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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

All aboard for oblivion

Tri-Met's proposed budget cuts to the insane Milwaukie MAX project are out, and there are some real doozies in there:

# Reducing construction contingency by 6 percent: $10 million
# Reducing Ruby Junction light rail maintenance facility expansion: $3 million
# Deleting ice caps on overhead caternary system: $1.1 million
# Deleting track switch heaters: $1 million
# Decreasing insurance budget: $925,000
This boondoggle has had disaster written all over it right from the start. But now it looks as though life and limb may be falling into jeopardy.

Comments (26)

Deleting all the safety gadgets? Seriously?

Then don't build it, doofuses. Because at the first snowstorm, the trains will be stuck and there goes all your PR.

As long as one of Goldschmidt's golf buddies gets a fat construction contract, Tri-Met management could care less.

But Talea, they don't really care about their PR as long as they have your money to spend. And they have demonstrated they don't really care what they spend it on, either.

With no intended disrespect to people with eating disorders, our local agencies have some sort of fiscal bulimia.

I work with builders going to the bank. This is nothing new.

They say we're not going to spend X.

Once it gets started, then they'll say we forgot, we've started and we need to spend X - WE CAN'T STOP BUILDING!!!


It's not clear how reducing the construction contingency actually helps with the project cost (either the extra money is needed or it's not, regardless of how they budget), but on the assumption that it does help, I would like to propose a large negative construction contingency to close the gap entirely. I suggest -100%, just to toss a number out there.

There are an additional 19 "budget cuts" beyond the 5 mentioned above. This is not a good way to execute a public works project.

It is interesting that just over a year ago the bridge alignment was changed from the Caruthers Crossing, from just north of Marquam Bridge to south of OMSI, for the benefit of SoWhat property owners. Even though the Caruthers Crossing was adopted by all parties , this change cost over $4 Million. At hearings this cost increase was totally disregarded by TriMet, CoP, PDC, and other review agencies.

How about thinking about budgets along the planning boulevard? Oh well, MLR isn't going to be built anyway. No funding and the political winds are changing. Vote NO on TriMets so called Bus Bond, it's really a vote for MLR-a funding shell game.

I write comedy for a living so imagine the respect I have for this description of the Milwaukee Max budget on the "Portland Afoot" site. Nearly every line is laugh-'til-you-cry funny. As usual, when I witness great comedy, I kick myself and think, "Why didn't I see that?"

I think I know where I went wrong with this. While we've been focusing on the B.S. in the budgets - with lame jokes like "tax excrement financing" - we've overlooked the B.S. in how much you save when features are changed before the project starts:

"Deleting Willamette River Bridge's 22-foot-wide viewing areas at the crest of the bridge, to 14 feet: $1.1 million."

Do you see why that's brilliant?

The same planning people who routinely underestimate the cost of doing something turn around and overestimate the savings of not doing it. Hilarious, right? And they say the Age of Irony is dead.

But you know what? If this thing spirals out of control - like we all know it will - that number could approach the truth.

And the essence of great comedy is the truth.

Now, I admit it's sort of hack when they put such a precise number on it like 1.1 million. (Not 1.3 or 1.2 but 1.1), but call me old school - I never get tired of that joke.

Still the line I like best is, "If TriMet cannot cut its costs or find another $300 million by fall 2010, the project will be postponed."

That's nice. Especially considering it already is fall 2010. But that's when the improv troupe at Tri-Met jumps in with some sparkling off-the-cuff remarks that prove they don't need comedy writers:

"I'm not sure we're gonna do all these things," Lehrbach said. "It's all based on money – money we think we're going to get. We don't have it yet."

Lehrbach's motion died without a second. Board chair Rick Van Breveren replied that he didn't think TriMet had the money "on any project we've done."

Outgoing TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen said the project should move forward.

"Although there is not absolute certainty ... there is enough certainty," he said.

Sigh.... Jon Stewart, Woody Allen, Jack Benny. All the great ones could do it in real time.

"I'm not sure we're gonna do all these things," Lehrbach said. "It's all based on money – money we think we're going to get. We don't have it yet."

Bill, this reminds me of the nun in my grade-school class pointing her bony finger in my face and saying, "Jesus died for your sins! The ones that you haven't done yet, but that are going to do anyway!"

Gee, and I still have a problem with authority figures.

As I said before,the ongoing boondoggle: Malarky Light Rail©2010

The switch heaters and de-icers will not be missed. They always fail at the first rumor of cold weather anyway.

In that story Jack posted the other day, check out this character from TriMet trying to spin the lie about just recently finding out about the Feds reduction.


