However, word now comes today from the Portland Tribune (hat tip to bojack via Al) that the price tag for the project is now in the range of $380 million to $458 million.
Time to break out the Dr Evil photo.
"Four... Hundred... and Fifty.... MEEELYUN dollars!"
Only I don't hear the delegates to the United Nations--or anyone else for that matter--laughing.
The good news, I guess, is that the "local match" is only $47-55 million, excluding the value of the Willamette Shoreline ROW.
The bad news is that if the estimated value of the ROW goes down, potentially 1.5x that shortfall must be made up elsewhere. Also, the match depends on re-authorization of a federal transit funding bill that expired last year; and while Congressman DeFazio has lots of clout in the House; this is the sort of thing that might find a hostile reception in the Senate, where one party seems determined not to spend any money on anything that might stimulate the economy.
Of the $50 million or so in cash that local governments must find under the cushions, half of it needs to be spent up-front and would be lost were the project to get canceled (or not approved). And only if the project is built do any Federal matching funds get provided.
Of bigger concern seems to be the ever-increasing budget for the thing. In 2007, according to the Daily Journal of Commerce, the projected cost of the line was $149 million for the transit portion (and another $83 million for the trail portion). Now the cost is almost double.
To quote Lando: "This deal keeps getting worse all the time!"
The good news
The good news, of course, is that the increasing costs are being made public before construction begins. This is a sign that the project is at least being run in good faith. (Compare that to the Portland Aerial Tram, which didn't see its budget triple until construction had already begun; an audit revealed that OHSU managers had kept overruns to themselves until sufficient costs had been sunk, and canceling the project was no longer an option). Some dollars have been spent on early planning; and more money is to be spent to complete the DEIS; but this is a small fraction of the total cost. Sometimes, spending money to discover that something is a Bad Idea is necessary. That said, even with the steadily increasing budget, the out-of-pocket price for a seven mile rail line still is not bad. Were the existing ROW not available (or not available for a federal match), this project would probably be DOA; but at this point, it's still got legs.
An important question to ask is "why". Not just why this project has seen its budget grow faster than dandelions, but transit projects in general. The US economy, after all, is in a recession. Lots of people are looking for work. The spectre of deflation (an outcome which would make rich people very happy, and most of the rest of us suffer) is rearing its ugly head--and as noted above, the Senate (or a particular faction therein) seems to desire this outcome. Yet the costs to build public works projects seem to be skyrocketing. It's interesting to compare recent transit rail transit projects in the area:
- Original MAX (1982-1986): $214 million, 15 miles (approx $400 million in 2010 dollars, $27 million/mile)
- Westside MAX (1993-1998): $963 million, 18 miles (approx $1.4 billion in 2010 dollars, $78 million/mile, including a tunnel)
- Airport MAX (2001): $125 million, 5.5 miles (approx $155 million today, $28 million/mile)
- Interstate MAX (2000-2004): $350 million, 5.8 miles (approx $400 million in 2010 dollars, $69 million/mile)
- Green Line/Transit Mall (2007-2009): $575 million, 8.3 miles ($590 million today, $71 million/mile).
- Milwaukie MAX (estimated): $1.4 billion, ~7 miles ($200 million/mile, including a bridge)