Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Infrastructure Turnaround Times

It's tough to get voters
to approve rail service
when they may not be
living in the same city,
or at all, when the trains
start running.
My wife and I are thinking of buying a house (much more on that process later), but the relevant policy point to this discussion is that we're at least trying to consider our transit options when we decide where to live. In 2008 Seattle Metro residents approved a massive expansion of light rail service that covers, among other places, one of the neighborhoods we're looking at. But the trains won't start running there until 2023. And this is one of the first pieces of light rail expansion that will be finished. It's a difficult proposition to get people to vote for something where they won't see benefits for in fifteen years. The only stories you'll get in the news are stories on groundbreakings (good!), architects' renderings (tantalizing!), financing woes (bad!), and construction delays (also bad!). If you're wondering why it's been hard to build political support for big infrastructure investment in rail even as crime has subsided both directly and as a political issue, this is a good reason why.

I don't know what can be done, especially in cities where most of the land is already privately held and therefore simply acquiring the necessary land is in and of itself a difficult project. But surely we can do better than turnaround times well in excess of a decade for these sorts of capital projects. Sports stadiums these days are now built over the course of a single offseason, two years at most. Can't we get something up and running within five years?


janinsanfran said...

Eleven years til some kind of benefit is visible is bad -- but think of the shame of the San Francisco Bay Area. THE essential bridge in the area fell down in the earthquake of 1989. Though patched up "temporarily" we now know for sure that 1) another major earthquake will happen and 2) a new bridge is still, 23 years later, a couple of years away, at best.

Alon said...

A couple of years away, and permanently barred from carrying trains on it. The cost of making the bridge worse for ordinary users: $6 billion, only 9 times the original cost estimate.

Amazingly, a lot of people think that high-speed rail is a boondoggle because costs doubled and more roads are going to solve every problem.