Why Are Transit Projects So Costly?

Sadly, the same is true in Canada and BC.

By comparison the $2.7 billion, 3.5 mile (5.7 km) Broadway subway costs $772 million/mile and the $4.6 to $5.1 billion 10 mile (16 km) Surrey Langley SkyTrain will cost $467 million to $510 million/mile to build.

Oh yes, the estimated $1.5 billion 80 mile (130 km) Leewood/RftV regional railway connecting Vancouver to Chilliwack costs a mere $18.75 million/mile to build.

Something to think about.


From Mass Transit.

Screenshot 2022-11-10 at 07-41-10 TL-railtransit-megaprojects-WEB.webp (WEBP Image 780 × 668 pixels)

US: Why Are U.S. Transit Projects So Costly? This Group Is on the Case.

Nov. 2, 2022
For the last two years, a group of researchers at the New York University Marron Institute of Urban Management has been building a big database of transit projects around the world. Their goal: To understand what drives the costs of transit project.


One Response to “Why Are Transit Projects So Costly?”
  1. Haveacow says:

    Yes, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA especially, are generally more expensive to build rapid transit in than Asia, and PARTS of Europe. This is because these other countries have lower cost structures, Finland comes to mind, due to government price controls on most items. Developing economies, combined with high local populations can drive down certain construction costs greatly.

    The European Union mostly, has government and an international subsidy system in place, specifically to lower construction costs. Many of which you could not be used in Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand because they are outright illegal or would be considered highly prone to government or intergovernmental corruption and would most likely be interpreted as favoring already large, well connected international builders and engineering companies like, SNC Lavlin, Kewit and Bragados.

    1. However, even Europe is now facing the same explosion of non construction related project cost increases that plague North Americans and Oceanian projects. Europe is having to deal with huge insurance and legal cost increases, mainly due to the increased likelihood of using courts to slow large infrastructure projects, when the planning process fails too. An ageing workforce which means higher site and health injury costs. The huge increase in the cost of heavy construction equipment and its operations, like here in Canada, many European builders lease and don’t own their heavy equipment, which greatly increases equipment insurance and site insurance costs.

    2. The system Europe had to control utility companies and their ancillary construction costs is braking down. Utility companies often force construction projects to over pay for updating sewer, water, cable and power lines, even on infrastructure outside of the construction zone. This is mainly due to industry privatization and their outright intransigence dealing with government construction projects around their utility infrastructure.

    The US faces a big problem due to politics and the concentration of rapid transit projects in the same metropolitan areas, which are all growing. Not only are the projects that build tunnels, bridges and above grade viaducts for mainly heavy and light metros more expensive then building any rapid transit technology in physically segregated surface rights of way, keeping in mind that, tunnels , bridges and viaducts for LRT are expensive to construct as well. The number of easy to build rights of way for real BRT, LRT, Light Metros and Heavy Metros ars shrinking in number. For example, San Diego and Portland both early leaders in LRT are building far less because of the need to now upgrade older lines and all the cheap and easy to build in rights of way, are all gone. The low hanging fruit has all been picked.

    Although not American, a graphic example, Manchester UK has built up an impressive and relatively inexpensive LRT network over the last 30 years (102 km’s worth) however, the last LRT system extension to one of Europe’s largest shopping malls, The Trafford Centre, was very expensive. This was because the surface extension had to travel above roads, bellow roads, beside roads, in the centre median of major roads and required significant sections of purchased private property because there were no more empty railway or former railway rights of way, to build on. This 5.6 km line was more expensive than the previous 2 projects, both of which, were significantly longer. This is why Manchester has been seriously investigating the Tram-Train concept (Light Rail Vehicles sharing the right of way on underused sections of mainline passenger and freight railway corridors). Something the area of Karlsruhe and Chemnitz Germany did very well and many other cities throughout Europe, are copying. A concept Zwei is a big supporter of.

    The next problem is project concentration. There are 56 urban areas in the US with a population of greater than 1 million people and 81 urban areas with a population of greater than 750,000, according to the 2020 US Census. The vast majority (over 80%) of all real BRT, LRT, Light Metro, Heavy Metro and Regional Railway projects that were built in the U.S. for the last 15 years (the projects which cost the most), are in a small group of 14-18 metropolitan areas. BRT Lite, (express buses with nice bus stops) and the new Streetcar projects which generally all operate in mixed traffic, were not included.

    Not only are these cities running out of cheap rights of way to build on, they represent a big proportion of the fastest-growing urban areas in the U.S. which means, these cities are by their very nature, are more expensive to build anything in. Most, not all of these cities are in states or metropolitan regions that are controlled by the Democratic Party, whom are far more likely than Republicans to significantly fund local transit operations and or build rapid transit of any kind. This is an enormous problem in the U.S., where entire transit operating budgets as well as rapid transit network construction projects, often can suddenly and or massively, get their funding cut because of a change in the controlling political party. This significantly drives up all costs. The results are predictable. Denver’s RTD, operates with a budget 2/3rd the size of Translink’s but serves a larger area and a population twice the size. There’s a reason most of Denver’s bus service, shuts down before 9 pm and that was before Covid 19. This is a terrible way to operate a transit system but they have no choice. Budget contious people may applaud this but American cities are losing companies to Australian, Canadian and European cities simply because, they can’t get people to work before or past a certain times of the day, it’s costing real jobs. Locating a company in some massive suburban office park is becoming more difficult if the staff can’t get home by transit and must drive in or out of the office park for the majority of the day. It’s also more expensive for said company to have to maintain a huge parking lot or enormous multi-level suburban parking garage, than to build a smaller lot or structure and connect to a rapid transit station.

    As I mentioned before, many older LRT and Metro systems in the US have stopped or severely cut back new construction to fund maintenance and upgrades of existing lines. Both Canada’s as well as the U.S.’s transit capital funding systems doesn’t do upgrade/maintenance funding well. These upgrade projects, something the Skytrain really desperately needs, more than Skytrain line extensions or new line projects, are expensive and time consuming because you have to keep the existing system running, while your doing the work. Toronto had to choose between shutting down the busiest rapid transit line in Canada for 3 to 4 years or shutdown sections of the line on weekends for 7 years (while the rest of it operates). It turned out to be 9 years, to do upgrades to the signaling, cableing, power system as well as right of way repairs on Line #1. All of which, just finished. Now line #2 and line #4 need to be done. The longer you wait, the longer it takes to do and the more it costs.

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