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Feb 14, 2003

Another big shocker in Boston Area transportation: the state has halted work on the MBTA Greenbush commuter rail line (link will likely change in a day or so). For those who don’t know, the Greenbush line is a part of the Central/Artery Tunnel mitigation, and has been beset with controversy. If you want to read more, you can read the Greenbush FEIR on the MBTA’s website (full disclosure: I worked on the noise & vibration section, but this article is not based on “insider” knowledge).

The Greenbush line was also controversial because of its increasing price tag over the years. When the project was proposed back in the 1980’s, the cost estimate was around $20-30 million. The current estimate is $500 million. The project has been delayed due to a variety of factors, including several lawsuits. The price tag has also increased due to inflation, higher property values, the addition of a tunnel through Hingham Square, and various other items.

I know people tend to get upset when they see the costs of large public works projects like this balloon out of control, but to some extent, that is part of building large projects. A paper given at TRB goes into these items in detail. It seems as though a major reason we see cost increases is because the project “definition” constantly changes in a vain effort to appease all of the various special interests. Everytime a project makes a change, the designers, the engineers, the architects, the consultants, the public affairs people, the environmental analyists (including the noise & vibration guys) and so one have to spend labor hours to update their work. And that costs money.

Think about that the next time you demand a change in a project at a public meeting. Most political-types are willing to bend over backwards to make you happy, but in the end, it will cost you.

The alternative is to be like the Chinese I suppose. One of the reasons their maglev program was built so quickly was because they didn’t bother to waste times with <sarcasm>silly items like an environmental review</sarcasm>.

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