Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New light rail cost: $1.12 billion

The 11-mile extension of the Lynx Blue Line to University City could cost as much as $1.12 billion, the Charlotte Area Transit System said Wednesday evening.

That estimate is a 50 percent increase from the 2006 projection of $741 million. Despite the steep escalation, CATS said the project still appears to be a good candidate for federal funding. CATS chief executive Keith Parker said CATS should continue working to design the line, which could open in 2016.

CATS also unveiled a cost for the north corridor, a commuter rail line to the Lake Norman area. That project will cost between $368 and $375 million. That's in line with previous estimates.

CATS said the Lynx extension could cost $928 million, but that price wouldn't include enhancements that CATS said are needed to handle the number of expected passengers. That includes six extra train cars, longer platforms to handle three-car trains and more room for pedestrians.

The Lynx extension will be much more complicated to build than the original light-rail line, which opened in 2007. That line cost $48 million per mile. The extension could cost more than $100 million per mile.

CATS was pleased with the cost estimates for the two projects. But building them both will likely be difficult.

The most recent long-range plan, approved in 2006, called for the north corridor to be built first, followed a year later by the Lynx extension. But CATS can't build both at the same time because its finances have been battered by the recession.

CATS could begin construction on the commuter train by the end of the year. But Parker said he wants to wait at least a year until the engineering on the Lynx extension is finished.

Parker said the two lines can be built simultaneously if CATS receives federal stimulus dollars for the north corridor. That may be difficult because it's competing with a N.C. Department of Transportation request to replace the Interstate 85 Yadkin River bridge from the same pot of money. CATS will apply for that money this fall, and should learn if its application has been approved by the end of the year.

The other options for building the train lines at the same time would be if the half-cent sales tax rebounds, and CATS coffers fill with new dollars. Parker also said CATS could build the lines if it receives "new revenues."

That likely means a new tax. One possibility is a quarter-cent sales tax that N.C. counties can levy for any purpose. That would require approval by Mecklenburg voters.

40 comments:

Charlanta said...

Why not go with the line that will have the greatest impact - highest traffic counts, volume of ridership/population and cost. That would easily be the North line which includes the greatest problems and covers the largest communities - Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Mooresville and the Lake Norman region. No Brainer to me! To clarify, I live in the CBD and have no affiliation to either line.

Anonymous said...

It is vital to Charlotte's survival that both lines get built as soon as possible. The $2 gas is only a temporary reprieve; some estimates predict gas at $5 a gallon in just a few short years, and skyrocketing past $ 10 and $20 a gallon as peak oil hits in the coming decades.

The cost may seem steep now, but is is only a fraction of the about of business and jobs that will be lost if Charlotte can't compete with cities that do have transit in place. Our cities' very survival depends on it.

Anonymous said...

i agree with 6:52. I think CATS will see a tremendous jump in ridership when both lines are built. Most importantly these kinds of projects need momentum.

Anonymous said...

"new revenues"... That's gubment code speak for taxes. Most probable, property taxes. Something that they swore would never, ever happen, if we would only pass the 1/2 cent sales tax. Enough is never enough. It's like giving a drug addict more drugs. It only makes the problem worse.

Anonymous said...

Need an airport connector to downtown. Pronto!

Anonymous said...

Anybody think that CATS bus fuel costs will go down and can contribute to the coffers. Maybe running the trains til 3am to catch all the college kids going uptown on the weekend, or even better yet a parking tax or VZW amphetheatre/race traffic? And the big one, why not put in turnstyles to make sure everyone pays that is on the platform. Cheaper than ticket checkers and the dont talk back...

Larry said...

From 2006 the cost estimate of this rail line has gone up 50 percent.

The original estimate was make during a time when Steel was at a premium price.

In 2006 my 401K was excellent. Now it has dropped more than 50 percent.

Steel is now at a bargain price and they are calling customers trying to make a deal.

My question is will the Government and Elected Officials ever live in the real world?

