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Infrastructure Costs
August 28, 2012 2:35 AM   Subscribe

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. - U.S. Taxpayers Are Gouged on Mass Transit Costs
posted by beisny (104 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
And when it is not maintained properly and rots, you can buy a new one!
posted by CautionToTheWind at 2:55 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was a similar article about UK infrastructure in last week's FT, comparing historical costs for these types of projects. I kind of dismissed that as a "good old days" complaint, particularly as it ignored the cheap and disposable labour of those projects, as well as massive upgrade costs to bring some of them up to modern standards and capacity requirements.
The modern-day comparisons in the FPP article seem convincing, but fail to fully explore some of the explanations in the linked articles. For example, the article about the SNCF bid for the California High Speed Rail makes it clear that much of the increased cost is the result of a gerrymandered route proposal requiring the line to pass through cities on a less-than-optimal route. We have seen similar fiascos in the UK when politicians get involved directly with projects (e.g. the Scottish Parliament building, for which, "Costs rose because the client (first the secretary of state and latterly the parliament) wanted increases and changes or at least approved of them in one manifestation or another.")
Politicians have the authority to decide that we want a trainline from here to there, or we want a building for this purpose. They do not have the expertise to design or manage such projects, and inevitably introduce uncertainty and added costs when they get involved directly. Nevertheless, whenever they investigate overruns, the prescription always seems to be more, and more direct, political oversight. Trebles all round! as Private Eye would say.
posted by Jakey at 3:11 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Forgive me, but isn't Manhattan a big huge chunk of granite? I can only imagine that tunnelling through that (or similar), with buildings over the top (it says no skyscrapers, but doesn't say what is there), with minimal disruption and multiple drillbits ain't cheap. Much less the removal of the fill to quite some distance away.

Worth $5 billion? I can't say, but this article is annoyingly thin on details.

For a start, why do you even need the Second Avenue subway? Would not a monorail be better? (They have one in New Haverbrook!).

Yes, you probably are getting gouged. If only the state could build this sort of thing. Or of you could used fixed price contracts? Does America hate capped work contracts?
posted by Mezentian at 3:22 AM on August 28, 2012


I'd take anything Ralph Vartabedian of the LA Times has to say about California high speed rail with a very large grain of salt; the anti side on that issue has been fairly shameless about embracing any argument (not to mention legal tactic) that might slow down construction, and Vartabedian tends to uncritically embrace those arguments. With regard to the SNCF bid in particular, the alignment they proposed would have seriously impacted ridership; it's only "less than optimal" or "gerrymandered" if one defines "optimal" as "moving people who live in San Francisco all the way to Los Angeles, and vice versa, as quickly as possible, without regard to anyone in the middle." Like most urban coastal elitists, I unconsciously tend to think of California as being more or less "san francisco mumble mumble mumble los angeles san diego," but that's not actually how it is — providing service to the cities in the middle isn't gerrymandering, it's sensible investment.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:36 AM on August 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


particularly as it ignored the cheap and disposable labour of those projects

But why do comparisons to public construction projects in high-wage, heaviliy unionized Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK seem to be so much less expensive?

The North South line in Amsterdam - which is a huge engineering challenge - costs $410 million per km compared to $1.7 billion per km for a similar project in New York? Why should it cost four times as much to build a subway line in NY as compared to Amsterdam?
posted by three blind mice at 3:48 AM on August 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


Why should it cost four times as much to build a subway line in NY as compared to Amsterdam?

Because it's New Amsterdam! NEW! SHINY!

But seriously, thanks for that link. It answers many of my questions.
Although I am sure unions will get the blame.
posted by Mezentian at 3:51 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: "providing service to the cities in the middle isn't gerrymandering, it's sensible investment."
Too many stops kind of take away the idea of high-speed rail, though.

This past Saturday my mother-in-law landed in Frankfurt and took the ICE up to the station nearest to us where I picked her up. It was 38 minutes non-stop Frankfurt-Siegburg - that's an average speed of over 142 mph over a 90 mile stretch. If you throw in a few stations on the way, it's going to seriously impact travel times.

(Driving the 10 miles back to our house took about half as long as the train ride ...)

I've posted before on the apparently exorbitant costs of building permanent way in the US.
posted by brokkr at 3:55 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Although I am sure unions will get the blame.

Well in Australia I'm reasonably convinced that the construction unions do deserve a fair proportion of the blame for hideously expensive public infrastructure. Unskilled labour at $75 an hour. 35 hour weeks. Stop-works for the most nonsensical reasons.
posted by wilful at 3:58 AM on August 28, 2012


Ah, privatization. All of the public's money, with none of that pesky public accountability.

Sorry, but this stuff needs to be run by career professionals with executive branch oversight and regular reporting to legislature. Chucking money at politically-connected robber barons doesn't get much accomplished, apart from the fattening of the rich at the taxpayer's expense. (If they got fat =and= I got cheap and reliable high speed rail, that would be another thing. They just don't want to earn their way, is the deal.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:18 AM on August 28, 2012 [21 favorites]


Well what's the explanation?
posted by JPD at 4:18 AM on August 28, 2012


It was 38 minutes non-stop Frankfurt-Siegburg - that's an average speed of over 142 mph over a 90 mile stretch.

San Francisco to Los Angeles is a 400+ mile stretch. (And L.A. to San Diego is over 150 miles.) As much as I personally would like to ignore Fresno and the rest of inland Central California*, it's probably not a good idea to treat it as "flyover country" while you're traveling on the ground.

*the way they are already ignoring us on the coast - still, the existing train is seriously faster than the Coast Highway
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:20 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Underground utilities make digging in urban areas really challenging. For example, the cost of repairing a cut fibreoptic line is in the millions, and the cost of cut gas lines can be big explosions. Urban areas tend to be incredibly congested with underground utilities; locating them accurately and digging safely around them is delicate, complex, time-consuming- and thus, expensive- work.
posted by windykites at 4:23 AM on August 28, 2012


Yeah but the comparisons being made are to other urban infill underground train lines.
posted by JPD at 4:25 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


And I don't think privatization is the root cause. All those others lines were also built by private contractors - actually a lot of the same private contractors.
posted by JPD at 4:27 AM on August 28, 2012


There's a "Japanese Alps"? Is that like the "Japanese Mafia"?
posted by indubitable at 4:27 AM on August 28, 2012


Too many stops kind of take away the idea of high-speed rail, though.

Well, yeah, part of the idea of high-speed trains has to be that they start at your city's traffic hub and zoom you far the hell out of town like stepping into a wormhole. Compromises made to every bumfuck town along the way will destroy the whole thing.

