Title: Quality Control
Date: August 2023
Description of Central Subway Project – The Central Subway Project (CSP) involved construction of a 1.7-mile extension of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) (the Project Sponsor) T Third Line along 4th Street and beneath Stockton Street in downtown San Francisco. The CSP is Phase 2 of SFMTA’s T Third Line Light Rail Transit Project. The CSP extended the T Third Line from the 4th Street Caltrain Station to Chinatown, providing a direct rapid transit link from the Bayshore and Mission Bay areas to South of Market, Union Square, and downtown. The project included construction of four new stations: an at-grade station at 4th and Brannan streets and three underground stations at Yerba Buena/Moscone Center Station, Union Square/Market Street Station, and Chinatown Station. Four light rail vehicles (LRVs) were included in the budget for the CSP as part of a larger procurement that expanded the LRV fleet and includes options for replacement of the entire fleet. Average weekday ridership is projected to be 43,521 in 2030. The Full Funding Grant Agreement project cost is $1.578 billion
Quality Control – On the CSP, the contractor’s lack of interest in quality control (QC) was a problem. QC was the contractor’s responsibility and an overhead item; therefore, the contractor had an incentive to reduce costs by not performing QC, or not performing QC fully and properly. Frequent changes in QC personnel, resignations, and arguments were the norm. The contractor was habitually late in submitting the QC daily reports, reluctant to issue Contractor Non-conformance Reports (NCRs), and slow to respond to Corrective Action Requests. The contractor’s lax approach to QC frequently frustrated the Quality Assurance staff of the Project Sponsor (SFMTA), who sometimes felt they were not receiving adequate support from management to enforce the contract requirements. In one instance early in the project, the contractor’s Project Manager (PM) overrode the strong and repeated objections of his own Quality Control Engineer regarding a concrete pour for a beam, ultimately resulting in a cold joint without adequate preparation. The contractor’s PM put so much pressure on the Quality Control Engineer to accept the pour that it caused the Quality Control Engineer to resign. On another occasion, the contractor installed thousands of feet of track with the wrong steel hardness before the mistake was discovered. As a result, and at much cost and effort, the correct track had to be procured, and the incorrect track removed and replaced.
2. Lessons Learned
Often, particularly early on in the project, SMTA’s management staff was reluctant to make an issue of the contractor’s QC-related infractions out of concern of spoiling the “honeymoon” period that occurs early in a contract. For example, in an attempt to show the contractor that the agency wanted to be a good partner, the SFMTA PM chose to work with the contractor and perform tests to determine whether the concrete beam, discussed above, could be accepted as-is, and it eventually was. Unfortunately, the contractor interpreted this action not as the agency’s effort to be a “team player” but rather as a weakness to be exploited. The contractor perceived this incident as evidence that it had gotten away with breaking the rules. This perception established the contractor’s behavior going forward—the contractor pushed back on QC efforts at every turn. Giving the contractor the construction QC responsibility led to a lack of inspections and caused disagreements about when NCRs were warranted. The contract required the contractor to provide as-built surveys in order to generate as-built condition drawings of rail, but the contractor never provided them. As a result, SFMTA provided the rail adjustments and the final survey.
QC is one of the pillars of a successful project. QC must be enforced early and consistently throughout the project, and the Quality Assurance staff must always feel that they have the full support of management for the QC process to work effectively and to ensure success. The actions of the Project Sponsor’s Quality Assurance staff must make it clear to the contractor from the very beginning that lax QC will not be tolerated, even at the risk of spoiling the “honeymoon period” of the project. Agencies must be their strictest in the earliest stages of a project in order to establish the project’s QC standard by not allowing even the smallest of infractions to go unchecked. Under most contracts, QC is an overhead item; therefore, the contractor has an incentive to reduce the QC-related costs. Given that incentive, the contractor staff will interpret any leniency with regard to QC processes, especially at the beginning of the project, as an indicator of what they can get away with. By making it clear that there will be consequences for any QC infractions, the agency can set the right tone. Agencies should plan on engaging owner-supplied forces and independent contractors to provide quality, testing, and construction inspection services, in addition to the QC responsibilities of the general contractor.
This lesson is applicable to all transit projects, especially large capital infrastructure projects.