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Friday, November 7, 2008

HRT, Light Rail, and VA Pilot readers

Recently, The Virginian-Pilot posted a story, $10.9 million contract awarded for light-rail facility near NSU. In reading the comments at the bottom of the page submitted by readers, I have come to realize that the majority of readers of comment are horribly skewed in their views and apparently have little or no research skills. The article mentions that the Norfolk LRT project is 11% over budget and will not open on schedule. More firm numbers will be released mid-November. The commentators go on to make all sorts of off the wall comments. Here is a summary of those comments. Please refer to the numbers, as I will use them to accept or refute each statement:
  1. NSU should pay for over run that is its fault (lindowitz, 11/7/08 - 12:19 PM)
  2. LRT will not work on this alignment (squirrelly, 11/7/08 - 12:32 PM)
  3. Due to metals and materials market, cost should decrease (squirrelly, 11/7/08 - 12:32 PM)
  4. Every major project seems to be going over budget and past deadline (vabeachgirl, 11/7/08 - 12:43 PM)
  5. We should look at Seattle for an example (sammonsfamily, 11/7/08 - 12:58 PM)
  6. We should use a ferry instead of Light Rail (sammonsfamily, 11/7/08 - 12:58 PM)
  7. HRT failed to give accurate information when it obtained Federal money (aalto, 11/7/08 - 12:59 PM)
  8. More than half the population of Norfolk and Portsmouth live by the water, so ferries would be a good idea (dokein, 11/7/08 - 3:55 PM)
  9. A ferry system would be a great supplement to Light Rail (dokein, 11/7/08 - 4:02 PM)
  10. It is amazing how we can afford Light Rail if we can't fix the Jordan Bridge - "Light Rail Derailed Jordan Bridge (Goldfinch, 11/7/08 - 4:20 PM)
Ok, here it goes.
  1. NSU should pay for its cost overruns that are attributed to moving the station along with all of the other things that they wanted. I absolutely agree. They should have raised their concerns this vocally way back in the original planning phase. Personally, if I had any say, either they would pay for their changes or it would be built as planned.
  2. Light rail will work on this segment. It would work even better if Virginia Beach had the foresight way back when to vote for it. It also would have been cheaper for them if they had acquired land back when it was cheap in the mid 90s. Now, they have built up the whole corridor (which would have grown more if we had LR sooner, during the boom) and land value has increased. It will increase further if LR is built.
  3. Metals and Materials: It is true. Since the collapse of the housing construction market, all construction materials have decreased in value. Metal has also decreased in value. These cost decreases, however, are not factored in until the end. It is possible that the cost overrun will shrink near the end. But we have to push through until then.
  4. Yes every major project does seem to be over budget and over time. The Norfolk LRT's 11% is small compared to what it could be. Boston's Big Dig was estimated and planned in 1985 at $2.6 billion. By 2002, the total cost was estimated at $14.6 billion, or 561.5% over budget. Denver International Airport was planned in 1989 at $1.7 billion. By 1995, it had cost $4.8 billion, or 282.3% over budget. The Kennedy Center Parking Lot, in DC, was planned in 1998 at $28 million. By 2003 it had cost $88 million, or 314.2% over budget. Virginia's "Mixing Bowl" (large interchange near Arlington) was projected at $241 million in 1996. By 2003, it had cost $676 million, or 280.5% over budget. Remember comparing us to Seattle? Their LRT project was planned in 1996 at $1.7 billion (which is $91 million/mile MORE than Norfolk's). By 2000, it had cost $2.6 billion, or 152.9% over budget ($155 million MORE/mile than Norfolk's). As you can see, Norfolk's mere 11% is nothing. It is also nowhere near complete. Budgets and time lines are adjusted all the time. The Battlefield project is actually on time and on budget. In fact is is currently projected to be opened sooner than originally planned.
  5. Seattle. Although, as we just learned, their LRT project was 152% over budget, it has also exceeded all ridership expectations. they recently have surpassed 10 million riders and are adding multiple more trains and are planning an additional rail line. This is why there is less traffic. Not "because they use a ferry system" as the poster claims. I am sure that this certainly is a factor. In fact, the ferry system probably is also a factor as to why the LRT project is doing so well. Its called "multi-modal." When you give commuters a choice, they tend to be much more open. Their commutes are actually cut shorter and they can choose which is easier, cheaper, and more convenient. That is why HRT has such a bad rep for bus service. When buses are all you've got, they tend to be the opposite of quick and convenient.
  6. That same poster then goes on to say that we should scrap the LRT project and built a ferry system. Wrong. He compared it to Seattle. He should research what Seattle actually does. Let's explore this for a second though. He says, "The light rail will only serve a small sector of the population, and serves no purpose at all to some of the other cities that make up Hampton Roads. A ferry system would benefit cities on both sides of the water and in between." Well, the current LRT project serves Norfolk and Virginia Beach. His proposed ferry system would only serve Norfolk and Portsmouth. How is swapping a 400,000+ population city for a less than 200,000 population city going to help the system? to see if it would work, however, I might go rent a boat this weekend and take it to Town Center... Wait... Town Center isn't near the water. I guess I could go to the Ocean Front... via a multiple hour trip around the water or through the canal and backtrack. I agree that the LRT project only serves 2 cities. that is why it must be expanded to Chesapeake via a Portsmouth route. Then, it would serve more. Better yet, it could expand to the Peninsula.
  7. False. HRT submitted all documentation as required by law. All of their information was gathered for them by third party research firms. Obviously HRT made a pretty good case if the Federal Government awarded us the money and not someone else.
  8. Back to the ferries. I do not think that half of Norfolk's population lives on navigable (by ferry) waters. I do think that an expanded ferry system would be great, especially if they could connect it nearer to Harbor Park Station. Once again, ferries would not work of themselves. These people that do live within 15 minutes walking distance of navigable waters do not necessarily work within 15 minutes of that water. The LRT project is supposed to serve a mere fraction of the 56,000 commuters the move between Virginia Beach and the Downtown Norfolk area each day. The waterside Portsmouth residents are also probably not, for the most part, Downtown Norfolk workers. Also, there is actually higher density along the Central Virginia Beach Corridor than in Downtown Portsmouth.
  10. Even without any once of a LRT project, the Jordan Bridge would not get money. Instead the LRT money would go to another city for their LRT project. The money comes from two different sources.
Please, when you post things, have an informed oppinion, not just a crackpot idea.


