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FTA should help cut light-rail project costs, transportation research center says


The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) should implement strategies to help transit agencies control the cost of light-rail projects, according to a report issued by the Region 2 University Transportation Research Center (UTRC).

Entitled “Analysis of Capital Cost Elements and their Effect on Operating Costs,” the report calls on the federal agency to mitigate project costs by relaxing regulations, fostering increased competition among suppliers and helping transit agencies develop in-house expertise.

Light-rail project costs continue to rise as projects and technology become more complex, and agencies implement additional safety and security measures. In addition, many agencies building light-rail lines rely on consultants to provide planning, engineering and project management services. Strict federal regulations governing issues such as pollutant discharge, procurement, project management and contractor payment also increase costs.

“Rising costs means projects get funded by the FTA at a lower level or they don’t get funded at all,” said UTRC Director Robert Paaswell in a prepared statement. “This delays or eliminates the benefits that a new system might provide and adversely impacts transit usage at a time that people are increasingly looking for alternatives to driving.”

UTRC recommends the FTA develop a strategy to encourage “peer systems” with similar needs to coordinate procurements to reduce costs; promote alternative contracting and project management strategies; and provide training and technical assistance programs to help agencies learn about procurement, project management, lifecycle economic assessment and risk management strategies.

The report also calls on the FTA to implement peer reviews of projects in the planning phases, rate New Start proposals based on the quality of their cost-control strategies, and create standards and simpler specifications for emerging technologies.

The report was based on interviews conducted with industry experts and transit agency officials, as well as an analysis of the unit costs and scope of 25 light-rail projects completed during the past 20 years.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 11/22/2005