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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tri-Met falling behind on MAX maintenance -- GAO

Did you know that Tri-Met is now in deferred maintenance mode on MAX trains? So it appears from this new report from the federal Government Accountability Office:

Light rail officials, such as those at Portland's TriMet, said they recognize that managing aging infrastructure will take significantly more effort in the future. Currently, the oldest section of TriMet's system is only 24 years old, which is relatively new in comparison with some of the nation's oldest systems; however, agency officials have already begun capacity planning in preparation for the challenges to come during the next 20 years....

As compared with the majority of the large heavy rail systems, the infrastructures of light rail systems are relatively newer. For example, the oldest section of Portland, Oregon's, light rail system is 24 years old, as compared with the heavy rail systems in Chicago and New York which are over 100 years old. However, although officials at Portland's transit agency said they have a robust capital maintenance program, they also said that without an influx of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) funding in 2009, which the agency specifically targeted to help reduce a backlog of systems and vehicle maintenance, the transit agency would have fallen further behind in its maintenance needs.

Can't maintain what we've got? Hey, let's build more!

Comments (26)

an't maintain what we've got? Hey, let's build more!

Exactly describes the country's (and State's) highway system.

Chapter 9 bankruptcy looking more and more probable.

And your point, Mr. Smith?

I smell a bond measure.

Hmmm. Could this be a natural consequence of handing out subsidies to build rail without consideration for how it will be operated or maintained?

This morning, I had the pleasure of sitting on MLK in the traffic caused by streetcar rail construction. It sure feels like this construction has been going on for about 15 years. All so airheads like Chris Smith can look at a new transit toy and pat themselves on the back.

The bus system is so much more sensible then rail it isn't even funny. MAX is the never ending day dream of people who don't have a clue how the world actually works.

It's a problem (and a big problem) for the entire transportation system, it is not specific to transit.

Exactly describes the country's (and State's) highway system.

Really? We're building new highways in Oregon? Please.

Well, the CRC would be case #1 (it's not just a replacement bridge, it's a huge increase in capacity including interchange improvements that have nothing to do with the bridge). But here's ODOT's program. Anything labeled 'modernization' represents new capacity:


Sorry, Mr. Smith. With a self-given "empowering" title like "Citizen Activist," don't expect to be taken too seriously.

The upkeep of our existing infrastructure that is absolutely necessary and has served us for many, many decades could be met if they were the focus of attention, instead of the transportation pipe dreams being shoved down our throats today.

"It's a problem (and a big problem) for the entire transportation system"

So we're going to build even more new tracks and we are barely scraping together enough to do that much less even plan for maintenance.

My point is that TriMet is addicted to building new stuff and letting the infra-structure rot.

Actually, I believe the maintenance of most public infrastructure - from roads to buildings to sewer and water pipes, et al. - has been severely underfunded over the decades. In the COP we can see the deferred maintenance for roads approaching a billion dollars. Most states, and the Feds, are facing this issue, though most can't or won't do anything about it.

"Well, the CRC would be case #1 (it's not just a replacement bridge, it's a huge increase in capacity"

Chris, a very large majority of households drive cars almost daily, even in Portland. I want my tax dollar spent on things I need, like the street system, not on things that a bunch of social engineers THINK I need because they went to a seminar once.

Since I live in Clark County, I hope the CTran Board of Directors are taking serious note of this GAO report.

From their website:

"With an 8-0 vote, the C-TRAN Board of Directors adopted C-TRAN's 20 Year Transit Development Plan at their regular meeting on June 8, 2010. The plan, C-TRAN 2030, will preserve existing service levels with improvements in the following areas: (including).....

•Fund the operations and maintenance cost of light rail in downtown Vancouver as part of the Columbia River Crossing Project".

Are we building new highways in Oregon?

I was just in San Diego: they're building new roads/bridges/highways all over the county.

Not so much around these parts.