And will those people who support this just admit that we can not even pay for operating the current line, and will not be able to pay to even operate, little lone build the new line?

Please tell me what your 401K looks like before you say we should waste more tax dollars getting people downtown which has lost at least 15 thousand jobs the last year of two.

Keep in mind for this rail scheme to work they projected we needed several more major corporations the size of the BOA downtown.

Where are you going to get those companies?

Who would come to our poor schools and double the crime rate for a city our size community like we have?

Anonymous said...

Is Larry the same guy holding up the baseball stadium. Some people just dont want to see progress. If you dont want to pay for it or use it, move out of mecklenburg county. Simple as that.

DCDude said...

A real city has a multimodal metro system. Light rail is an investment in Charlotte's future, and will pay dividends for decades to come, if not centuries. Full speed ahead. And yeah, work on a metroline to the airport.

Anonymous said...

Steel peaked in 2008, two years after the estimate and same with fuel, so your argument is flawed. Thats an engineers estimate of the cost also, and the City will get the work done for 30% less than the projected cost in this econmic climate. Just look at the stimulus projects, contractors need work in Charlotte

Anonymous said...

It's already been proven that the current CATS train line doesn't even put a dent in the northbound morning traffic congestion and that the line is no way capable of carrying the numbers of passengers that would make a difference. Build wider and better highways and stop fooling the taxpayer with this commuter train cr@p. If we see $5 a gallon gas people won't have to worry about commuting because they won't have a job. This rail line business is pure lunacy and has been proven with the current system.

Rick said...

Come on Steve!

You left out the juciest part of tonight's meeting.

At tonight's MTC meeting Mayor McCrory pushed all the Town Mayors - specifically the Northern Towns - to go back to their councils and work with the state delegation to push for the general purpose 1/4 cent sales tax already available to the county and for getting Mecklenburg included in 1/2 cent transit sales tax bill currently going through the legislature.

Apparently, this will be discussed as a topic in next Monday's City Council meeting.

They said previously that they wouldn't go outside the current half cent. Tonight, they said publicly that they support doing just that.

Let the tax feeding frenzy begin!!!

Anonymous said...

Choosing a lightrail system for Charlotte was great and expanding it would be even better. However, I am surprised they built a system based on an 'honor system'. Estimate the revenue lost because of how this system is designed because of people not paying as they should.

Rick said...

Sorry, Steve...You didn't totally leave it out...I missed the very bottom of your post.

Though it was pretty clear that they were going after both taxes, not just the 1/4 cent.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they should consider making the rails out of something other than gold. $100 million per mile!?! How can it possibly cost that much money? I realize there are land purchase costs, the rail/track itself, cars and platforms, but good lord.

Anonymous said...

What a great use of tax money and govt resources..... At a time when we're laying off teachers, we're debating spending a billion dollars for a train that goes uptown? Why?!?!? Uptown is going to be empty in 18 months, once BofA and Wells Fargo has their lay offs.

Anonymous said...

BUILD THE CENTRAL AVE STREETCAR NOW!!

Anonymous said...

I think that the light rail expansion is necessary as a city wide public transportation system would relieve serious stress on the number of cars in the city.

Also, this expansion is crucial to emitting less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. All major cities have a proficient public rail system that benefits the city in the long term.

Anonymous said...

"Build wider and better highways and stop fooling the taxpayer with this commuter train cr@p."

And then what do we do in 5 yrs when those "wide" highways are filled with traffic? Build even wider and even better highways? That's what we've tried for the past 40 yrs...it doesn't work, it just creates more traffic. It is not a viable long term solution.

"If we see $5 a gallon gas people won't have to worry about commuting because they won't have a job."

What a ridiculous short-sighted comment. Gas was not far from that last summer, and people still had jobs. How bout we build a rail system so that when, not if, gas hits $5 dollars, we're not saying, "Shoot, we should have built that train system years ago." Wouldn't it be nice not to have our hard earned money sent straight over to the Middle East as they laugh all the way to the bank?

