How significant an opportunity for reducing U.S. construction costs? « The Transport Politic
It was relatively cheap because it used city streets and a railroad right-of-way.Norfolk, Virginia celebrates the opening of a relatively cheap new rail corridor. It’s not as out-of-the-ordinary as we might hope, though.
Last weekend, Norfolk’s Tide light rail line opened to big crowds and lots of excitement in a state that has never before seen modern light rail technology in action. But the project was overbudget and the subject of years of controversy. What was once supposed to be a $232 million line had ballooned in cost to $318.5 million and in the process taken down political leaders who had supported it. Perceived mismanagement delayed consideration of extensions into nearby Virginia Beach. And the scheme’s implementation flaws emboldened conservative activists insistant on playing up the poor performance of government.
The irony of the story, it turns out, is that even at its higher-than-expected cost, the Tide’s construction came in at just $43 million a mile, less than any recently completed or under construction light rail system in the United States — even better than Salt Lake City’s just-finished Mid-Jordan and West Valley light rail lines, which cost $50 and $73 million per mile, respectively. It came close in price to the cheapest such project in generally less expensive France, Besançon’s $35 million a mile tramway.
Yonah Freemark then continues with an analysis of the consts of various systems, making a nice little graph of costs and line lengths for various modes in recent US systems. Surface lines have a good fit to a line with a slope of $73 million/mile, and he has a lot of data points for that one. Surface-subway ones are at $239 m/mi, though he has only about 3 data points. The upcoming Honolulu project, which will have a lot of elevated trackway, falls on its line, however. Subway systems were the most expensive at $840 m/mi, though their data points have a lot of scatter.
One must be that construction costs in the U.S. are relatively steady across the country, at least when taking into account differences in grade separation. The other is that if we consider it in the public interest to reduce construction costs because of a declining ability to afford infrastructure, a national solution, rather than a local one, may be necessary.