If you want a cautionary tale on extending the subway...

405project.jpgCheck out this morning's LAT story on the much delayed and costlier-than-expected 405 widening project. They now expect most of the work to be completed by June 2014, a year behind schedule, at around $100 million more than originally budgeted. As public works projects go, that's not unusual - it's axiomatic that this kind of construction is always a longer and pricier proposition than what those smiling politicians promise at ground-breaking ceremonies. Extending the subway line is certain to be far more complicated and disruptive. The issue is not rail transit per se - of course it would be great to rely less on clogged-up freeways and surface streets. The issue is whether this massive investment of time and money - and the inconvenience it would cause - makes the most sense going out 20 to 30 years. Because that's what we're talking about - a city virtually held hostage for the next three decades. If there's been any serious debate on the subject, I must have missed it. From Governing:

With transit funding still uncertain, given the lack of a stable, dependable funding stream from Congress, all but a handful of cities have decided to stay clear of such money-draining projects. But do subway projects have to be so costly? "Tunneling projects in New York routinely clock in at five to ten times the cost of their Asian and European counterparts," according to Forbes.com, which added that U.S. built subway projects are three to four times more expensive than similar projects overseas. Governing columnist Alex Marshall has written numerous times about our unwillingness to invest in large-scale infrastructure projects, pointing to our "fragmented and incomplete approach" to how we do such work, which can drive up costs as well as impede plans to design and implement such projects.

From the LAT story on the 405 project:

The delays and cost overruns are raising the ire of both residents and local officials, who say the project is causing major disruptions throughout the already traffic-clogged Westside. "This project has been horribly managed," said Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles County supervisor and board member of Metro, which is running the project. "The performance of contractors has left a lot to be desired. ... They've shown a complete lack of sensitivity and empathy for the community in which they're doing the work." Asked why he and other elected officials have not publicly prodded the contractor to enlist more workers and equipment to speed the project, Yaroslavsky said: "Where's the money going to come from? This project is over budget by a considerable amount, and Metro hasn't figured out how it's going to cover the cost overruns, let alone incur additional costs."

If you think this is bad, you ain't seen nothing yet.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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