Paul said...

Anyone that says that people aren't paying aren't even stating a fact. How do you know people aren't paying? Did you ask them for a ticket? Did you assume that they don't have one because you didn't see them buy one? Incorrect assumption. Most of the people that ride have weekly or monthly passes, so you'll never see them buy tickets. How many people have you seen get checked and haven't paid? Have you seen a lot? I've been riding the train, 10 times a week, since they opened. That's about at least 700 rides. And I've been 'checked at least 100-200 of them. You know how many people I've seen without a ticket? In a year and a half - two people!

Turnstiles are more expensive to operate than checkers. If you add turnstiles, then you just add to the operating cost. It's not cost justifiable.

clowns_2_the_left said...

"a 50 percent increase from the 2006 projection"

And they haven't even started yet.

So, based on the final numbers for that little 9-mile joy-ride called LYNX, you're looking at, what?

Do I hear 2.5? 2.5? Going once, going twice...

WAIT! 3.1! Yes, 3.1 billion! Do I have another bidder?

Sly Stone said...

I think the priority will be to extend the LYNX line up to I-485/University City area and then work on the North Commuter LIne. I think it would be a mistake to just have the current LYNX line just end in the middle of Uptown. For it to be truly effective, the line needs to be finished all the way up to its Northern terminus. Don't do what Buffalo did; They are stuck with a light-rail line that hasn't been expanded in over 30 yeras (it goes from downtown to HSBC Arena area, which isn't that far away).

In the long run, I think Charlotte will have an advantage over other cities by toting a mass transit system vs. one that totally relies on freeways (i.e. Raleigh) to move people around. You can only expand highways so much (see Los Angeles, Atlanta) to increase capacity. It will probably cost $1 billion to widen I-77 from Uptown down to the SC State Line. How come its OK to spend this much money on this project but folks are screaming 'NO, Its too expensive!!!!' when we look at the cost of expanding LYNX out to UNCC ? ? ?

Jay Heikes said...

While this a sound investment for the Future of Charlotte's growth an ddevlopement. 1.2 Billion seems rather outrageous. Part of that is all of the other infrastructure improvements that CATS and the city will be doing IN ADDTITION to just building a rail line w/ stations. but 100M/ mile still seems very high. a few years ago that was the going price for Heavy rail subway lines and now were paying that much just for light rail. It seems a little ridiculous to me that construction costs would tripple since the construction of the South Corridor.

Jay Heikes said...

Hold up! WSOCTV is reporting the number at 928 million. while its still ridiculous that costs are continuing to increase as construction costs fall,
1.12B>9.28M

Anonymous said...

The longer we wait, the more it costs. We need to get moving on this! The North Line should be done right away. The track is there already. It will serve 4 major towns. Let's stop talking about it and put people to work making it happen.

Anonymous said...

That works out to be $19,283.75 per FOOT for 11 miles. You can guarantee they will be raising as many taxes as they can imagine.

I agree we need a LRT system here, but this estimate is exorbitant. Of all the LRTs completed in the last 7 yrs, only Seattle, Buffalo, Los Angeles (Eastside), & San Francisco spent that much on their LRT. All of these involved tunnels and extensive excavating which drove their costs up. Why is Charlotte's so high?

We're just getting taken to the cleaners on this.

Anonymous said...

Why does this sound like something I;ve heard before? As a "crusted" North Easterner,I've seen these optomistic estinates result in unending increasing taxes to pay for sunk costs.

Anonymous said...

Increase the fares and build this stuff when CATS has saved up the money.

Oh, I forgot... if the fares are increased to match the cost of this stuff, then nobody will ride the bus or the lynx anymore. A cab ride could be cheaper...

But those same people don't mind the rest of us paying for them to ride and listen to their iPod Nanos.

Anonymous said...

I still don't understand why the Purple Line (North Corridor) doesn't continue past the Gateway Station to the airport. The existing rail ROW that they are planning to use goes right past the North end of the main runways.

