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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Get yer aerial tram quotes here

Quotable quotes about the OHSU Medical Group aerial tram [rim shot]:

"[T]he designer somehow seems to think that $15.5 million was a political number. I don't believe it was. I sat here and asked the chairman of PATI several times whether $15.5 million was the real number and was assured that. So I do resent the characterization by the designer and the media that somehow that was a political number and there's no way a tram can be built for $15.5 million. Second to that is my resentment that I seem to be sensing that the movement afoot now by the PATI board members and others is to somehow say, well, if we come in at $19 million we're still doing a tremendous job. Because now it's moved from $15 to $19, and if we come in at $19 we should pat ourselves on the shoulders. I'm still holding out for $15.5 million. That's the cost that was presented to us, the City Council, to PDC, to OHSU, to North Macadam Developers. We should be able to deliver a first class tram at that cost. I can't believe with all the talent involved on PATI and others that somehow they could blow it and not think of $4-5 million in 'soft costs' left out. The people involved in PATI are way way too experienced for that to happen." -- Commissioner Dan Saltzman, January 2004.

"However disagreeable its price tag, the tram remains a vital linchpin in the future growth of OHSU and, indeed, of Oregon's economy." -- Steve Stadum, OHSU chief administrative officer, yesterday.

Comments (24)

These guys can sling it quite well, can't they? Imagine if they had worked for the White House: "The reason we have to go into Iraq is to search for a vital linchpin."
Bill McDonald - The Portland Freelancer

Pull the damn linchpin, clear the decks and let the shrapnel fall as it may.

Any half-good pseudo-engineer who half-knows structural materials can back-of-the-envelope a half-mile of 45-degree tram-way before his fast-food is ready, and tell you 15 million 2005-dollars ain't quite a down-payment. That's maybe enough for the trim-way -- the cyclone fence around the construction zone. [ trim-shot]

The balls of such a low-ball number is the curiosity. Numbers are anything, (who's-it neo-con pre-war quoted, saying: 'the whole Iraq operation could not possibly cost more than one-point-two billion' - BALLSHILLION !) What's behind the number, or what other numbers are so geometrically irrealistic?

The last 'thing' with so much stir for as little public air was putting an ice rink in the living room -- on Pioneer Courthouse Square. Seasonal.

Similar to the: 'the terrorists are coming, the terrorists are coming -- TARP UP the RESERVOIRS !' Don't let them see you. Camouflage land scapers unite !

In inverse proportion -- so little attending the most public wind and fury -- was the Goldschmidt spectre. Who saw? Who knew? Funny, he didn't look newsish.

And The Oregonian is hooked into all of them. Someone tell Publisher Stickel that he germinates fungus, not grass roots, in clammy-damp soiled newspaper.

You wonder how forthright those guys are when they talk to their patients -- and their insurance companies. "That $2,000 treatment for an ingrown toenail was a vital linchpin in this person's health."

In in one of the email messages to which you linked I noticed that Matt Brown has an ASLA designation. Could it be our esteemed tram planner is a [drumroll please] landscape architect? Maybe he designed a top-notch garden railway for $1,550 and multiplied that number by 1,000 for OHSU Medical Group's tram. Could one be "disbarred" from ASLA for malfeasance?

BTW, I now know the importance of referring to the abomination as the OHSU Medical Group's tram in light of PATI's spin: "[PATI] made the decision to refer to this project as the 'Portland Tram,' distinguishing it from just an OHSU project or a project of developers on the South Waterfront."

Should read multiplied by 10,000. Maybe I should get my ASLA--math doesn't seem to be a prereq.

I could be wrong about this, but as I understand it, the building going up in SoWhat now won't technically be housing hospital operations, but rather private doctors' offices, like the ones you see across the way from most hospitals (think Good Sam, Emanuel and St. Vincent). The tram will be the equivalent of the skybridge at Good Sam, or the covered atrium at Emanuel -- a connector between the "nonprofit" institution and the very much "for profit" medical practices. Am, I missing something, or isn't that the deal?