You want to be in Manhattan and then suddenly be in Philadelphia, not eternally fucking around in Hoboken and Newark and points south as passengers climb on like wedding parties in a Larkin poem. Or you are in Manhattan or Philadelphia and then suddenly you are... somewhere out in the middle of nowhere right now, a place that becomes a great city because it is now connected by wormholes to distant Manhattan and Philadelphia. You want to be able to get from Manhattan to Philadelphia and back on your lunch hour, so that any guide to downtown Manhattan necessarily describes all the things you can do in downtown Philadelphia, because they are now in the same neighborhood, as if the maps were overlaid each other around the wormholes.
posted by pracowity at 4:30 AM on August 28, 2012 [18 favorites]


I wonder if part of the problem is that, except for parts of the northeast coastal corridor, the U.S. does not need high-speed rail nearly as much as it needs local rail. brokkr touches on why -- a high-speed express line, with few stops, is optimal for connecting local transit nodes. We don't really have many effective local transit nodes in the U.S. right now.

Say somebody builds an express line all the way up the east coast. It would allow me to get from Raleigh to Washington DC in two hours. Sounds great! Except if I'm in Chapel Hill -- depending on public transit to get to the Raleigh station would take another two-three hours. Or hire a cab and, for $50-60 one-way, get to the station in about an hour. Or get a ride to the Durham train station and hope that one of the three daily trips the Amtrak train makes works with my schedule and the express' schedule. If I drive to the station instead, where should I park? If DC locals take the express down to Raleigh, how do they get anywhere once they're off the train?

I don't think any of the problems described above are insolvable, or even prohibitively expensive to solve in the grand scheme of things, but they seem integral with making a high-speed rail a usable form of transit rather than a showpiece that suspends, rotting, on public funds until even its supporters begin wanting to write it off.
posted by ardgedee at 4:33 AM on August 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Forgive me, but isn't Manhattan a big huge chunk of granite? I can only imagine that tunnelling through that (or similar), with buildings over the top (it says no skyscrapers, but doesn't say what is there), with minimal disruption and multiple drillbits ain't cheap. Much less the removal of the fill to quite some distance away.

The granite is good and bad. On the one hand it does take longer to drill through, but on the other hand once you drill it, it tends to stay drilled and support structures above it without needing expensive reinforcement. I would much rather dig a tunnel through that than through the soft, porous alluvial sand and clay of Amsterdam.
posted by atrazine at 4:44 AM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


And I don't think privatization is the root cause. All those others lines were also built by private contractors - actually a lot of the same private contractors.

Abroad, the agencies planning and budgeting those projects were public institutions who were tasked with designing transportation infrastructure. Here in the US, it's all contracted out - including the planning and budgeting - which makes it easier to loot the public coffers. The companies budgeting the project are literally also the companies building it - they're giving themselves blank checks.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:44 AM on August 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


Well, yeah, part of the idea of high-speed trains has to be that they start at your city's traffic hub and zoom you far the hell out of town like stepping into a wormhole. Compromises made to every bumfuck town along the way will destroy the whole thing.

Who says that all high speed trains will make stops at all the stations? There are such things as passing loops which allow one train to pass another. It's entirely possible that there could be express trains running nonstop from San Francisco to LA with regional trains making all the stops in between.

Here in the Boston area, three services operate on the same Northeast Corridor track: The MBTA Commuter Rail, Amtrak's Northeast Regional, and Amtrak's High Speed Acela. The Acela only serves a fraction of the stations that the Northeast Regional does, and the Commuter Rail stops at an almost mutually exclusive set of stations.

Building railroad infrastructure is expensive, and the more cities you can connect along a single corridor, the the more cost effective the overall line will be.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:47 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mind you, the planned route for the maglev Shinkansen is itself a massive display of pork. Rather than follow the established route and actually have an absurdly fast connection between the most highly populated corridor of Japan (Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka), the route meanders north, through the backyards of the politicians who, at the time the route was being decided, had the most clout. The whole thing is absurd. Mind you, it's still going to cost less than any similar attempt on American soil. Boggles the freaking mind.

And yeah, Japanese Alps. That's the name for them, on all the maps.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:49 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


RonButNotStupid: "Who says that all high speed trains will make stops at all the stations?"
It actually looks like there is an intention of having a SF-LA train that only stops in San Jose along the way (and it's not like you're going to be traveling at 400 mph up the peninsula between SJ and SF anyway ...). Can't find any definite source for that, though.

And yes, I agree with ardgedee that functioning local public transport is a prerequisite for making HSR make sense. From the bus stop 50 yards from my front door I can get to Moscow or Madrid without setting foot in a car, taxi or airplane.
posted by brokkr at 4:56 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a "Japanese Alps"? Is that like the "Japanese Mafia"?

There's lots of Alps. (Alpses?)
posted by kmz at 4:58 AM on August 28, 2012


Alpo.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:01 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Abroad, the agencies planning and budgeting those projects were public institutions who were tasked with designing transportation infrastructure.

Don't think that's true in the UK. TfL isn't that different from the MTA. If anything Crossrail is even more privately constructed than any of these projects in the US. Also MTR? Isn't that fully private?

And Madrid - comes in at the top of the able at costs/km, but yet other infrastructure projects in Spain (airports for example) are huge boondoggles where costs were crazy.
posted by JPD at 5:16 AM on August 28, 2012


Crony capitalism.

The goal of building is too often not to make something useful, or even to employ lots of people to build up the economy -- it's to funnel money to people who are already rich. Politicians are a part of this loop.
posted by Foosnark at 5:23 AM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


TLDR: Infrastructure spending looks a lot like military spending.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:27 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: once you drill it, it tends to stay drilled
posted by Djinh at 5:35 AM on August 28, 2012


The person who's probably done the most to get this issue to the forefront of the transit/urbanist blogosphere is Alon Levy, who writes Pedestrian Observations. He's got a series of posts on transit construction costs, if you're interested in more details.
posted by parudox at 5:35 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Three huge points from the actual article:

First, other countries tend not to spend an exorbitant amount of money on station architecture. New York is apparently going to spend $3.8 billion on the new WTC station. The article points out that that's probably enough to do the entire Second Avenue line, if we did it like other countries do. "Design should be focused on the needs of the users . . . rather than on architectural beauty or exotic materials, and never on the name of the architect." Ironically, the architect for the WTC station is Spanish. He probably can't get that work in Spain, because the Spanish government won't pay for it.

