Pricier, later, shorter

Charlotte’s light rail project has jumped in price yet again. It’s now $427 million, $28 million more than last spring. And now it’s supposed to open in April 2007, a six-month delay:

Because the line’s overall cost has increased, FTA funding will cover only 47 percent, not the 50 percent that CATS expected. [Transit chief Ron] Tober will ask the state to spend an additional $7 million so that it will continue its commitment to pay 25 percent of the line’s cost. CATS will contribute 28 percent, up from its former 25 percent share.

But the transit chief says taxpayers won’t pay more, and that neither bus service nor future rail plans will be affected. I’d bet on only that last promise. And notice that the article references only the latest cost hike, not that the line was originally supposed to cost $227 million. Failing to consider the big picture is common in light rail reporting. This Seattle reporter does a better job:

Seattle’s light rail system, originally planned to be 21 miles long, be completed by 2006 and cost less than $2 billion, is 14 miles long, won’t be completed until 2009 and will cost $2.4 billion.

And so Seattle completes the light rail three step: pricier, later, shorter. Why does this keep happening? Is it just bad luck? Planners like to say that they were merely victims of unforeseen circumstances. But when you bank on an unrealistically rosy future, it’s easy to get “victimized.” Consider that the long range transportation plans for California’s three largest metro areas assume voters will approve renewal of all existing sales taxes, and that state and federal gas taxes will be raised, too. Is that optimism, foolishness or worse?