With all due respect, struggling here to find logic in Stadum's argument. Let's compare OHSU's own words, read (1) then slowly read (2) then go back and re-read (1):

(1) "The uniqueness of the project and the community's understandable desire for a safe and compelling design also added costs that project managers did not foresee."

(2) "Three Danish researchers who tracked the history of 258 large projects in 20 countries including the United States over the past 80 years found that costs rose well beyond original estimates in nearly 90 percent of them".

Ok, so again, they are a "major health and research institution" yet hired project managers unable to adequately "research" (and therefore forsee) balooning costs when history provides compelling evidence allowing such foresight.

Stadum's reference to the Danish study is particularly funny. Here's the study I think he's talking about:

It concludes:

The study shows with very high statistical significance that forecasters generally do a poor job of estimating the demand for transportation infrastructure projects.... The result is substantial financial risks, which are typically ignored or downplayed by planners and decision makers to the detriment of social and economic welfare.

Which is exactly what happened here, and hardly something that OHSU ought to be pointing out in its defense.

"""""typically ignored or downplayed by planners and decision makers to the detriment of social and economic welfare.""""""""

The upcoming "Transient Mall" and light rail will make the Tram look like chump change and a bright idea.

Seems Fred Hansen, head of TriMet, is having to coral his staff to stay the course.
A Friday Trib "article quoted a heretofore unpublicized peer-review study that recommended against the way Portland is revamping the transit mall"
Hansen, "In an e-mail to TriMet employees titled “Tribune article misleading and inaccurate,” Hansen cited no inaccuracies, but he did assure everyone,,,"

This is the Tram/SoWa all over again only far worse. Existing streets and sidewalks the full length of downtown will be torn up for more light rail and a new transit (Transient) mall. Hundreds of millions will be spent without regard for any objections, budgets or public votes.

A city auditors survey shows Portlanders are concerned about congestion and the effects of growth.

But TriMet has prioritized the Transit Mall and more light rail and
Metro has prioritized open spaces, bird watching facilities, hiking trails and bike paths with their push for $220 million from the voters.

All of which is be perpetrated the exact same way as the Tram and SoWa.
Baseless claims, phony numbers, no public votes and no accountability.

Uh... silly question from a portland newcomer: Why does every reference you make to the tram end with [rim shot]? What's that mean?

Because the tram is a joke.

az: [rimshot] is a reference to the stand-up comedian's use of a drummer off-stage to punctuate the punch-line with taps on the rim of the snare drum. It should be used immediately after the term "tram" [rimshot], to indicate that it's a huge joke.

An expensive one, too.

I don't claim to be a construction cost estimator, but from my experience growing up in a construction family, it's a truism that many major projects, particularly public ones, fall victim to cost overruns. That said, most overruns tend to fall well below the 100% mark, while the tram [rimshot] is well past the 200% mark and hurtling towards %300 cost inflation in the program. That's gotta place it out there beyond two or three standard deviations.

When I looked at the prospective project, seven or eight years ago, when it was presented as a "vision" to the OHSU employees, I was able to voice several cogent criticisms of the plan which still stand. When the design alternatives were presented to the public in an open house at the Marriot ballroom, I was there. I predicted, after that showing, that the project would balloon and the budget for completion would require at least two, if not more, major increases in costs. So far, that has occurred and is about to be exceeded, and the footings are just being poured. Much of cost overruns, IIRC, comes during a projects actual construction, in the form of change orders.

As for what the "healers" at OHSU tell their patients, I can tell you as a former patient, that I am not impressed. I will tell anyone who will listen that, unless they require medical care that cannot be provided elsewhere in the city, go elsewhere. That's my advice, based upon my severe misgivings about the medical ethics of their instructors and practitioners as a result of having been under their care.

Actually, I wouldn't make this assumption. The trend in medical groups affiliated with hospitals is that they are operating under the same non-profit status as the principle in the joint venture. I don't, however, know the specifics in OHSU's case.

If he was practicing structural design on the basis of an ASLA certification, I think the charge would be malpractice.


Yes. It does. I understand it this way: OHSU, the institution is the owner of the structure and the primary leasor is the medical group. The structure down in SoWhat is clinics. For now. It was supposed to be primarily the "Women's Health Center".

