02
Jul

2010

How Is This Even Possible?

Post by Steven Dale

A couple of days ago, Yonah Freemark published some statistics that should trouble anyone in the North American transit world:

Los Angeles plans a 13.8 km long subway line at a total cost of $6 billion. That works out to $435 million per kilometer.

Not to be outdone, New York is planning a 2.7 km long subway line at a cost of $4.5 billion. That works out to $1.6 billion per kilometer.

These are comically large numbers, especially in the case of New York. How are they even possible? And more importantly, how are those cities’ governments and citizens expected to pay for those systems?

Does a cost-benefit analysis really justify such huge expenditure for such a limited increase in coverage? And if so . . . who wrote the cost-benefit analysis?

More disturbing is to think about what the actual cost of these systems will be. Typically, capital cost forecasts for projects like these are severely underestimated. How the above numbers could be underestimated is beyond me, but history suggests that will be the case.

Inflate those numbers by 20-50% and you’re looking at something that’s no longer comical and is instead tragic.

Pro-transit or not, those are hard numbers to justify.



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Comments

  1. Agreed. I think it might have been the same article... but I read an article about the expansion of the metro networks in Spain. It'd be interesting for someone to do a breakdown of costs between subway project US and Spain (and perhaps other countries) and compare why it costs us so much more.... labor? insurance? environmental impact studies?
  2. just imagine work sites and ventilation for the line. especially beyond ny's surface there is a huge infrastructure. i'm familiar with the london underground and "the tube" is said to be the most expensive metro in the world. due to high maintenance costs the tickets are also very high. as far as i remember transport for london manages this way to cover up to 90 % of the maintenance costs!!! so you will need to buy space above for stations, elevators, stairs, escape tunnels, ventilation and get down from above to a level, which is probably far deeper that it is necessary in a spanish city. the job the metro will have to do is a whole different level compared to almost every other city (speed, capacity, safety).
  3. Is it justified? New York is quite dense, and a lot of people work on that corridor, so it improves coverage much more than a line that length might in other places, and it's going to require the high capacities a subway can support. In LA's case as I understand it it's a regional connector basically allowing existing subway lines in different parts of the city to be combined, so it's also a substantial improvement to the system, although who knows if it will be enough to get riders in LA. Definitely pricy systems that a smaller metro area would not want to pay for.
  4. Los Angeles has possibly the least favorable geology ever for building a subway: they're going through the La Brea Tar Pits, basically. They'll have to excavate each section to paleonotological standards, and then figure out how to prevent the tar from just oozing back into the excavation, and then seal it up against explosive methane bubbles rising from the tar, and.... ...well, you get the picture. The Subway to the Sea *should* be expensive. It gets a lot simpler west of the tar zone, but one has to go through the tar zone first. New York has no such excuse.
  5. Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that. Sent from my Android phone