Home > Uncategorized > U.S. Taxpayers Are Gouged on Mass Transit Costs – Bloomberg

U.S. Taxpayers Are Gouged on Mass Transit Costs – Bloomberg

If the first segment of Manhattan’s Second Avenue subway opens on schedule in 2016, New Yorkers will be reminded that it was once “the line that time forgot” — a project more than 75 years in the making, with no end in sight. It should be remembered for another failing as well: It will be one of the most expensive subways in the world.

Tunneling in any dense urban environment is an expensive proposition, but the $5 billion price tag for just the first two miles of the Second Avenue subway cannot be explained by engineering difficulties. The segment runs mainly beneath a single broad avenue, unimpeded by rivers, super-tall skyscraper foundations or other subway lines.

American taxpayers will shell out many times what their counterparts in developed cities in Europe and Asia would pay. In the case of the Second Avenue line and other new rail infrastructure in New York City, they may have to pay five times as much.

Amtrak is just as bad. Its $151 billion master plan for basic high-speed rail service in the Northeast corridor is more expensive than Japan’s planned magnetic levitating train line between Tokyo and Osaka, most of which is to be buried deep underground, with tunnels through the Japan Alps and beneath its densest cities.

The numbers for California’s proposed high-speed rail system are similarly shocking.

California Bloat

The French rail operator SNCF told the California High- Speed Rail Authority that it could cut $30 billion off the project’s $68 billion estimated price tag. San Francisco can barely build underground light rail for the price that Tokyo pays for high-capacity subways. Los Angeles’s planned subway to the sea will be a bit cheaper, but is still very expensive considering the area’s lack of density.

The budgets for other types of urban public-works projects can be just as shocking. Who can forget Boston’s Big Dig, the $24 billion highway boondoggle? But mass-transit networks stand to lose most from out-of-control infrastructure costs.

A huge part of the problem is that agencies can’t keep their private contractors in check. Starved of funds and expertise for in-house planning, officials contract out the project management and early design concepts to private companies that have little incentive to keep costs down and quality up. And even when they know better, agencies are often forced by legislation, courts and politicians to make decisions that they know aren’t in the public interest.

Comparing American transit-construction practices with those abroad yields a number of lessons. Spain has the most dynamic tunneling industry in the world and the lowest costs. In 2003, Metro de Madrid Chief Executive Officer Manuel Melis Maynar wrote a list describing the practices he used to design the system’s latest expansion. The don’t-do list, unfortunately, reads like a winning U.S. transit-construction bingo card.

via U.S. Taxpayers Are Gouged on Mass Transit Costs – Bloomberg.

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