Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

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David Greene
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Re: RE: Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby David Greene » April 20th, 2016, 4:30 pm

RailBaronYarr wrote:I'm not saying it was a great idea for Bottineau, and a quick search shows the legislation only allowed it to be on parcels on Nicollet or Central and only spent on the streetcar. And it was only $60m anyway.
I wonder how difficult it would be to pass legislation redirecting it to Midtown.

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby Tcmetro » July 12th, 2016, 7:54 am

New cost estimates are out: $1.536 Billion
Breakdown is:
FTA: $726 Million
CTIB: $464 Million
HCRRA: $150 Million
State: $150 Million
Henn Cty: $4 Million
MnDot: $8 Million
Brooklyn Park: $8 Million

Final EIS is likely to be finished this month.

http://www.metrocouncil.org/getdoc/893e ... ation.aspx

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby Archiapolis » July 13th, 2016, 8:18 am

Tcmetro wrote:New cost estimates are out: $1.536 Billion
Breakdown is:
FTA: $726 Million
CTIB: $464 Million
HCRRA: $150 Million
State: $150 Million
Henn Cty: $4 Million
MnDot: $8 Million
Brooklyn Park: $8 Million

Final EIS is likely to be finished this month.

http://www.metrocouncil.org/getdoc/893e ... ation.aspx

What "% of engineering" is this estimate? Asking for a friend who wants to know what multiplier to assign to this number for "unknowns."

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby min-chi-cbus » July 13th, 2016, 11:29 am

2!.....construction inflation, obviously.

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby Archiapolis » July 14th, 2016, 8:58 am

2% engineering or $2B?

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby twincitizen » July 14th, 2016, 9:37 am

The presentation linked above indicates the previous cost estimates were based on 15% engineering (page 9). Cost estimates include the standard 30% contingency.

They are now at the 30% engineering phase, which is when you begin submitting FTA applications and whatnot. It's when the project becomes "serious" in the eyes of the feds. The current cost estimate is on page 29.

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby RailBaronYarr » July 14th, 2016, 10:51 am

And, it should be pointed out that between 15% engineering and 30% engineering, the cost only rose by $40m, or 2.7%. Not that we shouldn't be wary about price increases, as other projects (SWLRT...) have certainly jumped in much higher increments when the uncertainty was supposed to be lower, but this is pretty minor. They type of rounding error on would expect at this stage for a project of this size/technology. This is in contrast to the type of several hundred million dollar jumps that we should actually be better about comprehending (questioning how our funding system leads to these outcomes, what are the opportunity costs to just plowing ahead, how can federal funding criteria still be okay with a project that costs 50% more per rider, why are 1-15% engineering estimates more often way under the actual price tag than slightly above, etc).

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby Archiapolis » July 18th, 2016, 10:13 am

RailBaronYarr wrote:And, it should be pointed out that between 15% engineering and 30% engineering, the cost only rose by $40m, or 2.7%. Not that we shouldn't be wary about price increases, as other projects (SWLRT...) have certainly jumped in much higher increments when the uncertainty was supposed to be lower, but this is pretty minor...why are 1-15% engineering estimates more often way under the actual price tag than slightly above, etc).
Thanks for this.

I'm in the architecture/building world and the cost estimations couldn't be different than these transit projects.

That last question that you ask has gotten me very worked up in the past: "1-15% estimates...way under the actual price tag"

This continues to amaze and astound me. I just looked back at a project that was at "100% Schematic Design" with a "Narrative Spec" (a couple of pages in outline form [3-7ish] of BASIC descriptions of exterior materials, windows, cabinets and countertops, etc). The pricing from the GCs included contingencies ranging from 2% to 5%. I'd love to hear opinions of people in the building trade regarding comparisons between "100% Schematic Design" and "30% engineering" for transit projects - this seems like a relatively close "apple to apples" comparison to me.