Anonymous said...

Nice analysis. One point regarding construction materials costs. These also include the cost of transporting materials to the job site; therefore, the rise if fuel prices offset decreases in material costs. Additionally, much of the materials for this project is concrete, which is still in short supply (and heavy to transport) so costs have not decreased as much as might be expected.

Otherwise, great job.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I was under the impression that Seattle's light rail had yet to carry a single passenger, because it is STILL under construction. 10 million passengers already? Man, that thing will be a huge success when it's built if they have those numbers on a train that hasn't even moved.

Michael Ragsdale said...

Seattle: There's three lines up or under construction:

* Tacoma Link (Downtown Tacoma to Tacoma Dome Station): operating since, I think, 2003
* Central Link (Downtown Seattle to SeaTac): Under construction. Planned opening is late 2009.
* SLUT, South Lake Union Trolley (Westlake to South Lake Union): Opened for about a year.

Russell Manning said...

I do apologize for the confusion for the second anonymous post. The 10 million figure is for the commuter rail that runs through Seattle. Their actual light rail opens this year. And (unlike our area) just passed a referendum last Tuesday to create three extensions to it. Tacoma's Light Rail, which is connected to Seattle via the commuter rail, served over one million riders last year, for a total of nearly 4 million riders in less than four years. Interesting Fact: Buffalo, NY's Metro Light Rail line, which is shorter than Norfolk's line carries 23,000 people a day and the city is only about 70% the size of Virginia Beach. It differs from Virginia Beach, however, in that it's population had been declining in the past few years and still had an annual rider ship of over 5.6 million in 2006, higher than 2005's numbers.

Michael Ragsdale said...

Ok then, you are referring to the Sounder, the commuter rail between Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett?

Of the passenger rail lines in the Central Puget Soubd area, only the SLUT stays within Seattle. It is the Central Link (currently under construction) that is gearing up for an extension (the University Link).

Michael Ragsdale said...

Meant to say Central Puget Sound. I hate iPhone + Safari (when I can get Firefox on here...)

Anonymous said...

I still don't understand why the ferry doesn't start early enough to make it convienient for shipyard workers. No one at HRT will give me a straight answer. Also no one ever mentions the DON/TIP program which will pay bus/ferry fare for shipyard workers. Neither HRT or the shipyard do very much to promote this program (which has been around since 2004!)

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