OHSU owns four blocks, plus is a partner in the tram [rimshot]. The current building is the first of what could potentially be four buildings. One of the blocks is going to be a "temporary park" with three levels of parking below.

As for connecting the two areas of the future campus, it already happens. OHSU's Logistics and warehousing is located next to what is now the SoWhat project and has been for a number of years. It is connected to the Pill Hill campus by a half-fast shuttle system. It has never been given adequate funds to handle high volumes because it's never been needed. Upscaling their existing system to provide more comfort, space greater frequency and reliability would be a much better approach to servicing whatever traffic exists between the two portions of campus. I would bet that setting the shuttles up as wi-fi would silence a great deal of the compliants about the time differential.

If this tram is such a "linchpin" to the economic development of the SoWhat district, then it seems to me that those who would benefit so directly from it's completion would be the best parties to underwrite all the cost increases since the $15 million for which the city signed on to take a portion.

Homer? Dike?

Why not do the public spirited thing and underwrite this signature project and present it as a gift to the City of Portland and OHSU?

It could be a write-off, couldn't it, Jack?

Why would Mr. Stadum claim that the tram is the "linchpin" (did he mean lynch-pin?)?? What are all the potential 5000 to 8000 condo owners in North Macadam-NM (means "NO MORE) doing? Using the tram to ride up to pill-hill to visit the snack machine or cafeteria? Are they all that ill?

Like my Starbuck's jockey said yesterday:

" My intern wife will love the tram because she'll be able to park in NM along the river and ride the tram to work."

Isn't it strange that the second "OHSU" building to be built is a 3000 car parking garage right in our Greenway zone. (plans underway) And better
yet, OHSU has asked for a variance to place something like 2500 surface parking spaces on its Schnitzer property. My, all this is great use of riverfront property. NM will become pill-hills parking lot which is contrary to the NM Agreement plans, and the subsequent planning we all worked on.

You didn't know?

The way it has been pitched on the Hill is that it is an opportunity to grow without adding to the already existing parking problem. One of my intial criticisms is that while not addressing the parking problem on the Hill, the tram [rimshot] creates a new traffic problem down next to the river. OHSU seems to have always looked at this project as MORE PARKING.

Surface parking on the Schnitzer property? Temporarily maybe. The big issue there is the toxic contamination, as I understood it.

I just think it is going to come to a screeching halt, half-built, like the stub of the Mt. Hood Freeway on-ramp sticking out to nowhere off the Marquam Bridge. (Were you here for that project shutdown, Jack?)

When you have to cut your losses, the sooner you cut the less the losses.

I don't think that is the study; there is nothing there about costs. The study concerns overestimates of demand for transportation (which are usually quite large).

I think you want this link:

and people may be interested in this researcher's home page:

Godfry speculates that the nearly 300% level of escalation is FAR beyond normal paramaters. He is right (dramatically I might add) as shown in the very research cited by Stadum in his oped.

  • The average cost escalation for rail projects is 45% (p. 2)
  • Cost escalation is highest in the developing world and least in the developed world (p. 2)
  • 6 of 258 projects showed escalation > 100%; only 2 showed escalation > 200%.
  • There is little evidence that public vs. private implementation of projects makes any differnce in cost escalation (p 17). This last ponit is important since it directly contradicts an implication of the Stadum oped--that the public process and the polity is to blame for the cost escalation.

Thanks, Paul. Good info there. Plus, I love the little

  • thingies!
Now I know how to do those.

jack, i am offended that you refer to my thingies as little. ;-)

Good point, Tenskwatawa! I think you made an implicit charge that Saltzman is the only member of City Council with an engineering background. Saltzman is the last person who should be making excuses for not knowing better that the tram was turning into a fiasco.

Yeah, Paul, I lurve the thingies, too. I can't even master a simple bold or italic.

Young master Saltzman should have some particular insights into the whole Schnitzer property deal, given that his background is environmental engineering, isn't it?

Smooth move, huh? Giving OHSU a tainted gift?


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