TriMet's former GM, Hansen, got out of town just in time; and so did his sister agency president, Bragdon. At least in the corporate world you can track the bad managers, and invest in other companies and their competitors. But in the political government arena, you get rewarded for spending big and parachuting out when the bills become unbearable and untenable. Some way the folks doing the government borrowing and spending have to have their compensation tied to the long term success and failure of their actions.

TriMet's former GM, Hansen, got out of town just in time

Was thinking the same thing. Hansen saw the icebergs coming and fled the ship. His reputation is intact, he still gets invitations to speak at conferences of starry-eyed planners and transit advocates, and none of the blame for the messes he either created or did nothing about attaches to him (at least not yet). I have to feel a bit sorry for MacFarlane, the new guy, as he's left holding the bag with the labor unrest, the taxpayer revolt, the budget headaches, and the loss of public confidence in Tri-Met's leadership. I wonder if he knew how much he was getting into . . .

Oh, and one other thing: Once again we have to rely on an external source (in this case the GAO) to break news of local government incompetence or malfeasance, because once again our major daily is either caught napping or refuses to ask any hard questions.

Chris, I did not read the ODOT link, but, if freeways on both sides of the bridge remain at 6 lanes, how can there be a "huge" increase in capacity?


We don't neeed the costly light rail or streetcars. Your highway mention and avoidance of TriMet's insanity is a hoot.

"they have a robust capital maintenance program"

The only thing "robust" at TriMet is their ability to lie.

They may have a robust "program" but as of the August aduitors report they are short $75 million/year to keep the fringe benefits liabily from growing.

Their cost of service and obligations far exceed their current and long term revenue forecasts.

Like eveything else they will be forced to cut back on maintenance.

Once they sell $60 million in bonds for their share of Milwaukie Light Rail and another $10 million for the SoWa OHSU Life Sciences Building they will have to start cutting even more for the added debt servicing.

Robust indeed.

The CRC pretty much is the only major highway project even being talked about. And not one that I support, even as a very pro-highway person.

The Sunrise Corridor (on OR-212) has been talked about a zillion years and is still apparently on, but is likely still a few years out. There's some minor widening here and there elsewhere, but that's about it--and it's on existing highways.

The obsession with fixed-rail transport is out of control. I think this sort of news will also only strengthen the bid to kill off Milwaukie Light Rail, and shows how out-of-control our local decision makers are.

I've always thought that electric buses made a lot of sense...

They use overhead power like streetcars...

...but aren't trapped on ridiculously expensive rails that only run in straight lines along limited routes, so if the route needs to be changed it's feasible without needing federal bailouts...

...and since the routing can be more flexible you don't have to rebuild the city around it (unless that's the real goal - hmmm)...

...and you don't have to require that people disrupt their lives and families and relocate near the line so they'll be able to actually use it...

...and they're less of a vehicle/pedestrian/cyclist hazard because they can stop in a fraction of the distance...

...and should something happens that does block the route electric busses can be towed a short distance around the blockage, unlike rail, in which case the entire line has to be shut down until cleared...

In the end you wind up with a system that costs less, serves more areas, can be rerouted much more easily if needed, doesn't shut down as often, and serves far more people meaning more fares collected at more affordable prices. It might actually be useful to a lot of people, instead of the huge waste of money that for years now local 'planners' have been flushing down the W.C. in a failed attempt to get people out of their personal mobility machines by trying to force us to return to 'those happy days of yesteryear' when streetcars and horses plied cobblestone streets.

On the other hand I do think rail is a GREAT idea for interurban hi-speed transit, but our privatized rail infrastructure is so antiquated it's largely useless for anything but freight. The feds should be pumping money into regional rail infrastructure upgrades, not these subsidies that help cities like Portland strangle themselves to death with these wasteful streetcar projects.

Hey Chris, I know you don’t want to hear this, but here is how to fix Trimet:
* To get TriMet on a sound(er) financial footing, stop all rail construction. Rail is costing Trimet far more than it admits (or even realizes, considering how uninformed they seem to be.) Rail actually DOES NOT save operational money and counting the LOCAL capital cost, its far more expensive than bus.

* TriMet funding needs to be altered to get more funding from the majority of riders that are NOT needy.

