Misalignments Found in New Subway Tunnels


Nearly one-third of the subway tunnels under construction between Downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood are misaligned, and some segments will need to be re-excavated, transit officials said Wednesday.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials also acknowledged that the $165-million tunnel job--the largest in the brief history of the multibillion-dollar Los Angeles subway--is nine months behind schedule.

“It’s not uncommon for tunnel boring machines to go off alignment during construction,” said MTA project manager Joel Sandberg. “However, the excavation of these tunnels has experienced more problems than we consider to be acceptable.”

The MTA has begun to pay for extra engineering services to cope with the tunneling misalignments, which range up to two feet.


The alignment problems are the latest difficulties to beset the project and threaten to push it tens of millions of dollars over budget. Flooding beneath Hollywood Boulevard shut down work for six months during the past year. And excavation was halted last month for three weeks after a construction accident that injured three workers.

Top MTA officials have repeatedly stated that much-publicized problems with earlier subway construction Downtown have been rectified.

In response to inquiries from The Times, the agency issued a statement Wednesday regarding the new alignment problems, which cover more than a mile of the Red Line extension.

“Corrective measures must be taken at the contractors’s expense, not at the taxpayer’s expense,” Edward McSpedon, president of the MTA’s construction staff, said in the statement.


However, McSpedon and other officials said in interviews that the contractor, Shea-Kiewiet-Kenny, has not agreed to bear all or even most of the added expenses. The officials said it is not clear what percentage will be paid by taxpayers.

A representative of Shea-Kiewit-Kenny, a joint venture led by the J.F. Shea construction company, a veteran tunneling contractor, declined to discuss the misalignment problems.

“Nobody from SKK is going to talk to you about any of that stuff,” said the contractor’s on-site project manager, Robert Gordon. “We don’t talk to the press.”

A spokesman for Parsons-Dillingham, the construction management firm hired by the MTA to inspect the tunneling work, said the misalignments were “minor” and typical of such projects.

When completed in 1997, the tunnels will run about 4.5 miles along Vermont Avenue and end at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.

McSpedon and Sandberg said in an interview that about 7,700 feet of the 24,000 feet of the twin tunnels surveyed are out of alignment.

The officials said that 5,700 feet are less than six inches off line, 1,020 feet are six to 12 inches off line and 944 feet are 12 to 24 inches off line.

An additional 10,000 linear feet of tunnels have not yet been examined thoroughly enough to assess their alignment.


Misalignment in tunneling typically occurs when the boring machine, called a shield, strays horizontally or dives or climbs off the specified grade. The progress of the 20-ton machines, which resemble tin cans, can be affected by the composition of the soil.

Shea-Kiewiet-Kenny had contended that unexpectedly hard earth caused some alignment problems. Last month, a dispute review board concluded that the MTA, not the contractor, is mostly responsible for problems related to the hard ground.

Sandberg and McSpedon said that the MTA has until April 30 to decide whether to abide by or reject the arbitrators’ recommendation.

“Some of the misalignment is part of that hard-ground claim,” Sandberg said. “And so, of course, he (Shea-Kiewit-Kenny) is disputing that he is responsible for that part of the misalignment.”

Although concrete has not yet been poured for the tunnels to Hollywood, one effect of misalignment can be tunnel walls that do not meet design specifications.

Numerous areas of tunnels now in service between Union Station and Pershing Square were constructed with thin walls--and the contractor, Tutor-Saliba Corp., said misalignment was part of the reason.

Tutor-Saliba and the agency’s construction management firm, Parsons-Dillingham, agreed in February to make and pay for repairs to those structures.

A consulting firm retained by the MTA found that Parsons-Dillingham had fallen short of “acceptable industry practice” in its inspections and six other areas of performance on the Downtown subway. McSpedon and representatives of Parsons-Dillingham have said subsequently that the firm has improved dramatically in its oversight of the subway construction to Hollywood.


Antonio Villaraigosa, an appointee to the MTA board of directors, said Wednesday that he is trying to determine why the new alignment problems were not caught earlier in the construction by Parsons-Dillingham.

“We need an open airing of how we got to this situation,” said Villaraigosa, an appointee of county Supervisor Gloria Molina.

Villaraigosa first voiced his concerns this week in a letter to the MTA’s chief executive officer, Franklin E. White. “Is this yet another question of failure of construction management?” Villaraigosa asked. “I thought we had been led to believe that problems had been resolved.”

In its press release, the MTA noted that Parsons-Dillingham “replaced its engineer who was responsible for overseeing the work,” a development reported last month by The Times.

Parsons-Dillingham and other firms now are seeking a new $80-million contract to oversee extension of the subway to the Eastside and Mid-City areas of Los Angeles.

“Anyone questioning the alignment problems . . . does not understand tunnel construction or has other motivations,” said Ron Wildermuth, a spokesman for the firm.