Want a subway extension? Here's what you can look forward to

subway4.jpgDelays, cost overruns, inconvenience - it's all on tap, thanks to the boneheaded notion that a subway extension to Westwood (not the beach) is the answer to our transit woes. Look at what's happening with SF's Central Subway project. Any large public works project is bound to cause trouble, but underground rail is an especially dubious enterprise. If you think the 405 widening is a disaster, just wait until major Westside boulevards are ripped up. From the WSJ:

Proponents have said it would be a boon for residents of congested Chinatown while opponents say the subway is poorly planned and the money would be better spent on more cost-efficient transportation projects. Cost remains one of the biggest issues. The $1.6 billion price tag is far above a $647 million estimate from 2001. Last month, the low bid to build the stations and tracks came in $90 million to $120 million higher than the MTA's estimate. At the same time, concerns emerged that a complicated plan to pull tunnel-boring machines out of the ground in North Beach could cost more than anticipated. It isn't unusual for large public works projects to go over budget. An oft-cited 2003 study by Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg found that on average, rail projects went over budget by 45%, with bridge and tunnels over by 34%. And a 2009 Federal Transit Administration risk assessment calculated that the Central Subway had a 30% chance of coming in within the $1.6 billion budget.

Projects worth pursing already have an infrastructure of some sort, as with the Expo Line (already a success story) or the fledgling toll road effort on the 10 and 110 freeways. Rule of thumb: Stuff that you can accomplish in a few years as opposed to a few decades is probably a better bet. From Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation policy analyst at Reason Foundation (via the Daily News):

Atlanta, Miami, Minneapolis, Northern Virginia, San Diego and Seattle have all converted car-pool lanes to toll lanes in recent years. And as drivers learned how to get the most value out of the lanes and save the most time, the lanes grew in popularity. Atlanta converted car-pool lanes to toll lanes last year and had a rough start. But since October 2011, the number of toll lane trips has grown 270 percent, from 160,000 to 440,000 trips as of March 2013. In Minneapolis, where car-pool lanes were converted to toll lanes in 2005, 76 percent of the public is satisfied with the toll lanes and 85 percent are satisfied with the traffic speed. On San Diego's Interstate 15 Express Lanes, similar to the 110 project, the number of vehicles in toll lanes increased 143 percent while travel times decreased by 20 minutes. Travel times also decreased slightly - by one to two minutes - in the general lanes.

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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
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