Given the "apples to apples" comparison that I'm suggesting, I'm astounded by a 5% versus 30% contingency. Having experience with building cost estimating and then seeing these transit fluctuations has been jarring. I've suggested that they don't even discuss estimations (publicly) until they get to a more solid footing - however this might be quantified (15%? 30%? more?).

I'm 100% behind transit spending but if these cost increases are jarring for someone who is supportive, with experience in cost estimating for construction, it follows that unsupportive people who are completely uninformed would use these increases as fodder for criticism/pushback. How can transit supporters work to improve how the message is delivered/crafted?

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby talindsay » July 18th, 2016, 10:50 am

I think the thing is that contingency in transit projects isn't really treated like a real contingency, though it does have an emergency function in that regard. Basically, our budget model for transit projects means that everything but the basic line itself has to get stripped out of the budget to make it meet goals with this huge contingency - but those things aren't really stripped out, they're just prioritized into the contingency fund as project break points are reached and the amount of contingency that has to be reserved gets reduced. It's nobody's intention that the contingency *doesn't* get spent - it's part of the project budget, fully intended to be completely spent. They only *call* it contingency, but it functions as a funding source with a prioritized list of items to be purchased from it as the project's core functions demonstrate their ability to come in at their budget. So it does serve the contingency purpose, but that's not *really* its primary use.

What's funny to me is the politics of these lines: people balk and complain about the "ever-rising" prices of these lines as planning occurs, but then nobody notices the contingency's role in that. And then, on the flip side, at the back end nobody says anything as the contingency is slowly used up to add all sorts of things back in that had been stripped from the project early on, and even as they use up every penny of the contingency funding for non-contingency things the project is "under budget", thus demonstrating that the contingency was never really a contingency fund, but an actual part of the project's planning.

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby David Greene » July 18th, 2016, 11:31 am

talindsay wrote:I think the thing is that contingency in transit projects isn't really treated like a real contingency, though it does have an emergency function in that regard. Basically, our budget model for transit projects means that everything but the basic line itself has to get stripped out of the budget to make it meet goals with this huge contingency - but those things aren't really stripped out, they're just prioritized into the contingency fund as project break points are reached and the amount of contingency that has to be reserved gets reduced. It's nobody's intention that the contingency *doesn't* get spent - it's part of the project budget, fully intended to be completely spent.
That's no longer true. Any leftover contingency goes back to funders, with I assume the same funding split.

As for cost estimates, I'm no expert but I'd guess that planning and building miles of LRT+associated buildings is quite a bit more complicated than constructing a single building in a single location. SWLRT, for example, had complications no building construction project has to deal with.

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby talindsay » July 18th, 2016, 12:58 pm

David Greene wrote:That's no longer true. Any leftover contingency goes back to funders, with I assume the same funding split.
Interesting. Whose policy change is this? I'm not aware of an FTA change on this, though I certainly could have missed it.

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby LRV Op Dude » July 18th, 2016, 1:17 pm

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby David Greene » July 18th, 2016, 2:21 pm

FTA made the change. This was a big discussion topic at the SWLRT CAC last year.

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby Archiapolis » July 20th, 2016, 10:39 am

David Greene wrote:
talindsay wrote:I think the thing is that contingency in transit projects isn't really treated like a real contingency, though it does have an emergency function in that regard. Basically, our budget model for transit projects means that everything but the basic line itself has to get stripped out of the budget to make it meet goals with this huge contingency - but those things aren't really stripped out, they're just prioritized into the contingency fund as project break points are reached and the amount of contingency that has to be reserved gets reduced. It's nobody's intention that the contingency *doesn't* get spent - it's part of the project budget, fully intended to be completely spent.
That's no longer true. Any leftover contingency goes back to funders, with I assume the same funding split.

