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Mysterious2train

Why Does Subway Construction Cost So Much? Congress Wants to Find Out (NY Times)

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From the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-construction-costs-congress.html

Our construction costs are so outrageous even Washington D.C. wants to look into it. Like the article says, this study was originally included in the Senate's version of last year's omnibus spending bill, but it was removed from the final version that was signed by our peerless leader last May, and it is included in this year's spending bill that was just signed.

Will the MTA and Washington play nice? Will they be willing to look at the construction unions? Will they find anything we don't already know? Will anything change?  

Quote

Why Does Subway Construction Cost So Much? Congress Wants to Find Out

The astronomical costs of building the Second Avenue subway and other New York public transit projects are now the subject of a federal inquiry.

The Government Accountability Office said on Wednesday that it was preparing to launch a study of why transit construction is so much more expensive in the United States than in other parts of the world. Special attention is expected to be paid to New York City, where recent projects have cost far more than anticipated.

Auditors plan to examine contracting policies, station design, project routing, regulatory barriers and other elements that drive cost, comparing practices in different cities in the United States and abroad, officials said. A final report with recommendations is to be issued by the end of the year.

The study was part of the spending bill that was approved by Congress last week. And it comes three months after an investigation by The New York Times revealed how city and state public officials had stood by as a small group of politically connected labor unions, construction companies and consulting firms drove up transit construction costs and amassed large profits.

The first phase of the Second Avenue subway on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, for instance, cost $2.5 billion for each mile of track. Another project known as East Side Access, which will carry the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal through a 3.5-mile tunnel, is on pace to cost $3.5 billion per track mile.

Elsewhere in the world, a mile of subway track typically costs $500 million or less.

“It’s fantastic that people are really paying attention to this issue,” said Dani Simons, a spokeswoman for the Regional Plan Association, a research and advocacy group that released its own report on high transit construction costs last month. “We’re very excited that they’re doing this study.”

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subways, said the authority was already acting to reduce construction costs.

“The M.T.A. under new leadership is aggressively tackling these issues through working groups dedicated to procurement reform and containing construction costs,” said the spokesman, Jon Weinstein. “We are implementing new processes and procedures to streamline work, stop customization and reduce change orders — all of which will help us drive down costs.”

The federal inquiry is a milestone in more than a year of stop-and-start efforts in Washington to address the costs of transit construction. The Senate inserted the request for the Government Accountability Office study in its spending plan last year, but it was stripped out in negotiations with the House.

This year, amid a crisis of delays on the New York subway system, an amended version of the provision calling for the study survived the final budget negotiations and made it into the spending bill.

“Not later than 9 months after the enactment of this act, the G.A.O. shall report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations regarding the construction costs of transit capital projects in the United States in comparison to other developed G-20 nations, such as South Korea, Japan, Spain, France, Italy and Germany,” the provision states.

All those countries have completed major construction projects in the last decade that cost far less than American projects. The extension of the 14 Line in Paris, for example, was very similar to the Second Avenue subway project in length, depth, soil type, environmental issues and regulations, but it cost just $450 million per track mile. In Madrid, a project to extend the 2 Line, completed in 2011, cost just $100 million per track mile.

American transit construction generally is more expensive than work completed abroad, but recent projects in New York have cost far more than elsewhere in the country. In San Francisco, for example, the 1.7-mile central subway is being built for about $1 billion per track mile. The University Link project in Seattle cost around $500 million per track mile.

The Times investigation found that the high costs were the result, in part, of generous contracts, excessive staffing and archaic work rules.

One member of the M.T.A. board, Charles G. Moerdler, summarized the problems: “Is it rigged? Yes. I don’t think it’s corrupt. But I think people like doing business with people they know, and so a few companies get all the work, and they can charge whatever they want.”

The article also links to this Vox article which provides some extra context: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/5/24/15681560/gao-report-transit-construction-costs 

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Charles Moerdler says that the problems are rigged but not corrupt. lol He can't be serious. That's the way the construction industry works. I scratch your back and your scratch mine. There are always kickbacks, but the question how out of control are they? I suspect that in this case they are beyond egregious which is why the costs are so incredibly high.

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4 hours ago, Via Garibaldi 8 said:

Charles Moerdler says that the problems are rigged but not corrupt. lol He can't be serious. That's the way the construction industry works. I scratch your back and your scratch mine. There are always kickbacks, but the question how out of control are they? I suspect that in this case they are beyond egregious which is why the costs are so incredibly high.

That quote is just endemic of how New York politics at all levels has become a toxic old boys' club. How many people are under federal investigation these days?

