Completion of Castro elevator now slated for 2026

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday April 12, 2023
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A rendering shows the new Castro Muni elevator during the daytime. Illustration: Courtesy SF Public Works<br><br>
A rendering shows the new Castro Muni elevator during the daytime. Illustration: Courtesy SF Public Works

San Francisco transit officials now say the opening of a new elevator at the Castro Muni station in the city's LGBTQ district won't happen until "early 2026," a year longer than was predicted in January. As of this week, there is still no starting date for the $11.5 million project.

As the Bay Area Reporter had reported in early February, the commission that oversees San Francisco Public Works unanimously approved a contract for that amount in January with CLW Builders Inc., which was the lowest bidder to build the elevator. The city agency has overseen the design of the four-stop lift for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates the underground subway station at the corner of Castro and Market streets.

But a delay in SFMTA finalizing the insurance certificate for the project with BART has slowed the permitting process. The regional transit agency's real estate team has been working with city staff on the issue.

"It has not been finalized yet. The groups are still working to finalize insurance requirements," BART chief communications officer Alicia Trost had told the B.A.R. in late March. The regional transit agency built the Castro Muni Station in the 1980s and leases it to SFMTA.

Trost told the B.A.R. Wednesday morning she was waiting on an update from the agency's staff about the status of the permitting issue. Last week, SFMTA spokesperson Stephen Chun could only say that "the project is estimated to start construction in Spring 2023 and projected to be completed early 2026" in response to the B.A.R.'s question regarding its status.

The project's website also now reflects that timeline. It lists it as currently being in the bid phase.

Public Works officials had hoped to break ground on the glass and steel elevator in March, with the work expected to take 20 months. Under that timeline, the elevator was to be completed sometime in early 2025.

But Chun told the B.A.R. this week that the timeline had to be pushed out due to the permitting issues taking longer than expected to be resolved. In addition to the insurance issue, protests lodged by the losing bidders for the project also needed to be resolved before the SFMTA could award the contract to CLW Builders Inc., noted Chun.

"With that said, the change of 2025 to 2026 was due to this very situation; a delay in the issuance of the construction contract related to bid protests," he wrote in an emailed reply. "Now that the protests are resolved, the selected contractor has been submitting their pre-construction documents and certifications and we are waiting from (the city's) OLSE team before we can schedule the pre-job meeting in order to get construction started."

OLSE stands for Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. Public Works spokesperson Rachel Gordon told the B.A.R. Wednesday that the agency is still waiting on the insurance documentation from BART.

While the agency still expects construction to take 20 months, Gordon said an additional three months "for contingency" if needed have been added to the timeline. Thus, it pushes the expected completion date into early 2026, she explained.

The new elevator had first been proposed in 2016, as the current elevator for the Castro Muni Station is across the street from its main entrance near Pink Triangle Park where 17th Street meets Market Street, which can be hard to access for wheelchair users and others with mobility issues. If out of service, then there is no way to access the station without using stairs or an escalator.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, the elevator project includes several upgrades to Harvey Milk Plaza, named in honor of the city's first gay supervisor who represented and lived in the Castro. Several of the existing lighting fixtures will be replaced, plus the red paver bricks will be removed to install sparkle grain integral color concrete that matches the paving installed when the sidewalks along Castro Street were widened.

The elevator project will also result in a wider segment sidewalk fronting Market Street headed toward Collingwood Street so it is usable for people in wheelchairs. New plantings, bench seating, and interpretative signage about Milk will also be installed in the plaza's below-grade area adjacent to the subway concourse level.

City officials had pushed back their initial timeline for the elevator project in order to allow for community discussions to take place on a proposal to completely redo Harvey Milk Plaza. It is a separate project being overseen by the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza that has also faced delays, and gone through multiple architects and design concepts.

Initially estimated to cost $10 million, an exact price tag and funding source for the plaza remodel project remains unknown. Its proponents now expect the renovation to be "shovel ready" this summer, and are seeking private donors and other fiscal sources to pay for it.

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