Pact to speed BART projectBy Robert Landon
As construction crews march toward San Bruno's busy commercial district, BART and city officials agreed last week to a plan that could halve construction time.
Overall, the Bay Area Rapid Transit extension to San Francisco Airport has been taking longer than expected, but the speed-up through San Bruno will put the project back on schedule, said George Foscardo, San Bruno's community and economic development director.
In 1997, the city and local businesses fought successfully for a three-phase construction plan that allowed contractors to work on only one segment at a time. But the city reversed its position, and now BART's contractors can work on all three segments at once, cutting construction time from 18 months to as few as nine months, officials said.
It's a win-win situation," said Steve Rogers, San Bruno's assistant city manager. "There'll be some more disruption, but for a much shorter period of time."
To sweeten the deal, BART contractor Tutor-Saliba has agreed to widen and landscape Huntington Avenue between Interstate 380 and San Bruno Avenue at no cost to the city, Rogers said.
It will create an "attractive approach" to San Bruno's commercial district, he added.
The agreement also includes construction of a new city police station, to be built by BART contractors on land leased from BART for 75 years. The city will own the station and pay construction costs.
BART trains will run underground most of the way through San Bruno, so contractors must first dig deep trenches. Excavation is expected to cause significant disruptions, especially around the busy intersection of San Bruno and San Mateo avenues.
Even before excavation begins, contractors must drive heavy metal piles as deep as 40 feet into the ground. Once trenches are dug, contractors build temporary bridges. Then they can do the rest of the work out of sight, from laying tracks to installing vital electrical and telecommunications lines.
The method is known as "cut-and-cover" construction, said BART spokesman Dave Madden.
Originally, San Bruno officials and local business people believed that three-phase construction would cause the least disruption, but after watching BART's progress through Colma and South San Francisco, the city decided that an all-in-one approach would work best, Rogers said.
Artichoke Joe's, a popular 24-hour cardroom just off Highway 101, had been particularly concerned that one-phase construction would tie up parking facilities and drive away business.
Described by one official as "a major source of funds" for San Bruno, the cardroom was key in winning the original agreement for phased construction.
A spokesman for Artichoke Joe's said the cardroom is happy with the new arrangements, but said a clause "similar to a gag order" prevents the business from commenting publicly. Madden said Artichoke Joe's signed onto the latest agreement when BART guaranteed parking in downtown San Bruno.
But not all businesses have received the same consideration.
Officials "keep changing plans without consulting us," said Bashir Khoury, who runs the Railroad Cafe, a small restaurant near Artichoke Joe's that caters to locals as well as limousine drivers from nearby San Francisco Airport.
Khoury worries that parking and traffic problems could harm small businesses like his. "Customers are going to think twice before coming here," he said.
To limit such problems, Madden said, no streets will be completely closed during construction. Businesses will receive notification of potential traffic and parking problems, Rogers said.
The city also plans to erect signs to clearly explain the situation and inform customers that the city's shops and restaurants are still open, Rogers said.
Community activist Alice Barnes, who has accused BART contractors of numerous safety violations, said she is pleased with the recent speed-up agreement.
"We are excited about the sensible and sensitive manner in which Tutor-Saliba and the city of San Bruno are going to accomplish it," she said. "Rather than have daily turmoil on our streets for 18 months in wet and dry weather, we are going to be socked with it for a targeted four months (of the most intensive work) this summer," she said.
Copyright ©2000 San Jose Mercury News. Published 03/13/2000.