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Van Ness Avenue Transit Improvement Project in San Francisco Nears Completion

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- A painful, years-long headache running through the middle of San Francisco is almost over.

The Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project stretches from Mission all the way to Lombard Street. It promises to speed up service for several critical Muni routes but it has been a bumpy ride. Official planning started in 2004; the project was approved in 2013.

All that was the easy part.

"Now we have this beautiful bus lane out here," said Brian Bruckner, owner of Big Swingin' Cycles. "You wonder if there's enough people here left to use it. Downtown seems like a ghost town."

Aerial View of Van Ness Ave. in San Francisco
Van Ness Avenue reborn. (CBS)

The overhaul of Van Ness Avenue is finally drawing to a close. San Francisco's grand north-south boulevard has been transformed. In the time it took the city changed as well.

The official groundbreaking was in 2017 but the "No Turn" signs actually went up the year before.

"It's gonna be a big mess," one restaurant owner said in 2016. "It's always been tough in San Francisco. This is going to make it worse."

Those fears may not have captured the scale of what was coming. The job, planned for completion in 2019, stretched well into 2020.

"Yeah it's been challenging," Bruckner said. He says the construction work along with the pandemic took a toll.

"We lost some neighbors," he says of the business closings. "I feel terrible for some of the businesses that maybe weren't as established as ours."

"It was construction, construction," said corner store owner Vikrant Punj. "Always construction. Our business is almost gone."

"We encountered dozens of completely unmapped utilities," SFMTA director of transportation Jeffrey Tumlin said of the delays. "We had no idea what they were. They were from the 19th Century. Unsnarling all of that took more time and more money than was anticipated."

SFMTA says the roadwork wasn't so much the problem as were the underground utilities.

"I'm no expert but you could almost tell they were looking at drawings and looking at the street and things aren't where they're supposed to be," Bruckner said. "Then they're coming back the next day and tearing it back up again."

A grand jury report found the delays were likely preventable. The city says lessons have been learned and future projects will come with more accurate timetables.

For Muni riders the good news is the designated bus lanes are supposed to cut commute times by as much as 30 percent.

Van Ness is hardly the only project to run behind schedule and over budget but it's almost done.

"Drive down Van Ness now, it looks amazing," Bruckner said. "So it will come back."

Still no official date has been set for the opening but Muni is hoping to have the buses running in early April.

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