* A single regional transportation agency is bad idea. It would be managed by the same group that got Trimet in this mess, or, worse yet, by Metro (although they are elected unlike Trimet;s board.)

* TriMet should focus on serving the needy. To try to attract yuppies out of their BMWs is a costly folly, yet that is one purpose of light rail - the other purpose of light rail, an extremely overpriced catalyst for high density development, is simply a waste of money on something that only a tiny minority of people want.

* TriMet's overall mission is primarily to export parking spaces out of downtown. And until better, lower cost alternatives can be put in place, provide mobility to the needy.

* Trying to build a comprehensive transit system a silly idea - we already have such a system - it is faster, cheaper, and more convenient than Trimet. It is truly comprehensive, reaching almost every nook and cranny of the whole region - its called the private car.

(To attempt to get people to switch to something that is more expensive, slower and less convenient is a losing battle. In fact losing since about 1920. Einstein had a term for those who repeat actions expecting a different result.)

* We need to quit spending billions of tax money on non problems such as peak oil and global warming.

We will not run out of oil in the foreseeable future (except by political actions shutting down oil sources.) Many people don’t realize that TODAY oil is being made from both coal and natural gas - both in plentiful supply (googly Sasol). They also ignore basic economics: as supply gets short, prices rise, bring on more supply. (Supply that was NOT counted in today’s inventories.)

Germany ran a war machine on oil made from coal for the last two years of the war (google Fischer–Tropsch, Bergius process). Cleanly burning hydro carbons should not be an environmental problem, but since transit DOES NOT reduce energy use, it cannot reduce pollution (yes electric transit can move pollution from burning oil in the city to coal at Boardman and Centralia.).

Summary: Tax funded transit needs to rethink its structure, priorities and its basic mission in the face of modern realities.

Start with:
What problem are we trying to solve?
What are the range of possible solutions?
Is there a government roll in the solution?
What is the public benefit of spending tax money on the solution?


MAX expansion isn't about building an efficient transportation system, serving the public, solving a problem, or fulfilling the dreams of starry-eyed transportation planners. No, it's about money - obtaining as many federal dollars as possible and awarding construction contracts to a favored group of contractors. The trouble is, the feds don't help with the operations and maintenance costs of these new rail systems, and those costs eventually crowd out dollars needed to operate the bus system. We're at the end of the easy times for Tri-Met, and it's going to be interesting to watch how it all plays out. Tri-Met's rising costs and tax bites are unsustainable.

Where are the pitchforks. I'm such a sheep.
I'm outraged, but I haven't done an email, haven't done a letter, haven't done a personal visit to whomever. I am the problem.
The Samsters of this world take advantage of my inertia. I'm so busy paying my mortgage, putting food on my table, etc. that I'm as implicit as they are in our current fiscal predicament. Shame on me.

TriMet has plenty of money to repair, maintain and upgrade the light rail system - it squeezes that money, or extorts it from other governments...whatever takes to protect rail at all cost.

Of course, we have one of the nation's oldest and least reliable bus systems as a result.

Metro refuses to even acknowledge the bus system as part of the transit system, and Metro refuses to release any regional transportation funding to maintain the bus system. Note - the key word is "maintain", not add bus routes or services.

We have 20 year old buses that are functionally obsolete that break on a daily basis...and TriMet could care less. But we're spending billions on expanding MAX for questionable reasons and to benefit developers and politicians - NOT riders - MAX has a constant maintenance program while bus maintenance is in the dumps, and I've been informed by one bus driver that TriMet is again REMOVING bus stops for no valid reason...yet there's $3 million to add a MAX stop that's less than a quarter mile away from another MAX stop? Puhleeze...

Oh, and Mr. Smith: Name the "new highway" that the state of Oregon is building. The only "new highways" are the Sunrise Corridor (which is being planned to death), the I-5 to 99W corridor (being planned to death) and the Newberg-Dundee Bypass (being planned to death). Why can't we plan some MAX lines to death?

Nice catch, Jack.

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