Second, other countries tend not to let the same firm both submit design plans and bid on said plans. Apparently the largest design contractor and the largest project manager are, in fact, the same company. So the designer has no real incentive to submit a frugal or efficient plan, because he's going to get to build it.

Third, US public entities are almost always required to select the lowest-price bid. This is sort of counter-intuitive, because you'd think that would result in lower costs. It doesn't. It generally results in underbids and bad work, and public entities generally have a difficult time doing anything about it. But even if they could, the resulting inefficiency and waste of repairing and replacing substandard work will blow the budget every single time.

Those three things might well explain a big chunk of the cost differential. But I'm not entirely sure what to do about them. The first is basically politicians' fault, straight up. They're entirely capable of voting for cheaper projects, but no, they've got to be pretty too. The second is a bit harder and probably involves changing state statutes. There will be resistance to this, but I think that one's at least theoretically fixable. But the third is just a huge problem. There's a reason we've got requirements about bidding: rank corruption. Historically, when local politicians had discretion about choosing amongst bids, corruption ran rampant, particularly in New York and Chicago. Even submitting a blind bid wouldn't really work, because the only people who would actually be ignorant would be the public. Politicians would definitely find out who had submitted what, because the firms would let them know through unofficial channels.

So yeah, basically we've got a situation where the problem is that politicians make bad choices. Any fix for that would fix all our problems.
posted by valkyryn at 5:37 AM on August 28, 2012 [30 favorites]


Its $151 billion master plan for basic high-speed rail service in the Northeast corridor

This "basic" plan is building a completely new routing that doesn't use the existing Northeast Corridor tracks in New England. Just the eminent domain takings will be ridiculous.
posted by smackfu at 5:38 AM on August 28, 2012


The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is spending $3.8 billion on a single subway station at the World Trade Center designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish architect known for his costly projects

See, calling that a single subway station is the kind of bullshit that makes these articles useless.
posted by smackfu at 5:43 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


So yeah, basically we've got a situation where the problem is that politicians make bad choices. Any fix for that would fix all our problems.

No. The fix is to make small, politically palatable changes in planning, management and oversight. Other parts of the world have politicians, too, and the pillaging of the coffers isn't anywhere near as severe. The notion that publicly accountable representatives are incapable of making decisions to benefit the public is a purely political fiction, usually in service of right wing ideology and those it monetarily benefits.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:06 AM on August 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


The fix is to make small, politically palatable changes in planning, management and oversight.

I can do the name-calling thing just as well as you can. The notion that publicly accountable representatives will usually make decisions to benefit the public if left to their own devices is also a purely political fiction, usually in service of left wing ideology and those it aesthetically pleases.

So rather than that, why not just suggest what some of these "small, politically palatable changes" might be instead of just asserting that they exist and moving on. I actually made one recommendation myself, i.e., make it illegal for the same firm to both design and bid on the same project. You got anything, or you just want to bad-mouth me?
posted by valkyryn at 6:12 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


So yeah, basically we've got a situation where the problem is that politicians make bad choices. Any fix for that would fix all our problems.

It would certainly fix some of them, yes. It doesn't sound like it would fix the sort of structural problems that are hamstringing the MTA, though:
Littlefield also argues that judges in New York routinely side with contractors in disputes with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “In the private sector, if you rob your customer, you will suffer a hit to your reputation and possible losses in the courts,” he said in an interview. “Not so if you rob an agency like the MTA. Then it’s all rights and no responsibilities.”

The MTA must continue to award contracts to the lowest- price bidder, and without the ability to hold bad contractors accountable, Littlefield said, the agency turns to “writing longer and longer and longer contracts, expressly prohibiting every way it has been ripped off in the past.” The byzantine contracts that come out of this process drive entrants away, limiting competition and pushing up costs.
I don't know how you go about fixing a situation where the transit authority is compelled to enter into bids it knows the contractors are going to renege on because there's no mechanism for enforcement. You'd need legislators and the judiciary working together to turn that around, and it sounds like they're both in the pockets of the same contractors who are winning the unenforceable contracts. That sounds kind of like the end-stages of capitalism, to me.
posted by Mayor West at 6:18 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Forgive me, but isn't Manhattan a big huge chunk of granite?

Not really. Gneiss, schist, marble and glacial till. South of the Henry Hudson bridge, and north of Chambers, it's Gneiss. That's the reason for the big gap in skyscrapers between midtown and downtown Manhattan, the glacial till on the surface between them can't support the big skyscrapers.

But, yeah, a lot of it is hard rock right at the surface -- you can see the Gneiss in Central Park. This makes digging hard, but once dug, it's easy to keep dug. Someone above mentioned Amsterdam, London also has a real problem with this.

However, IIRC, 2nd Ave is being built cut-and-cover. I'd hate to try to run a TBM through Manhattan. One of the reasons the Big Dig in Boston went so far over budget is that they carefully planned how to avoid/reroute city utilities, and then found that the careful plans where useless, because there was so much mis-mapped (or simply illegally built and unmapped) infrastructure they had to avoid. The reason for the Great Chicago Flood was that they were driving pilings to protect the Kinzie Street Bridge, and they hit a tunnel that had been dug illegally decades before and wasn't on anybody's plans.

Digging in urban spaces, esp. dense ones that have been around a couple of hundred years, is *hard*.

New York is apparently going to spend $3.8 billion on the new WTC station.

Okay, calling it a station really does undersell it -- it is connecting to the Fulton Center and Battery Park Ferry Terminal, and there are plans for expanding it to connect to LIRR and a direct JFK train. It's taking a PATH terminus and building a multiline subway station (for the 1 A C E N R lines) and an underground connection to the Fulton Street center (for the 2 3 4 5 J Z lines)

So, you have a station that's going to connect to the PATH and five sets of subway tunnels -- 7th Ave, 8th Ave, Broadway, Lexington Ave and Nassau Street, and has space to connect to a new line going to Long Island (Lower Manhattan – Jamaica/JFK Transportation Project).

$3.8B probably is too much, but this isn't a station connecting to a pair of tubes for a single line stop. This is one of the most complex connections in one of the most complex transportation networks in the world -- and it has to do the work without interrupting either the subways or the PATH. The only line not being served during construction is the 1 at Cortland St, though the connection to the Fulton Center is currently on the street.
posted by eriko at 6:20 AM on August 28, 2012 [17 favorites]


The notion that publicly accountable representatives will usually make decisions to benefit the public if left to their own devices is also a purely political fiction, usually in service of left wing ideology and those it aesthetically pleases.