As for cost estimates, I'm no expert but I'd guess that planning and building miles of LRT+associated buildings is quite a bit more complicated than constructing a single building in a single location. SWLRT, for example, had complications no building construction project has to deal with.
I think we've had some discussion about this in the past. I'm going to have to respectfully disagree that “planning and building…LRT…is more complicated than...a single building.” I'm not a light rail designer and I have no doubt that designing them is difficult - I can’t bold/underline/highlight this enough. I'd put the split on this forum at about 70% transit geeks, 30% architects/designers so I'm sure that someone can/will educate me if/when my comments are ignorant. I’m sure that there will be no shortage of people taking umbrage with my opinions…

Putting aside the stations for a moment (I'll get to them in a minute) there are a lot of "fixed" conditions in the design of an LRT line. Empirically, roughly 70% of LRT lines themselves occur at grade. The rails are fixed width (and I’m guessing height/weight/typical length), spacing/sizing/fastening for sleepers/ties is (generally) fixed, the substrate (visible) appears to be largely fixed. The electrical apparatus has a (relatively) fixed relationship from grade to the contact points. LRT designers probably have a “typical” intersection drawing/quantity for lights, guard/bars, signage, etc that covers 50% of typical urban conditions and a less complex typical detail at parkland stops which covers 50% of those types of stations. I feel like these 50% citations are conservative and it’s probably higher. If 70% of the total line is at grade, with all of the above as fixed conditions, the complex/atypical is 30% - bridges, tunnels, berms, etc. These “atypical” conditions are themselves not complete unknowns. Precedents exist for rail bridges, tunnels, and berms. It is one thing to say that “special conditions” like bridges, tunnels and berms are expensive. It is quite another to say that they are unknown/complex enough to necessitate a 30% contingency.

I understand that soil conditions and the presence of water are a big deal for rail. However, soil conditions and ground water are a big deal for buildings as well. Soil borings (quantity, etc) and geotechnical reports have to be done for buildings as well. I acquiesce that MANY more soil borings need to occur throughout the planning and design of a light rail line than a single building. However, it must ALSO be acquiesced that for light rail we are talking about construction that is 70% (my estimate) “at grade” with parameters that are fixed. I don’t know how they *actually* do it but I suppose that the least expensive way to test the soil would be to take as few borings as possible along proposed routes, then, at each phase, take more borings and get more data and more accurate pricing. If 70% of the project is “sitting on the ground”, I’ll need to see more evidence than “miles of track” to support the claim that light rail has more variables/unknowns/difficulties/complexity than a single building project that typically goes 1 or 2 stories below grade (in this city anyway) and several stories above grade. Building projects may have a much smaller footprint but they have to deal with sub-grade conditions at a larger scope (deeper, larger, more excavation, more cut/fill, more soil amendments, more drainage [often active drainage systems]) AND account for several stories up in the air and that is just structure (holding the building up) forget “design.” Length (“miles of track”) does not (necessarily) equal complexity. Complexity is what makes any building project difficult/expensive.

As for the stations, we are talking about largely “open air” (uninsulated, unconditioned) spaces that provide limited cover for precipitation/wind. The relationship (delta) between the track and the platforms is well known. The length of the vehicles is well known. The services present at each station should be (generally) well understood [number of payment kiosks, etc). The variability exists in the design of the protection that occurs overhead (and holding that up) which amounts to *maybe* 30% of the overall design of a station so, again, these are not complete unknowns and precedents exist. I’m sure that there are basic design/quantities/figures that exists for a “typical” station and a “premium station.”

Again, rail design is not my area of expertise and I’m willing to be educated. However, before any education, remember that the claim that I am countering is this: “planning and building…LRT…is more complicated and a single building.” I am NOT saying that designing LRT is easy or cheap. My claim is this: There should not be a 25% premium in terms of contingency between a light rail project and a “typical” single building (let’s use a “5 over 1 as a basis/“average”) that generally carry a 3-5% contingency.

I’ve made an argument and I await responses that are supported with evidence/experience/expertise.

Cheers.

