Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

High cost of building transit in the US: report from Eno Center for Transportation

All the more relevant given that the US is about to pass legislation funding infrastructure, although to get bipartisan support a lot of the good things have been crippled, for example, transit funding is half of what was originally proposed ("Infrastructure deal whittles down climate spending," Engineering & Environment News), the Seattle Times reports ("Why building rail transit in U.S., Seattle costs so much and takes so long") on a study of transit construction costs and how the US is significantly higher than other countries.

From the article:

Rail-transit projects across the U.S. take longer to build and cost nearly 50% more on average than in Europe and Canada, says a new study of 180 megaprojects, including some hits and misses by Sound Transit. 

The Seattle-based agency typically spends five years in the planning phase trying to please everybody, until leaders finally choose a route, the researchers learned. Los Angeles stumbles into underground utilities and methane that cause expensive construction changes. Minneapolis builds cheap and noncontroversial tracks near highways, instead of locating stations where people live. 

Project delays reflect a lack of political will, concludes the report released Thursday by the nonpartisan Eno Center for Transportation, based in Washington, D.C., titled “A Blueprint for Building Transit Better.”

Basically that's:

  • too long for planning, so costs rise
  • I'd include the level of detail required for environmental review, which extends the planning phase by as much as double, and provides opportunities for opponents to sue
  • unexpected construction issues
  • opposition
But also
  • special environmental issues, including in some areas, earthquake protections
  • permitting requirements for each jurisdiction and often differing regulations.  (For example a few years ago, Fairfax County's requirements for public restrooms delayed the opening of the Silver Line.  See "On the hunt for the elusive Metro restroom," Washington Post.)
From the article:
“The United States suffers from a political climate that does not uniformly see investment in transit infrastructure as net positive. Instead, transit project sponsors spend much of their public outreach effort simply justifying their existence and the value of transit, rather than engaging on the details of a project,” Eno says. “The lack of broad public acceptance for transit also results in communities demanding mitigation for negative construction impacts rather than demanding faster timelines.”

This is definitely true.  I don't have enough fingers to count the number of examples of legal opposition, sometimes fomented by fossil fuel interests, to transit projects, not just in advance of construction, but upon opening, in places like Charlotte, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Los Angeles, DC and Arlington County, Virginia, Montgomery County, Maryland, Nashville, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque (bus rapid transit)--that's ten right there.

The report suggests the following steps to speed projects.

  • Make transit megaprojects “self-permitting,” for instance, so contractors may close a street instead of obtaining a separate city government permit. 
  • Eliminate infeasible alignment options early, instead of wasting time on excessive studies.
  • Require land-use zoning for high numbers of homes and jobs around future transit stations, as a condition for cities to receive federal Administration grants. 
  • Spend more money and expertise to identify underground utilities before construction begins. 
  • Use standard station designs, railcars and construction methods. 
  • Avoid “over-customization.” 
  • Break projects into manageable contracts of less than $500 million, awarded partly based on companies’ past performance, not just low bids.
  • More power to say no to unreasonable requests.
The article doesn't discuss New York City's special problems of using contracts to fund underfunded construction pension funds and massive featherbedding ("The Most Expensive Mile of Subway Track on Earth" and "Why Does Subway Construction Cost So Much? Congress Wants to Find Out," New York Times).

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home