You know, I really do wonder about this a lot. Living/traveling in Europe for a while, I got the sense eventually that it's not really that different - there's still corruption, the rich and powerful still use use their wealth and power to tilt the table in their favor. But there's a moderation too, a sense of balance between selfishly grabbing everything one can, and doing right by the society you're part of

And ultimately, even the rich realize they're better off in a country of happy, healthy, well-educated people, a strong safety net, and modern public infrastructure. In America by contrast, we've rode the cult of individualism down into a dark, downward spiraling hell-hole of me me me, everyone subconsciously knowing they're tearing girders out of the roof that's over all our heads but hey that guy grabbed three girders, why shouldn't I have two?

That word "accountable", we could use more of that
posted by crayz at 6:28 AM on August 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


Don't think that's true in the UK. TfL isn't that different from the MTA. If anything Crossrail is even more privately constructed than any of these projects in the US. Also MTR? Isn't that fully private?

Crossrail, from design to construction is indeed almost entirely being parceled out in various contracts, but Crossrail Ltd itself is basically TfL in sheeps clothing. TfL own the company, and you can't throw a pen in their Canary Wharf headquarters without hitting either an ex-TfL staffer or someone on secondment from TfL.

Crossrail is thus benefiting both from the 150 years worth of cumulative experience that TfL have of building and running urban metros, and more importantly from the two biggest fuckups of recent UK Metro history - the construction of the Jubilee Line Extension (JLE), and the Public Private Partnership (PPP) maintenance contracts.

The JLE suffered from bad scoping and a failure to reeeeeeeeeeeally be anal about everything at the planning stage, that led to an underestimation of costs. Bad project management and - more importantly - contractor management also caused problems. It was also architecturally over-designed. The stations are stunning and award winning, but they cost an absolute fortune to clean and the money would have been better spent on making Canada Water station long enough to take trains more than 4 coaches in length at some point in the future.

The PPP deals saw bad contracts and a ridiculously misplaced belief in the inherent desire of the private sector to be efficient result in badly maintained assets and massive project overruns that have cost TfL literally billions of pounds to fix.

All the above means that Crossrail (and by extension TfL) are utterly paranoid about effective project and contract management and governance and the pitfalls of either over-managing or under-managing the work. It really is incredible what they're doing behind the scenes - everything from BIM systems the likes of which the megaproject world has never seen to an ongoing research program in partnership with Imperial College on how you encourage innovation in contractors and make sure it gets shared.

So yeah, Crossrail as a company are a sort of wolf in sheeps clothing - officially "private sector" to keep the Telegraph and any particularly rabid Tories happy, but actually about as hands-on public sector as you can get. Indeed not just public sector, but local public sector - now the metaphorical cheque has cleared, central government has practically no oversight over the project. It's TfL's baby and they effectively answer to no-one other than the Mayor of London (and they tend to define his policy rather than the other way round).

On top of all that, TfL/Crossrail are also all too aware that if they screw up this project, they'll never get to build any major infrastructure again - and Crossrail is only the first step in sorting out London's transport network not the last one. They've got half an eye on the next prize: Crossrail 2 (Hackney - Chelsea).

The more I read about Second Avenue, the more I think it's basically shaping up to be New York's JLE and PPP debacle rolled into one. Disappointing now, sure, but don't worry guys - if you're smart then you're next Underground line will be ace!
posted by garius at 6:31 AM on August 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


it sounds like they're both in the pockets of the same contractors who are winning the unenforceable contracts

Actually, I think the deal with the judiciary end of things is likely that there are laws that require the MTA to enter into bad contracts, which the judges enforce just like they would any other contract.

That's my guess anyway. Judicial corruption is pretty rare in this country, to the point that it tends to result in indictments, federal time, and national headlines. There are rumblings, but they're generally from the sorts of people that make birthers look sane.
posted by valkyryn at 6:34 AM on August 28, 2012


Surely other American cities must do things differently than New York... Does that work for them? Why is Amtrak construction so expensive?

One thing I remember is that after the Northridge earthquake in LA in 1994, the city put in incentives for speed and the contractor finished repairs on the Santa Monica Freeway 74 days early. It was pretty great.
posted by shivohum at 6:42 AM on August 28, 2012


Fun fact -- the Lexington Avenue Line -- one of six, I'm sorry, seven once 2nd Ave is built, *8* once if the Jamaica/JFK is built -- rail lines that the WTC Transit Center will connect, has more daily riders than either the entire Washington DC Metro or the Chicago L. There's now over 1.3 million riders per day. It easily carries more than the combined passengers in SF and Boston's entire transit systems per day.

Do we understand the scale? The 4-5-6-<6> carries the equivalent of the entire population of Dallas TX in a day. It carries the entire population of Chicago in just over two. It can carry the entire population of Los Angeles in three days.

And the reason for this transit center is that line is going to tie to (initially) 5, up to 7, other transit lines, and act as a major cross-modal point, and as a major station in its own right.

This isn't rebuilding Wilson on the Howard line. This is something vastly more complex.

And back to the topic -- the reason for the 2nd Ave line is that the Lex is so horribly overloaded. There are two main lines on the West side of Manhattan -- the 6th and 8th Ave lines, but only one on the more populous east side, the Lex, and it also covers a good deal of the Bronx traffic (via the 4 to Woodlawn, the 5 to Nereid Ave/EastChester and the 6 to Pelham Bay Park. )

NYC has needed something like the 2nd Ave subway for decades.
posted by eriko at 6:42 AM on August 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


So rather than that, why not just suggest what some of these "small, politically palatable changes" might be instead of just asserting that they exist and moving on.

Umm. I kinda did, further upthread. It involved greater government involvement and oversight and bringing planning and budgeting back within the scope of the public sector, so I can see how you may have missed it. Libertarians have pretty big blind spots when it comes to that kind of stuff.

If you demand an effective government instead of a limited government, the government will ironically be smaller and less costly to the taxpayer.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:51 AM on August 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


Requiring the use of the lowest bidder is asinine. As an old estimator, part of bidding on a job (if you want to be as low as possible) is to find, and ignore, problems/mismatches in the plans and specs. You completely ignore them, knowing that they will require change orders. Change orders are the real money-sucking element in commercial construction.

Scoping the contractor before awarding the contract is extremely important. Defaulting automatically to the lowest bidder is just dumb.

Short story:

In the early 80s, I bid on a very large (for my company) curtainwall job (+/- $1 million). The general contractor was one of the many European contractors who had flooded the DC area during the building boom of the 80s.

I got the call that they were considering my bid and they brought me in and scoped me. Everything went well, and we signed the contract. Afterwards, I asked the contractor "Now that it's all official, I'm curious. How much money did I leave on the table?"

He replied, "You weren't the low bidder."