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby David Greene » July 20th, 2016, 11:28 am

Archiapolis wrote:I suppose that the least expensive way to test the soil would be to take as few borings as possible along proposed routes, then, at each phase, take more borings and get more data and more accurate pricing.
That is in fact exactly how it is done and is a major reason that the cost of SWLRT jumped so high. They found lots of unexpected things in Minnetonka and EP. Your question was about why there is so much contingency in LRT project. Here's one reason and the physical scope is something building planners generally don't have to deal with.

SWLRT also had to deal with FRA issues, another huge cost driver that most building projects never have to face.

One can (and I would) certainly argue that contingency could be reduced in LRT projects as they progress much faster than it is currently. It's an FTA process derived over decades of experience, so there must have been examples in the past that grossly underestimated contingency. The government is generally very conservative with budgeting.

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby talindsay » July 20th, 2016, 11:41 am

In other parts of the country, massive cost overruns are much more common than here - presumably because of more unpredictable land conditions, labor markets, etc.

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby Archiapolis » July 20th, 2016, 12:41 pm

David Greene wrote:
Archiapolis wrote:I suppose that the least expensive way to test the soil would be to take as few borings as possible along proposed routes, then, at each phase, take more borings and get more data and more accurate pricing.
That is in fact exactly how it is done and is a major reason that the cost of SWLRT jumped so high. They found lots of unexpected things in Minnetonka and EP. Your question was about why there is so much contingency in LRT project. Here's one reason and the physical scope is something building planners generally don't have to deal with.

SWLRT also had to deal with FRA issues, another huge cost driver that most building projects never have to face.

One can (and I would) certainly argue that contingency could be reduced in LRT projects as they progress much faster than it is currently. It's an FTA process derived over decades of experience, so there must have been examples in the past that grossly underestimated contingency. The government is generally very conservative with budgeting.
@talindsay: RE “massive cost overruns [elsewhere]”

Without knowing any of the projects/cities/etc that you are talking about I can’t really comment but by my uneducated eye, other areas are building out (or continuing to build out) a lot of transit confidently. This goes back to an earlier comment that I made questioning how a left leaning state, governor, legislature (not House obv), and city can’t do better than we are. I know about conservative suburbs/exurbs but…

===

@David Greene:

I don’t know what “FRA issues” are. If this is a typo and was meant to be “FTA”, I still don’t know what those issues are that would necessitate a 25% markup on contingency. I understand that having more oversight increases cost and that it could be a “driver” but it just shouldn’t be that much of an "unknown" (hence requiring contingency by definition) which is an important distinction. Lots of building projects have complex funding mechanisms (that often include the feds by the way) but experienced experts rely on historical data and experience to manage the process/communication/messaging and ultimately, cost.

On a 150ish unit MFH (“5 over 1”) site you’ve got 10-20ish soil borings. The borings themselves take 1-2 days to perform, then the analysis, and preliminary report (including preliminary structural recommendations) for the site and the 10-20 borings. A preliminary geotech report as above takes +/- 2 weeks to put together.

I have no idea how many borings they do for a light rail line but I’m assuming that there is some kind of boring/mile equation that is fairly linear (1% engineering = X borings/mile, 5% engineering = X x 2 borings/mile, etc). Perhaps it is a matter of 3 borings at/near a proposed station and a boring every 1/2 mile of track (I’m spitballing here). If they did a boring every 1/2 mile on a 13 mile track (Bottineau), that’s 26 borings. Giving time for travel, then performance, the borings themselves take a week (conservatively). Analysis/preparation of preliminary report takes another 2-3 weeks.

I’d love to hear from soils engineers/LRT designers to provide accurate depictions of how the soils are tested/analyzed; I’m trying to extrapolate how this process occurs given my building experience.

It *seems* that teams should be able to produce useful data based on the work that I’ve described above. I wouldn’t call this “1% engineering”, perhaps this is more like “5% engineering”. I don’t see anything in this process that would necessitate a 25% premium on contingency between LRT design and buildings. I can unequivocally say that if the costs jumped 25% between initial soil borings and final geotechnical report on a “single building project” people would be fired/sued.

