worth of equipment. That was the gist of an SF Weekly article we published back in February. As we put it then:
Boring on ahead to North Beach simply because it's easier to do so with federal funding -- while "establishing the groundwork" for the unstudied and unfunded next phase of the Central Subway -- is a dicey proposition: Looking at the big picture, it may even be a good idea to put upward of $70 million into a North Beach tunnel on the feds' dime. But it strains credulity to couch this -- as Muni does -- as the most expedient way to get $4.4 million worth of equipment out of the earth.
It's good Nevius and the Chron followed through and corrected this. It was nothing more than a mistake - and journalists make mistakes; we're not machines. We're not even boring machines.
Though we can, at times, be boring.