I was surprised, and said so.

He then explained, "We always automatically throw out the lowest bid, because life is too short to work with stupid people. We also throw out the highest bid, because life is too short to work with greedy people."
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:56 AM on August 28, 2012 [21 favorites]


Umm. I kinda did, further upthread. It involved greater government involvement and oversight and bringing planning and budgeting back within the scope of the public sector, so I can see how you may have missed it. Libertarians have pretty big blind spots when it comes to that kind of stuff.

Not actually a libertarian. Just profoundly skeptical of the goodness of people, including politicians and civil servants.

But the real reason I "missed it," Snarky McSnarkypants, is that your "suggestion":

but this stuff needs to be run by career professionals with executive branch oversight and regular reporting to legislature

...isn't actually a "small, politically palatable change" but a fairly significant restructuring of the way things happen. You're talking about what amounts to creating an entirely new agency, and I see zero reason to believe that your suggestion will be any less corrupt than what's going on now. Heck, I can easily see that being more corrupt, because career civil servants are almost impossible for the executive to effectively control, let alone the legislature. You're not fixing the problem, you're doubling down on it.
posted by valkyryn at 6:58 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, I really do wonder about this a lot. Living/traveling in Europe for a while, I got the sense eventually that it's not really that different - there's still corruption, the rich and powerful still use use their wealth and power to tilt the table in their favor. But there's a moderation too, a sense of balance between selfishly grabbing everything one can, and doing right by the society you're part of

I wondered about this for a while as well. Then I remembered that in European history they occasionally kill their rich people.
posted by srboisvert at 7:02 AM on August 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


eriko: "Do we understand the scale? The 4-5-6-<6> carries the equivalent of the entire population of Dallas TX in a day. It carries the entire population of Chicago in just over two. It can carry the entire population of Los Angeles in three days. "

Actually, the Lexington Avenue line is only a small portion of the 4-5-6, which emphasizes just how busy that line is.
posted by schmod at 7:04 AM on August 28, 2012


valkyryn: "I actually made one recommendation myself, i.e., make it illegal for the same firm to both design and bid on the same project."

Actually, design-build is a pretty strong trend right now, and it's being used (to varying degrees of effectiveness) to keep public infrastructure projects on or below budget.

Because it can be impossible to predict market fluctuations, hidden geological surprises, etc. over the span of building a project, hiring the same firm to design a project as it's being built can result in some added agility that can add up to fairly significant cost savings.

It's the construction industry's analogy to the software industry realizing that the waterfall model was clunky, expensive, and producing bad products.

There are just too many potential cost-saving synergies between design and construction to keep them separated as a matter of law.
posted by schmod at 7:09 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Requiring the use of the lowest bidder is asinine.

It really is. That isn't exactly how it works, but it's close. In the US, most states and municipalities are required to use the lowest conforming bid. This is largely a means of curbing rampant political patronage, which was a huge problem in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and still continues today. But it remains true that if a contractor submits a lowball bid that doesn't actually meet the requirements of the contract, the government agency can ignore it.

The problem is that most state laws permit a contractor that has submitted a low bid that doesn't get the contract to contest the decision in court. This is both a good and a bad thing. It's a good thing in that it's a very effective tool to curb corruption. But it's a bad thing because it permits someone to submit a bid which is technically compliant but which everybody knows is going to run up costs and then fight about it in court.

I'm not aware of any way of threading that needle, but I'm open to suggestions.
posted by valkyryn at 7:11 AM on August 28, 2012


Because it can be impossible to predict market fluctuations, hidden geological surprises, etc. over the span of building a project, hiring the same firm to design a project as it's being built can result in some added agility that can add up to fairly significant cost savings.

See, that's the sort of observation that makes me pessimistic about this sort of thing. Turns out design-build isn't just a way of running up costs, as implied by the article. It has real utility. So banning it isn't necessarily the right choice. What we need is some way of discerning where there's a corrupt motive and smoking it out.

But that involves discretion, and any time there's discretion, there's the risk of corruption. Which brings me back to my original conclusion: if you have a way of fixing corruption, i.e., actually fixing it, not just proposing an alternate system that would work if everyone behaved well, then all of this stuff goes away.
posted by valkyryn at 7:13 AM on August 28, 2012


ore importantly from the two biggest fuckups of recent UK Metro history - the construction of the Jubilee Line Extension (JLE)

JLE was still multiples less expensive then similar US projects.
posted by JPD at 7:19 AM on August 28, 2012


For comparison, the San Francisco Central Subway is planned to cost $1.6B to run 1.7 miles. The Union Square station is planned at $210 million. That seems cheap; half the price per mile compared to NY Second Avenue line! Except the SF Central Subway isn't actually going to go anywhere and won't connect conveniently with the existing underground Muni and BART lines.
posted by Nelson at 7:21 AM on August 28, 2012


2nd Ave is being built cut-and-cover

This is incorrect.

I am a consultant on the project.
posted by millipede at 7:24 AM on August 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


The reason for the Great Chicago Flood was that they were driving pilings to protect the Kinzie Street Bridge, and they hit a tunnel that had been dug illegally decades before and wasn't on anybody's plans.

Eriko, quick aside: it was not an illegal tunnel; it was a long-abandoned Chicago Tunnel Company tunnel. Wikipedia says that some of the tunnels were dug "clandestinely", but there's no cite, and the utility companies were inspecting the tunnel (which is how the damage was initially discovered) so it wasn't an unknown tunnel.

too interesting of a story not to step in with the details, sorry.
posted by davejay at 7:30 AM on August 28, 2012


Design/build could be an effective way to contain costs if it was implemented correctly. Having one company responsible for specs/plans and construction (theoretically) removes a lot of the "we didn't see this coming" extra costs.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:34 AM on August 28, 2012


JLE was still multiples less expensive then similar US projects.

Well in the JLE's case it was the overall experience that was deficient, rather than the overall project cost. The major problem there was as much what was done with the money as much as anything else - and the legacy costs that's resulted in.

But then I tend to think that attempting to do too much of a like-for-like cost comparison on things like metro projects is almost always asking for trouble. Sure, you can draw some general conclusions but every system is different for a myriad amount of reasons both obvious and non-obvious.

Crossrail, for example, had to spend a whole wedge of cash resurveying its entire route through London's core for unexploded WW2 bombs, as it passes through various areas (notably the docks) that were extensively redecorated by the Luftwaffe in the forties. That's not something New York likely has to worry about.

