Lessons from California: Tips for Staying on Time and on Budget for Transit Projects

Diving Brief:

  • There’s a problem with U.S. transit projects: They consistently go over budget and fall behind schedule. A new study from UC Berkeley takes a look at five California railroad case studies to find out why.
  • According to Ethan Elkind et al study.
  • Agencies can apply lessons learned from the California cases to many other transit projects across the United States, which will accelerate as federal infrastructure law rolls out with funding for rail, bus and Moreover. The researchers suggest that states staff transit agencies and plan more broadly in the early stages, and reform their procurement methods to give builders more say in project design.

Overview of the dive:

Transit projects that are mostly aboveground take about six months longer in the United States than similar projects overseas, while tunnel installations can take almost a year and a half longer, according to a 2021 study. Eno Transportation Analysis Center. In addition, railway construction in the United States costs on average 50% more than in Europe and Canada.

The California High Speed ​​Rail epitomizes this unfortunate trend. Former President Barack Obama hoped the bullet train would be a major event completion of his first termbut two administrations later, its price has went from $40 billion to $105 billion and it is far from running.

The UC Berkeley study examines the shortcomings and successes of California’s high-speed rail (rendered above), along with four other California mass transit initiatives: San Francisco’s Central Subway, Los Angeles, the San Diego Middle Corridor Cart, and the Berryessa BART Extension. .

Main issues identified by the report:

  • Most US transit projects use the design-bid-build procurement system, which creates a management bottleneck that can lead to costly delays.
  • Local transport agencies generally lack experience in managing large, complex projects, and often lack sufficient staff to engage with contractors. As a result, they rely too heavily on consultants or simply rely on existing resources.
  • Transit agencies do not plan far enough in advance to anticipate problems that may increase costs later.
  • Unnecessary upgrades added during the construction phase, or “span creep”, can make construction take longer.

“The causes of these higher costs and delays nationwide are myriad, in part due to the decentralized nature of land use and infrastructure governance in the United States.” however, according to the report, there are many “opportunities for more efficient project delivery”.

How to Build a Better Transit Project

Public transit is a key tool for ward off the worst effects of climate changeand time is running out to switch from fossil-powered vehicles to more sustainable means of transport, according to the UN. Specifically, public transport use must double worldwide by 2030 if nations are to stop at 1.5°C (34.7°F). ) emissions target needed to meet that target, according to a 2021 C40 Cities and the Report of the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

The laborious pace and sticker shock typical of U.S. transit projects make the public less willing to invest in future efforts, according to the UC Berkeley report. Moreover, the current situation is not ideal for everyone involved, from jurisdictions to manufacturers to future drivers.

Some strategies the Berkeley researchers recommend for dealing with broken budgets and schedules:

  • Create state or regional transit megaproject delivery teams to consult with and support local agencies.
  • Fund local transit agencies so they can staff and plan more ahead.
  • For project managers: Allow more time and cost into estimates to account for potential design challenges and other issues. Also consider site-specific challenges in route design before establishing time and cost estimates.
  • Maintain the scope of the project and avoid adding important and non-essential elements after the design phase.
  • Break work up into smaller contracts to increase flexibility, instead of one sprawling agreement. The Los Angeles Purple Line project was built on time and on budget using this method.
  • Use a construction manager procurement method at risk so that builders can provide input into the design, such as the successful Mid-Coast Corridor Trolley project used in San Diego.
  • Consider prior utility relocation contracts to expedite utility-related work in tunnel areas and around stations.

“Transit agencies and the constituencies they serve are also keen to understand the drivers of inefficient project delivery and options for overcoming them,” the report states, and “the stakes are high.”