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53 minutes ago, bobtehpanda said:

New York politics at all levels has become a toxic old boys' club.

Become?

Isn't that it is as it ever was. I mean, Tammany Hall, Manhattan Club, George Washington Martin II, Cosa Nostra/5 Families...

NYC was never known for being an upstanding place - even before Giuliani took over.

Edited by Deucey

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1 hour ago, bobtehpanda said:

That quote is just endemic of how New York politics at all levels has become a toxic old boys' club. How many people are under federal investigation these days?

Right now only former Nassau County Executive Ed Manago is on trial for allegedly taking bribes from Hardena Singh. I haven't heard anything about Dean Skelos ever since he got caught redhanded doing something corrupt.

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12 minutes ago, NY1635 said:

Right now only former Nassau County Executive Ed Manago is on trial for allegedly taking bribes from Hardena Singh. I haven't heard anything about Dean Skelos ever since he got caught redhanded doing something corrupt.

Yeah but you guys had a moralist prosecutor become governor and get caught with hoes. Now there's a POTUS that got caught with pornstars escorting.

All we had in Cali was a bad actor movie star father a child after cheating on a Kennedy and another governor who spent the states surplus keeping the lights on during the energy crisis.

 

See why I say we do things better than NY out in California?

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2 hours ago, Deucey said:

Yeah but you guys had a moralist prosecutor become governor and get caught with hoes. Now there's a POTUS that got caught with pornstars escorting.

All we had in Cali was a bad actor movie star father a child after cheating on a Kennedy and another governor who spent the states surplus keeping the lights on during the energy crisis.

 

See why I say we do things better than NY out in California?

Does California have actual systemic, endemic corruption? There was a point made by one of the state legislators during the regular burst of interest in ethics reform that over half of her colleagues were being federally investigated, which was true. I'm surprised, quite frankly, that they didn't manage to find dirt on Pataki, but I also don't think anybody was looking too hard.

3 hours ago, NY1635 said:

Right now only former Nassau County Executive Ed Manago is on trial for allegedly taking bribes from Hardena Singh. I haven't heard anything about Dean Skelos ever since he got caught redhanded doing something corrupt.

Before that we had Shelly Silver and Joe Bruno, both of whom were charged. Cuomo was under investigation for Moreland as well (and may very well be dragged into the Buffalo Billion mess), BDB barely escaped being implicated in the NYPD pay-to-play.

The only notable politician in recent times without shady stuff was Bloomberg, and that's because you can't really bribe the richest man in town.

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3 hours ago, Deucey said:

Become?

Isn't that it is as it ever was. I mean, Tammany Hall, Manhattan Club, George Washington Martin II, Cosa Nostra/5 Families...

NYC was never known for being an upstanding place - even before Giuliani took over.

Of course not, and it's unlikely things will ever change.

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57 minutes ago, bobtehpanda said:

Does California have actual systemic, endemic corruption? There was a point made by one of the state legislators during the regular burst of interest in ethics reform that over half of her colleagues were being federally investigated, which was true. I'm surprised, quite frankly, that they didn't manage to find dirt on Pataki, but I also don't think anybody was looking too hard.

We try, but folks keep getting caught.

But I think it's the mindset difference - life is hard in NY and for no other purpose than powerbrokers make it that way so they stay in power.

Plus with the other power centers so close by - DC, BOS, LON, TOR - it’s much easier to corrupt - especially since this part of North America has been heavily populated relative to the times since colonization.

Whereas California and the West at large was so far away and populated with folks who escaped this mess, when the corruption started with the railroad barons out West, the governments were quick to stop it on moral grounds. And when they didn’t, we have the plebiscite available to make sure it stops.

Tragedy of the Commons applies, of course - as you’ll see if you pay attention to California’s propositions/ballot initiatives being so stupid at times, but out there citizens can root out this mess, while here, citizens have to trust untrustworthy pols to do it - Spitzer, Corzine, McGreevy, Mangano, Menendez et all being examples of why that’s a flawed idea, IMO.

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1 hour ago, bobtehpanda said:

Of course not, and it's unlikely things will ever change.

I think a dose of early 20th Century progressivism could change a lot of it. And eliminating duplicate governments (why have county governments if Towns provide county services and everyone lives in a town when not in a village or city?), running authorities by commission instead of appointees...

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2 hours ago, Deucey said:

We try, but folks keep getting caught.

But I think it's the mindset difference - life is hard in NY and for no other purpose than powerbrokers make it that way so they stay in power.

Plus with the other power centers so close by - DC, BOS, LON, TOR - it’s much easier to corrupt - especially since this part of North America has been heavily populated relative to the times since colonization.