Similarly, both Crossrail and 2nd Avenue have to think about is how they dispose of spoil in a relatively environmentally friendly manner (Crossrail are effectively building a new nature reserve for the RSPB with theirs). That's not something that the Chinese have been overly concerned with in their recent projects.
posted by garius at 7:35 AM on August 28, 2012


Gneiss, schist, marble and glacial till. South of the Henry Hudson bridge, and north of Chambers, it's Gneiss.

Wait, I thought it was "The Bronx is Gneiss, Manhattan is full of schist?"
posted by yarrow at 7:36 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


$3.8B probably is too much, but this isn't a station connecting to a pair of tubes for a single line stop. This is one of the most complex connections in one of the most complex transportation networks in the world -- and it has to do the work without interrupting either the subways or the PATH.

I get that, and the ridership figures quoted elsewhere in the discussion are impressive. But that doesn't change the so-called optics of this kind of expense -- to the rest of the universe, Manhattan increasingly looks like a hole that it pours its wealth into, with no real return except pictures of a bunch of rich guys in nice suits that it feels comfortable despising. So when there's a rail station being built for roughly the same price tag as the budget of the entire state of West Virginia ($4b and change, I believe), it doesn't really matter to the residents of the aforementioned rest of the universe

It looks bad. It might be the right price for the right project. But it's going to be hard to make people believe that.
posted by samofidelis at 7:38 AM on August 28, 2012


This is incorrect.

Yes, NIMBY-ism in the US might be much worse and more obstructive of subways than in other cities and countries and that might push up subway costs. This paper on the Central Park Caper is fascinating:

In addition to the M.T.A., you have the New York City Transit Authority, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Operating Authority, the Staten Island Rapid Transit Operating Authority, the Long Island Rail Road, the Penn Central Rail Road, the Tri-State Regional Planning Commission, the Port of New York Authority, PATH and many more, not to mention the State of New York Department of Transportation and the Federal Department of Transportation, all of which have tremendous influence on what happens to New York City’s transportation system. It is trite to say, but nothing can really be accomplished unless all of these agencies and jurisdictions cooperate and unless the political figures to whom the agency heads report work together as well.
posted by shivohum at 7:39 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am a consultant on the project.

Are you one of the consultants who consult with consultants?
posted by pracowity at 8:11 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apparently the largest design contractor and the largest project manager are, in fact, the same company. So the designer has no real incentive to submit a frugal or efficient plan, because he's going to get to build it.

Not true.

1) Large scale government-run projects are subject to Value Engineering studies from independent experts to ensure that the design is cost efficient.

2) The construction contract is still bid on price. In this case, the PM/designer isn't guaranteed to have its construction outfit win the contract, they still need to be the lowest bidder. And every large contractor in the country/world is going to have a bid in on HSR.

The segment runs mainly beneath a single broad avenue, unimpeded by rivers, super-tall skyscraper foundations or other subway lines.

Remind me not to read Bloomberg for cutting edge engineering analysis. A tunnel's "zone of influence" extends beyond the vertical extension of the area being tunneled. I'm not familiar with the geology of Manhattan, but in other areas, the settlement zone extends from the tunnel centerline at a 2:1 slope. Also, building foundations regularly have tiebacks, which support the foundation walls, that extend beyond the footprint of the building and into the street.

Also, there's probably more utilities under 2nd Ave. than any place else in the world. That, and the as-built plans for the utilities built in the late 1800s are likely nothing more than the equivalent of a schematic drawing on the back of a napkin.
posted by hwyengr at 8:13 AM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


millipede: "This is incorrect.

I am a consultant on the project.
"

Huh? My understanding was that a variety of methods would be used, depending on the section. I believe that a lot of the construction being done right now is TBM, but there are definitely a bunch of C&C segments in there...
posted by schmod at 8:15 AM on August 28, 2012


This is incorrect.

I am a consultant on the project.


Thanks for that -- I'm not sure where I got that information, and I was curious as to how it was going to work, but I'm glad to be corrected there.

Tunneling is, on the face (har har) more expensive, until you factor in the effect that cut-and-cover has on the street it's cutting. And, of course, even with pilot tunnels, you find those little lurking surprises in a very different way -- when they're looking right at you, rather than you looking down on them.
posted by eriko at 8:15 AM on August 28, 2012


valkyryn
First, other countries tend not to spend an exorbitant amount of money on station architecture. New York is apparently going to spend $3.8 billion on the new WTC station. The article points out that that's probably enough to do the entire Second Avenue line, if we did it like other countries do. "Design should be focused on the needs of the users . . . rather than on architectural beauty or exotic materials, and never on the name of the architect." Ironically, the architect for the WTC station is Spanish. He probably can't get that work in Spain, because the Spanish government won't pay for it.

They're entirely capable of voting for cheaper projects, but no, they've got to be pretty too.

Well, yeah, they do. This objection is really odd. As eriko notes, this isn't some rinky-dink stop, it's a major network hub. Why shouldn't effort be made to make it beautiful if it's going to become a permanent part of the city?

I'd much rather have a Grand Central than another abomination like the new Penn Station.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:16 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


hwyengr: "Also, there's probably more utilities under 2nd Ave. than any place else in the world. That, and the as-built plans for the utilities built in the late 1800s are likely nothing more than the equivalent of a schematic drawing on the back of a napkin."

I'm willing to be extremely generous, and say that this definitely drives costs of NYC-area projects through the roof.

However, it doesn't explain things like the WMATA Silver Line, which is costing something like $7 billion for 23 miles of almost entirely above-ground track in a highway median.

And that's not to say that it isn't worth it... just that I think DC legitimately got screwed with the Silver Line's infinite planning process that resulted in the worst/cheapest thing possible being built at the highest possible cost. I think you can blame Virginia's insane political system for a lot of that.

We should design things to look nice and be efficient. I think Amtrak should get every penny of the $100+ billion they're asking for, including the $7 billion project that they recently proposed to rebuild Union Station in DC. HSR could be the interstate system of our generation, hopefully producing similar economic benefits.

For some reason, $7 billion doesn't seem like a terribly high cost to build something that has the potential to become one of the most significant pieces of architecture and transportation infrastructure in the country.

Still, if they can do it cheaper, they should....

posted by schmod at 8:22 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


First, other countries tend not to spend an exorbitant amount of money on station architecture.

IDK - US subways have some of the least impressive/poorly maintained subway stations around. Compare the SAS station designs with the Jubilee line extensions stations for example.
posted by JPD at 8:23 AM on August 28, 2012


I think it's just pointless to try to make sweeping generalizations about "US stations" vs "other countries" when every single city's network is different, and often different lines within each city are at vastly different standards.
posted by smackfu at 8:30 AM on August 28, 2012


I'm more than willing to believe that this is the case.