"John F., TriMet"

Another interesting addition is that when I went to the CAC meeting for Milwaukie Light Rail in June TriMet gave a massaging run down on the stations.

This is before these cuts and TriMet was explaining that it was the intent to match the station amenities to the character of the neighborhoods. But none of those lovely ornaments were in the budget back then so he was going on about how grants and other sources of funding could be had.

I told the folks they should look forward to no more than the Green Line Lents station beauty as there would not be any money coming at all.

Now with these cuts it's pathetic chaos and getting worse.

This is the most ill-conceived project in Oregon history. Is makes all others, including the Tram/SoWa=10,000 biotech jobs, look like small change.

All of the identical supportive rhetoric is being applied by the entire JPACT. This really is group madness.

I don't see any of these cost cutting suggestions:

1. Eliminate ALL Park & Ride facilities. There will be one north of Milwaukie that is open today and it will be the sole such facility. (And make users pay to park - $8/day.)

2. Eliminate ALL art. Buses don't have art, light rail doesn't need art. Art doesn't provide transportation.

3. Stop the route in downtown Milwaukie, not Park Avenue. That stop is unnecessary and doesn't even fit the purpose of MAX and transit-oriented development.

4. Purchase used light rail vehicles instead of new. We get by with 20 year old buses; there are agencies within North America that are willing to get rid of older, but very servicable vehicles. TriMet can buy used. They don't need air conditioning retrofitted if they don't have them (half of TriMet's buses don't have A/C.)

5. All stations shall be minimalistic - bare concrete pads, basic area lighting using non-decorative poles. Stations shall be retrofitted for bus stop style shelters when ridership warrants but not up front. Only basic, bus-stop style signs to be installed for wayfinding; schedule kiosks will not be installed (after all we're all trained that MAX is every 15 minutes, do we need a schedule sign?)

6. No landscaping. Period. Why pay for trees, sprinkler systems, etc. that require constant maintenance but doesn't do a single thing to provide transportation?

7. Eliminate the Caruthers Crossing and use the Hawthorne Bridge. It was rebuilt a decade ago with the intent for light rail, so why not RECYCLE an existing bridge? Portland can be the first city to ban cars from an existing bridge and convert it to transit/pedestrian/bicycle only. (Or the Hawthorne can allow cars but only during non-peak hours.) MAX can then be routed along Water Avenue serving OMSI's front door rather than the back door, pass underneath the new MLK Viaduct and continue on its way.

8. South of OMSI, the line should be single-track with passing sidings at stations. All stations will be "island" type so that only one platform needs to be constructed instead of two platforms.

9. Milwaukie terminus will have just two tracks, not three tracks.

10. Eliminate the Bybee station (as it would be located in a bad location anyways and require access from the bridge; plus it is a security liability.)

11. Sell advertising space at stations. Ever look at a European train or streetcar station? They are full of large display ads.

12. Require that once the line is open, that it be contracted out to a third party for operations.

13. Absolutely no "grand opening" party or festivities. No ribbon cutting, no gala, no event. When it's opening day, it's just another operation day.

I'd give cost breakdowns of the above...but TriMet refuses to post cost estimates on their website, just a lot of fluff about station design and the environmental impact statements.

Hey Starbuck....it's Malarkey Light Rail 2010.

Tri-Met too stupid to know they're too stupid.

Old Shep,
Yes I know the conventional spelling of Malarkey, but in this case MalarKY is the better application as the people are being screwed over!

What kind of insurance is discretionary?

Reducing "construction contigencies" seems like a no brainer, given Tri-Met's history of flawless design and execution.

I'm guessing the change order budget will rise accordingly.

Hey they forgot:

# Decreasing employee health benefits saved
XXXXXX million!

I know I'm going to get slammed for this post, but this project actually makes more sense to me than the streetcar to nowhere that the City has been building over the Broadway Bridge to the inner Eastside. I can actually imagine people using the Milwaukie line to do things like commute, go to OMSI, or to PSU. I don't see people in the Pearl riding the new street car to visit Broadway Toyota or Radioshack. And the streetcar is redundant with the existing Eastside light rail if you want to go to the Rose Quarter, Convention Center or Lloyd Center. At least the Milwaukie light rail presents a new mass transit option, albeit one that could be handled by bus.

Bill McDonald: I think the argument for why narrower walkways will save $1.1 million is that the bump-outs were going to be right at the crest of the bridge, where their weight would have maximum impact on structure across the rest of the bridge.

But yeah, any number is arbitrary.