Whereas California and the West at large was so far away and populated with folks who escaped this mess, when the corruption started with the railroad barons out West, the governments were quick to stop it on moral grounds. And when they didn’t, we have the plebiscite available to make sure it stops.

Tragedy of the Commons applies, of course - as you’ll see if you pay attention to California’s propositions/ballot initiatives being so stupid at times, but out there citizens can root out this mess, while here, citizens have to trust untrustworthy pols to do it - Spitzer, Corzine, McGreevy, Mangano, Menendez et all being examples of why that’s a flawed idea, IMO.

The main problem is that right now the power brokers have designed a Pandora's box to stop reform, namely the protection of pensions in the State Constitution. Any reasonably powerful ethics reform would have to be put in the State Constitution and probably done via constitutional convention (the State Legislature would never pass such an amendment), but opening up the State Constitution for ethics reform also puts everything else in the State Constitution in play. Plus none of the major actors actually wants an end to pay-to-play style corruption.

2 hours ago, Deucey said:

I think a dose of early 20th Century progressivism could change a lot of it. And eliminating duplicate governments (why have county governments if Towns provide county services and everyone lives in a town when not in a village or city?), running authorities by commission instead of appointees...

Robert Moses actually called for consolidation at the county level (so eliminate the towns, villages, water districts, school districts, etc. and gain county-sized economies of scale)

The problem is that this would require the old money WASPs, the new money oligarchs, the white ethnics, and the minorities in Long Island to cede power, which is never going to happen. Consolidation at the town level has similar problems in Long Island, but the towns north of Westchester are low-population and consolidation wouldn't really do all that much.

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42 minutes ago, bobtehpanda said:

The main problem is that right now the power brokers have designed a Pandora's box to stop reform, namely the protection of pensions in the State Constitution. Any reasonably powerful ethics reform would have to be put in the State Constitution and probably done via constitutional convention (the State Legislature would never pass such an amendment), but opening up the State Constitution for ethics reform also puts everything else in the State Constitution in play. Plus none of the major actors actually wants an end to pay-to-play style corruption.

That’s the thing I don’t get - coming from a state where the constitution of today is not the same as 10 years ago because it’s amended every election, virtually. How is it a Con-Con isn’t a narrow question?

What I mean is why is it that if you want to change one thing in the document, everything is up for grabs?

43 minutes ago, bobtehpanda said:

Robert Moses actually called for consolidation at the county level (so eliminate the towns, villages, water districts, school districts, etc. and gain county-sized economies of scale)

The problem is that this would require the old money WASPs, the new money oligarchs, the white ethnics, and the minorities in Long Island to cede power, which is never going to happen. Consolidation at the town level has similar problems in Long Island, but the towns north of Westchester are low-population and consolidation wouldn't really do all that much.

I don’t get why the folks more likely to hate taxes and call for smaller government don’t do anything to get the latter so as to facilitate the former?

It wasn’t until I started reading up on NY governance that I understood why CT and MA got rid of county-level. Three-tier government is a waste of resources at local levels. But I come from a place where there were only two-tiers: incorporated cities and the State-created counties, and anyone who doesn’t live in a city lives in a CDP but is governed by the County - analogous to what Towns in NY and New England are/do. So why do county governments exist when it seems they don’t do anything except tell the towns what NYS wants done.

To me, that, and authorities/public-benefit corporations run by political appointees is why this state has so much dysfunction and corruption - too many layers with spaces for both to thrive coupled with plausible deniability to prevent anything but the status quo.

Don’t let me become governor and get actual Democrat and Republican progressives in the leg...Hella NY bullshit will be gone before the monied interests can get us out.

/rant

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3 hours ago, Deucey said:

I don’t get why the folks more likely to hate taxes and call for smaller government don’t do anything to get the latter so as to facilitate the former?

Their hatred of people of a different ethnicity or income level overrides that. Long Island is the most segregated place in the country. Westchester got sued by Obama's DOJ for corralling all the poor minorities out of sight. Some property owner is suing a HoA because their Nazi covenant literally says they can't sell to people who aren't German.

You talk to people in the suburbs and even the liberal ones are all cagey about this stuff. You can't make it up.

Quote

What I mean is why is it that if you want to change one thing in the document, everything is up for grabs?

This is only if you don't want legislative interference. But the Legislature would never agree to ethics reform, and the Constitution was poison pilled to make sure that it would never happen.

Keep in mind that the reformers who had a hand in creating this Constitution were simultaneously trying to pass it despite Tammany and what have you. It's a miracle that we somehow got something that wasn't even worse.

Edited by bobtehpanda

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