Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Part of the problem with costing complaints for light rail is that everyone wants to throw everything into the project. From repaving the street to urban decor such as special pavers and street lamps. I'm all about these "betterments" but we need to understand that attaching them to the light rail project only makes it more expensive and gives opponents fodder when they go on about cost per mile estimates. In reality, the repaving of a street curb to curb should not penalize a project. If anything it should create a better mobility score for increasing the number of people that can use a street. Where's the transit SYSTEM user benefit for that?

But because such improvements are underfunded in general, cities see FTA funds as a gravy train for getting these important elements done. If we can figure out a way for these pieces of the overall puzzle to be eligible for another funding pot dedicated to pedestrian mobility that would be great. But we shouldn't have to. This is just another reason why the cost effectiveness measure that can kill a project based on a penny over a certain standard is dumb.


Anonymous said...

This is only a problem if the cities applying for FTA money are dumb and include that $**t in their application.

Ray said...

Transit authorities would have much more credibility if they came to the DOT with a share of such amenities specifically funded. Since most of the aesthetic improvements requested are in downtown areas, it seems to me that local businesses (and property owners) should share some of the burden. A special micro tax ("business improvement district") funded and maintenance model is worth exploring.

John Wirtz said...

They should let special improvement districts take control of parking rates and revenue and use that for streetscaping improvements.

Peter said...

Living in the metro area in question here, I can say that this whole thing is pretty stupid, and I will be shocked if the Central Corridor project ever gets built.

Project planners started with a bad route, gave it an inappropriate mode, then managed to piss off just about every major player along the route (although that's not all their fault).

Minneapolis was the first to get a light rail line, and I heard somewhere that state law is written such that St Paul has to get the second rail line, so even though There are 2 lines that are more cost effective than the Central Corridor to St Paul, we're stuck shoving this line down everybody's throats in the hopes that it goes through, and we can continue building rail lines in Minneapolis.

david vartanoff said...

aside from any necessary rehab of water/sewer piping directly below the ROW the rest of the 'bells and whistles' are to enlarge the pie so that the corruption/waste/political payoff increases. NONE of these projects get built unless some 'connected' campaign contributors stand to make a large profit.

Bob Davis said...

Reminds me of the ancient times when streetcar companies were required by city franchise terms to pave the streets on which the tracks were built. This was just one of the onerous conditions that led many transit companies to scrap the trolleys, rip out the tracks, and buy buses.
In today's transit world, the "art percentage", requiring a certain amount of the funding be set aside for "public art" gets both transit advocates and ordinary citizens riled up, usually when the "artwork" is the sort of weird stuff that makes us wonder, "what was that guy smoking?!?" and brings comments like "We taxpayers spent $147,000 for that #$%&*?"

Christof Spieler said...

I agree that loading up transit projects with street improvements messes up cost-effectiveness ratios and penalizes transit.

But that's not to say these improvements are unimportant. Good sidewalks, street trees, and safe crosswalks make a huge difference in the pedestrian experience. And every transit rider is a pedestrian on at least one end of the trip. Getting the overall streetscape -- particularly the pedestrian zones -- right is a really important part of building good transit.

But sidewalks are basic infrastructure. They're a mode of transportation. So it seems to me that cities should fund them, not from BIDs or TIRZs but from general funds. That's how we fund streets, and pedestrians are taxpayers (and people) just like drivers are.

As for the Central Corridor, I suspect it will be quite successful. You connect two downtowns, a major university, and some old streetcar neighborhoods, and people will ride, especially if you give thema nice walk to the station.

Anonymous said...

Just try to build any rapid transit system from before the 1960's in today's cities. You can't. The building standards are different and result in more expense. Build an underground rapid transit, you need elevators and escalators which weren't needed before. The electrical standards today are more expensive than before. The fire standards are more restrictive and expensive.