Up against the insolvency of TriMet,
the near $2 Billion cost of Milwaukie Light Rail,
the coffers that will be raided to pay for it,
the short length and high cost per mile, the other higher priorities for the funding,
the fact that the voting public who are being forced to pay for it do not want it,
the people in the McLoughlin corridor does not want it,
and the fact that bus service could easily serve for more people and more neighborhoods

up against

"I can actually imagine people using the Milwaukie line" and
"At least the Milwaukie light rail presents a new mass transit option"

makes the project insane.

Limosine service or helicopter transit would be options people would use too.

I will bring in the idea of water ferries as well as a really nice option.
I believe people would have to pay for this mode of transportation.

Riding the rails and not paying is a big cause of problems. . the increased crime factor in the Clackamas area should be enough to put a stop to this boondoggle. Of course the drive is just to build the thing. . never mind what happens later.

Michael, Portland Afoot,
Sure, it's arbitrary but I bet if these same planners wanted to widen the viewing areas at the crest of the bridge from 14 feet to 22 - they would come up with a number less than a million. Why? Because in that case, they would want to build it. I'm just pointing out the irony of watching the lowball people come in with a number that's probably jacked up for a change, but only because they aren't going to build it. That's an interesting twist. If you follow budgets in Portland, an artificially-high cost estimate is almost refreshing.

I also admit that when the real cost overruns are added this number could drift from B.S. closer to the truth despite the planners best efforts to hype the budget. In the end we really may save that much by not building the damn thing that wide, but not because of any love of the truth. It's just that the inherent lowball B.S. in the overall budget could overwhelm the high-end B.S. here. I think stuff like that is interesting.

But is this really their best efforts? A couple of items later they use the same 1.1 million dollar figure again.

"Deleting 22-foot-wide viewing areas at the towers: $1.1 million"

Look, we all know the drill: Get the project underway and deal with the B.S. budget guesstimates later. But please. We have our dignity. Using the exact same 1.1 million number again? It's too soon. Can't we get more creative than that?

You're spot on.

Many projects in the 1999 SoWa (North Macadam) UR district were low balled.
The Tram started at 8.5 Million

The pedestrian bridge over I-5 $1.2 million. It's $15 million now and may never get built.

Bill wrote - The same planning people who routinely underestimate the cost of doing something turn around and overestimate the savings of not doing it. Hilarious, right? And they say the Age of Irony is dead.

Great catch! Maybe we could use those accounting principles to show how not building MLR would generate a windfall to Tri-Met.

If you can subtract the real cost of each part of the MLR project from the liars budget we can show a positive return by not building it.

The liars budget says $2billion but we know it will go to $3billion or more, so if we cut the whole MLR project we should be able to pocket (and budget) that billion dollar difference.

Although it's tempting to restore bus services, wouldn't it be prudent to let that windfall fund all future increases to Tri-Met's employee benefits packages?

Like I predicted- slammed. But has anyone amortized these costs over a 25-50 year (or more) life span for the new infrastructure. Ben clearly has a better grasp of the numbers than me, but are his costs per rider miles based on a short term or long term look? Just asking. All infrastructure improvements are losers in the short term. People might have a different view of this project in 50 years. I'm sure some of the same arguments confronted the Eastside line 20 or so years ago. Personally, I think the metro area is a more liveable place with light rail. Others may disagree. But most of the great cities in the world have extensive built in mass transit infrastructure. Nonetheless, I've yet to hear any argument explaining the thinking behind the Eastside Streetcar to Nowhere.

Drew G.: . . Personally, I think the metro area is a more liveable place with light rail. Others may disagree. But most of the great cities in the world have extensive built in mass transit infrastructure. . .

Depends where you live whether light rail has made the area more livable.
Crime has been a problem with the light rail here. . look at the Clackamas stats. Why do I hear more and more people say they will not use or do not want to use our light rail? I would suggest all those in favor of light rail that see no problem take a few trips from Portland to Gresham and from Gateway over to Clackamas now.

Mass transit infrastructure could be a good asset to a city. NY has subways that can quickly move people to locations. Time can be an advantage and reason to use a subway or efficient mass transit. Am not against mass transit as a concept, but am against the way mass transit has been put in and advanced in Portland . . was it really to move people efficiently and safely while we are at it, or what has been the real reason here in our area? Tax abatements for developments? Rezoning around the rails?

And light rail at what cost? Others here have already commented about the cost.
The bus has been made more "luxurious" and acceptable in other cities, with wifi, etc. Bus routes are flexible, but I guess they don't come with the tax abatement or easy zone changes.

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