I don’t know who performed the work (borings/analysis/reports) for SWLRT and I’m sure that this ground is well covered somewhere in these threads but the presence of poor soils/ high water table shouldn’t be a surprise. There is a TON of “historical data” available and it should be at the fingertips of a soils engineer working on projects in this area. In my experience (for whatever that is worth), a soils engineer can tell you pretty accurately how high the water table is and the *general* soil quality in the city and the surrounding suburbs without looking at anything. Satellite images could probably tell a layperson where soils are wet. It would appear that satellite images, historical data, experienced soil engineers AND 20-30 borings could net a very useful amount of data that could get a number within 5% of final costs but apparently that isn’t the case. There is a lot of water in/around Minnetonka and marshes/swamps in Eden Prairie; any layperson looking at a satellite image could tell you that. Experience, analysis of historical data and borings should tell you a LOT more.

I’m willing to be educated further but I’m afraid that “unexpected things in Minnetonka and EP” aren’t enough to convince me of the magnitude of the cost increases that occurred based on the above.

I very much support building out a great transit network and I originally talked about messaging being a BIG problem for transit advocates. I have a fair amount of building experience and knowledge of this process and I’m astounded by the costs jumps that I see in transit projects. If I’m supportive, somewhat knowledgeable and STILL astounded, those opposed and ignorant are going to continue to have a lot of ammunition with which to attack these projects.

As much as I hate the false equivalences that are thrown around (“Government should be run like my family budget or a small business!”), there HAS to be better messaging and clarity for large infrastructure projects or it will only get harder to get them built.

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby David Greene » July 20th, 2016, 2:30 pm

FRA issues = colocation.

As for the borings, I don't really know other than what I've heard at meetings. I get your drift but common sense would seem to indicate there are a lot more unknowns on a project that covers miles and disrupts various kinds of infrastructure vs. a project that covers tens or even hundreds of thousands of square feet.

That said, I certainly have some sympathy for arguments that the county really screwed things up with SWLRT. I don't have enough background on that phase of the project to analyze what went wrong. Those cost estimates were made while I was still away at school (!).

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby Archiapolis » July 20th, 2016, 4:22 pm

David Greene wrote:FRA issues = colocation.

I get your drift but common sense would seem to indicate there are a lot more unknowns on a project that covers miles and disrupts various kinds of infrastructure vs. a project that covers tens or even hundreds of thousands of square feet.
FRA issues = Colocation:
Speaking of things that should have gotten people fired...

I outlined above (in great detail) why I strongly dispute the claim that length automatically generates complexity and expense so no, I don't agree that it is common sense. I've put forward my reasoning why 70% of a transit project should be "known" (to the point of a contingency similar to a single building).

I don't want to speak for you but it appears that you are countering with disruption of infrastructure as a driver of complexity. I will stipulate that disruption of infrastructure does add complexity but I would argue that this complexity does not represent a delta of 25% relative to the complexity involved in the vertical nature (below AND above grade) of buildings especially when you consider the multitude of form/massing that a building can take (which affects loads), ways that a building can be clad, insulated, etc.

Perhaps you don't accept the premise that 70% of LRT design is fixed and I'm willing to listen to arguments that can illustrate that that number is much lower than what I've described.

Based on the evidence that I've provided, I would say that LRT and "average" building projects are roughly equal in complexity and thus, should be equal in contingency but we can agree to disagree (as we have in the past). With all of that said, the messaging REALLY needs to improve if progressive people wish to get transit projects built in this city/metro/region/country.

Cheers for caring about the built environment.

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Re: Bottineau LRT (Blue Line Extension)

Postby talindsay » July 20th, 2016, 5:05 pm

Anything about the blue line extension? I saw in the CTIB doc today that they still plan this to open in summer 2021 even with the GLE pushed back to spring 2021. Would be good if they could keep it on that schedule, but it sounds optimistic.


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