Tag Archives: Henry Kay

Kay Says Connecticut Ave. Overpass Could Be on Chopping Block

ChevyChaseLakeTraffic

Where the Purple Line Would Cross Connecticut

In a meeting with the Montgomery County delegation to the House of Delegates, MTA Executive Director of Transit Development and Delivery Henry Kay cited the Connecticut Avenue overpass as an example of the type of cuts that a bidder for the project might make in order to reduce costs.

Gov. Larry Hogan has asked the bidders for the project to find ways to reduce the cost of the proposed light-rail project. However, the directions exclude cutting the length of the line or converting it to a bus-rapid transit (BRT) system. As a result, expensive features like the overpass remain one of the few ways to cut costs.

The change would greatly worsen traffic on Connecticut Ave., already bumper-to-bumper during rush hour. Massive new development slated around the stop at Chevy Chase Lake would exacerbate the problem, as the great majority of new residents along with visitors to commercial properties would still drive.

The change would represent a major loss for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, which has lobbied heavily against any plan to eliminate the overpass in favor of an at-grade crossing. WABA sold the Purple Line to its membership as improving bike travel. The change would mean that not only would there be no fast crossing at Connecticut. Additionally, the current underground bike crossing at Wisconsin Ave. will be eliminated even though the rail line will remain below ground.

 

Why Do Light Rail Costs Only Go Up?

The Washington Post reports that cost estimates for the Purple Line in the DC suburbs have risen by $56 million while the Red Line in Baltimore now is estimated to cost another $220 million. Total cost estimates for the Purple Line are now $2.43 billion–more than double the original cost estimates. As with the previous increase, the State must foot the entire bill for the change.

MTA decided not to publicize the cost increase:

Henry Kay, who heads transit project development for the state, said the MTA didn’t publicize the increase because it was considered a “minor adjustment” on such a large, complex project. He said the additional costs came from refined estimates based on more detailed engineering and still-rising real estate prices.

“It doesn’t reflect some faulty approach” to cost estimating, Kay said. “It’s just the nature of a mega-project being developed over a number of years.”

Except that, as recently as March, Henry Kay also claimed that ““We have a high level of confidence” when they released their previous estimates. Moreover, as I pointed out in a previous post, the continual errors in one direction are highly suspicious:

The excuse that cost estimates have risen because the earlier estimates were only rough estimates is suspicious if only because cost estimates have always increased. They never decline. If the estimates are unbiased, the errors shouldn’t be off only in one direction.

Put more bluntly, if MTA is being straight with us, why have the costs continually risen instead of sometimes going down instead of up? And these changes have occurred even as they have tended to take out expensive features, such as the promised continuation of the Capital Crescent Trail through the Purple Line tunnel.

It would be useful to hear the Montgomery and Prince George’s County Councils debate what project they would give up to pay for the latest increase in costs even as they figure out how to pay for their share of the project. The Montgomery County Council still has to figure out how to pay for the trail–whose costs have also doubled to $95 million.

The County Council also to convince the owner of the APEX building in Bethesda to tear down the building so the station can be built there–something the County is rightly working hard to accomplish (it’s the right place) but will also take money.

Will the next increase break $2.5 billion? One question we should’ve asked long ago: at what point does this project in the form of light rail become too expensive, especially since (1) the CCT has already been transmuted from the previously promised light rail into BRT; (2) Montgomery County is planning a countywide BRT system; (3) MTA’s own estimates showed BRT as much more cost effective; and (4) we have many pressing transportation needs, including other public transit investments and the maintenance of existing infrastructure (e.g. Metro and MARC) to make.

Up and Down Week for the Purple Line

The Purple Line received some good news the other day when the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recommended both the Purple Line and Red Line for a full funding grant agreement. Both are included in President Obama’s budget with $100 million budgeted for the Purple Line.

The president’s proposal is a long way from a final budget–if Congress can even agree on a budget in this election year. But it is a step forward for the Purple Line, as federal funding is vital to the planned light-rail line. Proponents of the project are understandably pleased with this announcement.

The next day, however, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) revealed that Purple Line costs had risen yet again to $2.37 billion, as this graph from the Washington Post demonstrates:

PL Costs

The latest increase amounts to $126 million. MTA Project Development Head Henry Kay explained:

the initial $1.2 billion estimate in 2001 probably was based on broad assumptions, such as the average cost per mile for rail construction nationally. As the state has refined the Purple Line design, he said, engineers have found more “challenges” that add costs. . . .

“The [cost estimate] number at that time [in 2001] would have been based on lines on a map,” Kay said.

About 30 percent of the project has been designed, he said, enough to form more precise cost projections.

The excuse that cost estimates have risen because the earlier estimates were only rough estimates is suspicious if only because cost estimates have always increased. They never decline. If the estimates are unbiased, the errors shouldn’t be off only in one direction.

The State also doesn’t mention that Maryland foots the entire bill for every increase. FTA has recommended $900 million in funding. That amount will not increase and may decline. So the amount that the State is on the hook for the project just increased from $1.34 billion to $1.47 billion–a 10% increase.

And that means $126 million less for all other transportation projects in the State of Maryland. It also means that Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties will receive less for other projects since more funds dedicated to this part of the State will have to go to pay for the Purple Line.

One might expect further cost increases if only because Parsons Brinckerhoff is involved. This is the same firm that engineered the botched and way over budget Silver Spring Transit Center. The Center is supposed to accommodate the new Purple Line.

Henry Kay says he has “a high level of confidence” that the new cost estimates are accurate. If so, that would be good news for the State and the future of the Purple Line project.