Perhaps as the region grown, one day Gaston County will decide to extend it to Gastonia and Shelby.
Perhaps Cabarrus County will one day decide to expand the Blue Line to Concord and Kanapolis. Perhaps SC will someday see that the Blue Line should go to Rock Hill.

Rick said...

Actually, 1:18 anon that's not a half bad idea...here is the math from the CATS documentation for the MTC meeting last night.

4/22 MTC AgendaHere's the math...

Cost Per Ride = Operating Cost for the Service + Debt Service for the Service

Operating Cost Per Ride = (Cost Per Revenue Hour x Total Revenue Hrs)/Total Riders

Debt Service Per Ride = Annual Debt Service for the Service/Total Riders

Bus Service: $3.46 operating + $0.37 debt = $3.83 per ride

Rail Service: $2.69 operating + $1.46 debt = $4.15 per ride.

There are 21.1 million bus rides per year and 5.25 million train rides. Raise the fare 50 cents per ride, stop letting the Gold Rush be free (4 million rides on that per year), put all the money into a special account for future train debt service and have transit pay for itself.

CATS had $24.5m in fare revenue last year. That comes out to 93 cents per trip. If you increase fares to raise that average just 25 cents, that would give you $6.6m dollars more per year to fund any debt service on a new line. Fares would have to be raised more than 25 cents though. That's due to the fact that so may people ride for free or reduced rates (transfers, students, the elderly, etc.)

Anonymous said...

we need both lines to be built. This is something that payoffs for most citizens overnight in the long run its the smartest choice.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe they are even considering scrapping the University light rail in favor of the one to Davidson. The line to Davidson goes through low-population-density areas, to high income areas, ending in Iredell County (whose residents aren't even paying the sales tax that's paying for this thing). The University Lynx line goes through a high-population-density part of Charlotte proper (where most of the people paying the sales tax live) through an area desperately in need of revitalization, to the University. I want to know who owns the undeveloped land around the train line to Iredell Co. and how much they're contributing to our politicians' campaign coffers.
Build the University line first, and then finish the rest of the light rail infrastructure in Charlotte proper. Then send it out to Iredell County.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know if the City can build a new bus lane and use smaller 20 seat shuttle buses powered by natural gas or electric. This seems cheaper than a rail system, then later they can upgrade to rail since they will own the right of way. The only thing special about a train is the rail crossings allowing it to zip through traffic, so that feature can be contructed. We already have an express bus system that be connected to the new system.

Anonymous said...

A BIG WASTE OF TAXPAYER MONEY.

jonathan5052 said...

Can someone tell me why the initial costs for light rail in Canada is way lower than in the U.S.? It's truly outrageous! And in countries like Austria, the costs are almost half, compared to the U.S.! Why? Can Dr. Traffic answer this one for me?

Anonymous said...

Rick,

The Gold Rush is at least partly funded by major employers in uptown (Wellschovia, BofA). If I remember correctly it's even written on the side of the trolleys.

Rick said...

Last anon, thought I'd correct something I noticed when you brought up the Gold Rush. Apparently the Gold Rush only has closer to 1.5 million riders - not 4 as I mentioned earlier. The 4 million mentioned came from the CATS report, but that was the whole neighbornood/business center category.

City Center Partners chips in $400k of money for it as well.

As a partially or primarily taxpayer funded service, either ay, riding for free is something that should be addressed before raising taxes. If the Banks want to pay for advertising on the side of the shuttles, that's their business.

Anonymous said...

END HIGH TAXATION!!!ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!

Anonymous said...

"Build wider and better highways"... until the entire earth is paved over and the air is unbreathable. As it happens, there will be no more federal dollars for Mecklenburg until the air gets into compliance with oazone regs.

Wider and better highways. I honestly don't know how some of you find the brain to draw breath every day.

Anonymous said...

Let's get moving! North line is ready to start. It's been at least a decade since we voted for the 1/2 cent sales tax to build the rail. It just cost more and more the longer we wait. Let's go!