Here’s a Shocker: Sacramento Light Rail Costs Jump (again)!

Another day, another upward cost revision for a proposed light rail system. This one’s in Sacramento:

Sacramento’s two-pronged light-rail extension project to the city of Folsom and to the downtown train depot has jumped its budgetary tracks by $18 million – and Regional Transit officials aren’t sure where they are going to come up with the extra money. The overruns should not affect the expected mid-October completion date for the section of the project that will run from Sunrise Boulevard to the Folsom Historic District, RT officials said. However, numerous setbacks on the downtown line, running from the K Street Mall to the I Street depot, have forced an 11-month delay of opening day to September of next year. RT board Chairman David Sander said Friday he is “very disappointed” by the setback, and concerned by inaccurate staff estimates of what the costs would be and how long the work would take. “I would like public agencies to function more efficiently than this,” he said.

Wouldn’t we all… And the most beautiful part is this:

RT officials, in a report made public last week, disclosed that the cost of the project has jumped from $237 million to an estimated $255 million. The $237 million figure was itself substantially higher than several earlier estimates, Sander said.

Ho hum…transit cost underestimates are so commonplace now that it’s almost a non-story, were it not so unbelievably maddening. With few exceptions, advocates of big ticket transit projects inevitably play a “bait-and-switch,” with cost estimates “unexpectedly” rising somewhere during the project’s implementation. For other recent examples, see D.C. Metrorail’s west extension and the Seattle monorail fiasco. More on cost projections here, and here’s a post on the related issue of demand overestimation. Perhaps we need a new rule of thumb for new rail projects…take the advocates’ first cost estimates, double it, and shave off 10-15 percent depending on your mood. I’ll bet that nine times out of ten, this approach gets you much closer to the final cost than any advocate’s estimate.