The metallic pounding echoed through San Francisco’s Fourth and Bryant, shaking the ground and jarring any teeth not securely fastened. David Riker stepped out of his office and peered in the direction of the construction crews pummeling the ground with a back-loader.
“This has been quite a show,” he said without much enthusiasm.
The “show,” is the main act for the Central Subway project, which will eventually connect the Third Street Light Rail Line with an underground tunnel running North through Union Square into Chinatown.
After relocating utility lines, crews are set to begin installing what’s called a “launch box,” which is and underground support where the tunnel boring machines will begin chewing North toward Chinatown.
But after listening to the din of construction for over a year, Riker wasn’t impressed to hear the project was entering yet another phase.
“Our building kind of shakes. So I guess that’s training for earthquakes,” he said. “We don’t panic when the building shakes. “
Next Monday, cranes are expected to begin installing the underground walls at Bryant and 4th. It’s the spot where the above-ground trains will deep underground into the tunnel. The box will run about 500 feet… and sink down up to 80 feet.
“This is preparation for digging,” said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose. “We will have cranes next week that will actually start the launch box digging which will be much deeper and wider.”
The SFMTA is warning people the work will cause traffic woes in the vicinity of the construction. Traffic on 4th street is already reduced to two lanes, and the commute-hour traffic at the 4th and Harrison I80 freeway ramp is routintely a bear.
“Even our customers, when they’re parking, they get caught in the traffic of the construction,” said Amanda Poe who works at a nearby salon. “So we have a lot of late people coming into the salon.”
But Poe said despite the headaches, she and many of her co-workers are looking forward to the eventual completion of the 1.7 mile route to Chinatown.
“I know MUNI’s going to be taking off this way which is awesome for the neighborhood,” Poe said.
The actual tunneling won’t begin until next year, but already the project is mired in controversy. For starters, the SFMTA is starting work even though it has yet to officially secure $942 million in Federal funding. Rose said the city expects progress on the funding within the next month.
“We’ve been given assurance from the Federal Government to go ahead and start construction,” said Rose. “ And we take that as a huge sign of progress.”
Critics have called the $1.6 billion dollar a project a waste of money since it only covers 1.7 miles. The project has also upset businesses who are now enduring construction in Union Square, and soon in Chinatown and North Beach.
But as 4th and Bryant construction blared to an ear-splitting crescendo across the street from David Riker, it was almost as if he could anticipate the far-off light at the end of a very long tunnel.
“Not a lot we can do,” he said. “This is called progress. ”