Here in Minneapolis, we're building our second light rail line. The route is along an existing median -- ironically, it is a median today because it carried streetcars 100 years ago. There's only one small overpass and no new tunnels. The stations are basically glorified bus shelters. But it's still going to cost nearly $1 billion.

This train is desperately needed -- the street it goes along is often bumper-to-bumper buses, each with standing-room-only passengers. But the price tag seems completely insane in comparison to road projects, which usually go in quickly and cheaply around here.

I can't help but think that American transit planners and contractors aren't very good at what they do, maybe because new transit projects are so rare in the US.
posted by miyabo at 8:36 AM on August 28, 2012


I'm not a big fan of that kind of "it feels too expensive" argument, which the original article also uses. Usually because if the budget was cut in half, it would still feel too expensive, which means what? That there was more than 50% excess spending? Or that big price tags seem like they must be too high, just because they are so big.
posted by smackfu at 8:56 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey, Miyabo, one of my oldest friends is designing some of those "glorified bus shelters"!!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:24 AM on August 28, 2012


For a start, why do you even need the Second Avenue subway? Would not a monorail be better? (They have one in New Haverbrook!).

It's North Haverbrook you cad. You should know. That monorail put them on the map.
posted by Talez at 9:28 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Count me as a vote for throwing very large sums of money at Santiago Calatrava to build spaces that will significantly add to the quality of life of millions upon millions of New Yorkers and tourists for centuries.

The notion that architectural beauty is just "waste" is a profoundly depressing one.
posted by yoink at 9:28 AM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


That monorail put them on the map.

I hear those things are awfully loud...
posted by entropicamericana at 9:34 AM on August 28, 2012


The underground portion of the Calatrava Transit Hub is done. It's huge and breathtaking.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 9:43 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ironically, the architect for the WTC station is Spanish. He probably can't get that work in Spain, because the Spanish government won't pay for it.


Calatrava? He already milked that cow for all it was worth.

In a most tragic coincidence, the obelisk in that last link, which is uncharacteristically ugly for a Calatrava work, mechanically troubled, and costs a frigging fortune in its upkeep, happens to be a monument to Caja Madrid, one of the savings banks that was later merged into the smouldering financial crater that is Bankia.

Coming back to the subject of comparative cost of building infrastructure in the US with respect to other countries, if you are indeed paying several times what is paid in Holland or Japan for comparable work, then you can be pretty sure that someone, somewhere is gouging you big time. In Holland, contractors were known to invite civil servants of the Public Works Ministry into brothels. In Japan, public works are a well-known source of campaign funding for the Liberal Democratic Party.
posted by Skeptic at 10:13 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Calatrava designed the new Liège-Guillemins railway station in Belgium. While the old station (which I had used several years back) did need to be replaced, Calatrava's design is problematic. While it might be nice for the Mediterranean climes of the Iberian peninsula, in Belgium in winter it's a pretty cold and not particularly sheltered stop, compared to, say, the Antwerp Central Station.
posted by dhens at 10:17 AM on August 28, 2012


While it might be nice for the Mediterranean climes of the Iberian peninsula, in Belgium in winter it's a pretty cold and not particularly sheltered stop, compared to, say, the Antwerp Central Station.

Yup. Not to mention the esthetic clash between the flowing whiteness of the station and Liège's rather...ahem...down-to-earth architecture.
posted by Skeptic at 10:23 AM on August 28, 2012


Mind you, I generally love Calatrava designs, but in later years he's got into a bout of megalomania, of which Liège-Guillemins is a pretty blatant example.
posted by Skeptic at 10:26 AM on August 28, 2012


There's a good accompanying article at Greater Greater Washington today: Are contractors wasting public money? We don't know.
posted by schmod at 10:40 AM on August 28, 2012


The notion that publicly accountable representatives are incapable of making decisions to benefit the public is a purely political fiction, usually in service of right wing ideology and those it monetarily benefits.

You keep repeating that politicians are "accountable." Apparently this is because they're up for reelection. But in order for this accountability to work well, it would need to be the case that voters are (1) very well-informed about this project, (2) thinking about the relevant information when they go in the voting booth, and (3) motivated to cast their votes based on this particular issue. It's unlikely that those three things are all true for most voters. Voting is a very weak mechanism for holding politicians accountable. Votes on offices (as opposed to referenda) are all-or-nothing: you vote yes or no for the whole person; you can't cast different votes on different issues. And, of course, many voters just aren't very well-informed.
posted by John Cohen at 10:40 AM on August 28, 2012


Mind you, I generally love Calatrava designs, but in later years he's got into a bout of megalomania

Megalomania is something of a prerequisite for architects (not universally true, of course, but true enough). What other art is thrust upon all comers quite so uncompromisingly and lays claim to such permanence? If your vision is going to survive the endless negotiations with clients, contractors, politicians, neighborhood pressure groups etc. you need to have a pretty outsize self-belief.

And, sure, any architect will have misfires in their portfolio. But Calatrava has contributed more than his share of breathtakingly beautiful structures (and more than his share of elegant engineering concepts that other architects and engineers will draw on in other projects) to the world.
posted by yoink at 10:41 AM on August 28, 2012


39 reasons why transportation costs too much (a follow-up to this article, which is also worth a read)
posted by schmod at 10:46 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see this done in reverse, something akin to letting a bunch of capitalists acrue the minor costs (and supposed benefits) of a project and watching the look on their face when you strong arm it all away under eminent domain or some such thing. A pleasant fantasy when you think about the cronyism.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:36 AM on August 28, 2012


Well in Australia I'm reasonably convinced that the construction unions do deserve a fair proportion of the blame for hideously expensive public infrastructure. Unskilled labour at $75 an hour. 35 hour weeks. Stop-works for the most nonsensical reasons.

You really need to go actually, you know, read that award. $75/hour for unskilled labour? If you're going to go for union outrage you might want to try something that's not outlandish. Even if you take the base rate of $20/hour and apply double time and a half to the rate and add 9% super and leave loading you don't get anywhere near $75/hour for unskilled labour. You barely get that rate if you take a CW8 Foreperson and apply all of the above.

Anything above that is market demand making it hideously expensive not unions.
posted by Talez at 12:44 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aussie labour is expensive because you have to compete with the mining industry.
posted by atrazine at 1:29 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aussie labour is expensive because you have to compete with the mining industry.

