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.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Washington Post editorializes about Purple Line cockups, fails to attribute them to Larry Hogan

The Purple Line is a great lesson for me in how long projects take to achieve from conceptualization to realization.  

I first read about the idea--intended at the time to be heavy rail--in December 1987, shortly after I had moved to Washington, DC, as a cover story in the Washington City Paper.  40 years later!!!! a section of it, maybe about 25% will have been built, and zero planning for extension is underway.

The concept: graphic by the Sierra Club Metro DC chapter, c. 2000 
 The section underway is from Bethesda to New Carrollton.  Washington Post graphic.

 Given that it will take this long for one section ...

The Washington Post has an editorial, "The Purple Line is in the news again — for the usual reasons," about continued failures with the Purple Line light rail project in Montgomery and Prince George's County Maryland, which means it won't open until 2027.  From the article:

As The Post’s Katherine Shaver reported, the start date for the 16-mile light-rail link between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties could slide another seven months, into mid-2027 — or about five years after the completion target of March 2022. The culprit for this latest glitch is the relocation of utility lines. ...

... when its administrators blunder through years of bad contracting and project-management decisions. Those decisions have bloated what was to be a five-year project with almost $2 billion in construction costs into a nearly 10-year, $3.4 billion undertaking. The lowlights include a shortsighted effort by former governor Larry Hogan to pinch pennies on construction costs; timeline-extending litigation from NIMBY groups and others; and a rupture in 2020 of the Purple Line’s public-private partnership in which the original construction team abandoned the project, delaying it by more than a year and adding nearly $1.5 billion in costs.

While the Post does attribute some of the delay to former Governor Hogan, it's basically his fault, although there was a lawsuit simultaneous with part of it.  

Hogan threatened to shut the program down as soon as he came into office--and he did cancel a similar effort in Baltimore (which the new Governor wants to revive, 8 years later).  And came up with the design-finance-build program to get some of the money to build it.  But this added great complexity.  And a general unwillingness by both sides to act as partners ("A Purple Line update: the downside of Public Private Partnerships" -- they are contracts, not partnerships," 2017), ended up with the original contractor bailing out, leading to even more delays.

But the Post thinks Hogan would make a decent President ("Larry Hogan won over Democrats in Maryland. Could he do it nationwide?").  When, Hogan sucked on most of the issues that matter to urbanites, especially transit (+ spending $8 million on covid tests from South Korea that didn't work).

The Post is acting like the Takoma Park resident who wrote a letter to the editor stating he'd be voting against all the politicians in office because of the failures in building the Purple Line, even though all the failures are basically the fault of the former Governor, not local elected officials, not state legislators.

-- "Takoma Park resident vows to vote against all local public officials this fall, because of the failure of the Purple Line light rail, but the failure is because of the Governor, who is termed out" (2022)

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At 11:16 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The Big Con — the case against consultancies

Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington’s polemic on the need to draw a boundary between state and private activity — and rebuild public sector capability

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What do these many sorry tales tell us about the consultancy business? The economics of asymmetric information — whereby the hapless official can never know as much as the smarty-pants consultancy — and the principal-agent problem of conflicting interests (neither idea is cited in the book) would argue for outsourcing only activities that can be monitored.

Nobel laureate Oliver Hart and his co-authors argued in 1997, for instance, against privatising prisons, due to the perverse effects of the profit motive and the contracting authority’s inability to monitor the quality of the service provided. Apply this to NHS hospitals, and it would point to outsourcing routine procedures such as those cataract operations but not cleaning hospitals. After all, bugs suchs as MRSA are invisible unless you’re especially looking for them.

Similarly, IT systems should be kept in house because nobody can tell how effectively they operate until they are up and running, and even then problems might take years to come to light. What can’t be easily monitored needs to be done by those whose primary motivation is something other than cutting costs and maximising profits — public service, for example.

Sometimes the sensible boundary between public and private will shift because of technology. This was the case with payroll outsourcing for example: advances in computers and software made it genuinely more efficient to use external suppliers. And people generally will spot if they are getting the wrong amount of pay. A similar debate could be had about what else the NHS could sensibly outsource to specialist providers or pharmacies, given the many advances in medical procedures over the decades, although it is obviously too politically polarising to happen.

Where The Big Con is spot on is in noting how hard it is to wind the clock back: “Often the capabilities for managing the delivery of a service in-house would be completely lost after they had been outsourced, and so the costs of re-insourcing were very great.” Thus the same names keep winning new government contracts despite the various scandals. Among the book’s recommendations, those concerning rebuilding those capabilities in the public sector look rather forlorn as this would involve significant cost and time in hiring and rebuilding skills and knowhow.

The Big Con: How the Consulting Industry Weakens our Businesses, Infantilizes our Governments and Warps our Economies by Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington, Allen Lane £25, 368 pages


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