And the high dollar pushes import costs (and costs of living) up, making anything other than mining and necessary support industries unaffordable. It's what economists call Dutch disease.
posted by acb at 2:20 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stephen Smith has another article in the same vein, but on labor (and other) rules and commuter rail in North America. I think he's right about some of the reasons we can't have nice things.
posted by parudox at 2:52 PM on August 28, 2012


Well, if Bloomberg says it is because of labor then it must be true!
posted by entropicamericana at 2:57 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Other things union labor is blocking, according to Bloomberg: the electric car, campaign finance reform, banking reform, single payer healthcare, alternative energy, interstellar travel, and possibly the return of our lord and savior jesus christ...
posted by entropicamericana at 3:02 PM on August 28, 2012


"Design should be focused on the needs of the users . . . rather than on architectural beauty or exotic materials, and never on the name of the architect."

In the 1960's, New York City chose to demolish Penn Station and build a hideous, poorly lit, and badly organized underground shopping mall/rail terminal below a stadium and a group of architecturally dull office towers. All in the name of modernizing or whatever.

There was obviously a HUGE public outcry over this, and in a lot of ways the NYC urban design/planning community hasn't ever recovered from that outcry. Public works that are economically sound but lacking in aesthetic appeal almost never get approved here.

Meanwhile, all it takes to get the Atlantic Yards Project (which is ultimately a redo of the Penn Station/MSG debacle from the 60's) off the ground is vague promises that some of the buildings might be designed by Frank Gehry.
posted by Sara C. at 3:26 PM on August 28, 2012


Meanwhile, all it takes to get the Atlantic Yards Project (which is ultimately a redo of the Penn Station/MSG debacle from the 60's) off the ground is vague promises that some of the buildings might be designed by Frank Gehry.

Sounds more like a threat to me.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:27 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


And the high dollar pushes import costs (and costs of living) up, making anything other than mining and necessary support industries unaffordable. It's what economists call Dutch disease.

Higher value currency means lower import costs by definition there chief. They make the mining industry less competitive overall in the international marketplace and squeeze profit margins and wages.
posted by Talez at 3:28 PM on August 28, 2012


That's all you have? The stuff in that article is pretty uncontroversial in transit circles. Labor is the biggest cost in transit operations in the developed world, so when rules require much more labor, good transit service can become infeasible. And then we all get to drive instead of having the choice of decent regional trains.
posted by parudox at 3:29 PM on August 28, 2012


(I was responding to the comments about Bloomberg being the source. The author generally writes at Market Urbanism, FWIW.)
posted by parudox at 3:31 PM on August 28, 2012


Talez, read this. Do you know anyone in architecture or building? If you think our building unions (mostly the CFMEU) are blameless, you've got zero knowledge of the industry.
posted by wilful at 4:18 PM on August 28, 2012


You Can't Tip a Buick: "With regard to the SNCF bid in particular, the alignment they proposed would have seriously impacted ridership; it's only "less than optimal" or "gerrymandered" if one defines "optimal" as "moving people who live in San Francisco all the way to Los Angeles, and vice versa, as quickly as possible, without regard to anyone in the middle." "

The SNCF route had connected spurs to the HSR line, these smaller towns just would not have been ON the HSR train.
posted by stratastar at 4:54 PM on August 28, 2012


IIRC, 2nd Ave is being built cut-and-cover. I'd hate to try to run a TBM through Manhattan.

There's definitely a TBM, even though some of it's cut-and-cover, and some of it already exists. (Pictures of the project occasionally show up on my Facebook feed, with and without smiling people in hard hats. No way tunnels that round are cut-and-cover.)
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:05 PM on August 28, 2012


Talez, read this. Do you know anyone in architecture or building? If you think our building unions (mostly the CFMEU) are blameless, you've got zero knowledge of the industry.

Len Buckeridge is worth $1.25 billion and Leighton made $300 million last year. If someone's getting screwed on building costs I think we need to look elsewhere than a hit piece trying to tear down well paying jobs for Australian workers.

Damned if I can even verify those numbers though. That 26 days of leave over and above with $75/hourt? Link me to where they can find that because the brother-in-law wouldn't mind a pay raise over the mines.
posted by Talez at 5:24 PM on August 28, 2012


With regard to the SNCF bid in particular, the alignment they proposed would have seriously impacted ridership; it's only "less than optimal" or "gerrymandered" if one defines "optimal" as "moving people who live in San Francisco all the way to Los Angeles, and vice versa, as quickly as possible, without regard to anyone in the middle."

That's true, and if the trade-off was just a slightly *longer* route then that would be reason enough. The problem is that along the I5 corridor the state already owned land on which they could build noisy transportation infrastructure without years of legal challenges, that is emphatically not the case along the route they ended up choosing. The best way to get a project like this done cheaply is to get it done as fast as possible so that fixed costs and interest payments don't ruin your budget.
posted by atrazine at 5:29 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Talez I don't think you'd go far calling Tim Colebatch some right-wing stooge, if you're familiar with his work. And I don't think a $300M profit for Leighton is extortionate, what's their return on capital, why aren't they sharemarket darlings?

No one's arguing against a decently paid job, but when a general labourer is on more than $100 000 per annum, well that money is coming from somewhere, and what it directly means is that we can't afford to build new train lines, we can't afford to pay teachers more, etc etc.

If you care to follow my posting history you'll find I'm fairly centre-left on most matters, I am in fact a union member, I am not an IPA stooge. But fairs fair, and we are being rorted.
posted by wilful at 5:58 PM on August 28, 2012


More on Australia and Dutch Disease.
posted by acb at 9:59 AM on August 29, 2012


Design should be focused on the needs of the users

If the users are human beings, then one of the things they need is beauty.
posted by yoink at 10:17 AM on August 29, 2012


Design and usability in architecture are certainly goods that we should aim for (god knows Penn Station is a horrible mess), but one of the points made is that there are trade-offs and decisions made that have resulted in the US having much fewer effective mass-transit choices for both inter-city and intra-city transit.

So when we ask, why don't we have as much mass-transit as some other countries, the scatter of reasons in the article and in the discussion come up, because in the end creating transit outcomes are necessary reducing automobile reliance, and in creating productive cities and economies.

Unless google beats us all with super efficient driverless cars, turning every road into an effective mass transit system and its all moot anyways.
posted by stratastar at 10:34 AM on August 29, 2012


Unless google beats us all with super efficient driverless cars

I want to see car trains, with automatic cars all communicating with one another and forming virtual trains (driving nose to tail) when they're going to the same place. On a highway, you'd get great mileage if everyone was drafting.
posted by pracowity at 1:48 PM on August 29, 2012


Especially if you were behind a semi...
posted by stratastar at 9:40 AM on August 30, 2012


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