Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Digging deeper in to Belmont costs

I posted on the very high costs that are driving the poor planning process for the Waverley and Belmont Commuter Rail stations. I've now found the slides from the T's presentation here. Of particular note is page 17, which details costs for the project:

Now let's take a look at some of these numbers. I'm not sure what General Conditions or General Requirements are, although if they're so general, I'm not sure why the are higher for the longer platform.

Structural-01 Platform: $5.5 million for the platforms? That's way too high. Remember, Uphams Corner, Morton Street and South Acton were all rebuilt for between $6.5 and $9 million, with full high levels, and ramps or elevators, landscaping, systems and all else. The cost for the platforms alone—and I'm interpreting this from recent T bid documents—is in the $2 to $3 million range. So there's $2.5 to $3.5 in savings.

Structural-02 Stairs Ramps: Somehow, the ramps and stairs to get to a full-length platform cost $1.5 million more than the access to a mini-high. This makes no sense at all. Since a high platform is higher, and you're accessing it from above, you need fewer stairs and a shorter ramp, so it should cost less.

Structural-03 Elevators: If you have ramps, you don't need elevators. The Fairmount line gets by just fine with ramps and stairs, most of which are just as long as such a facility would require at Waverley or Belmont. There's another $4.3 million saved. (Not to mention lifecycle costs of outdoor elevators.)

Systems: Again, I'm not sure why the systems for a longer platform would cost double the systems for a shorter one. Do you somehow not need lighting and such for the low part of the platform?

Site work, safety controls, track work: These are all relatively small items, but probably all inflated.

Then there are two big ones: Construction Expenses and Professional Services. Each of these, for a full-length, high-level platform, would cost about as much as the entire cost of the full-length, high-level platform stations built in South Acton, Uphams Corner or Morton Street. Each of them—combined, they cost double! It should not cost $7 million to for professional services to plan and engineer a high level platform, nor should it cost that much to construct it.

Good lord, at $100 per hour, that's 70,000 hours—8 person-years, round-the-clock—of work. At 40 hours per week (2000 hours per year), this is enough to pay for a team of 35 people to work on the project for a year to design it. That doesn't make a lick of sense. A full rebuild of Mass Ave in Arlington costs $7 million, but each of these items is $7 million alone, and the set of platforms is nearly as much, with the entire project four times as much? For 1600 feet of platforms, a couple of ramps and some stairs? Come on. These numbers are, as is all too common in Massachusetts, a misuse of taxpayer money, a giveaway to consultants in the place of good planning and cost controls.

How do these costs compare to other cities? Not well. In the Philadelphia area, SEPTA has rebuilt many of their Commuter Rail (well, "Regional Rail") stations with high level platforms. They are somewhat shorter, in the 500 to 600 foot range, but the costs are much lower—in line with what the T spent along the Fairmount Line. For instance, the Fort Washington station was rebuilt for $6 million, including ramps, platforms and a station structure. Not $30 million. $6 million.

Which, of course, is right in the ballpark for what similar station upgrades have cost in Boston. Maybe Waverley will cost more if it is integrated with future development. But $30 million for a single station is so far outside the envelope of reality that it must be questioned.

Here's a quick (and by quick, I mean half an hour quick) sketch of what you could conceivably do with the Waverley Station. This is no more complex than any of the rebuilds on the Fairmount Line, and less complex than South Acton, so it should have costs in line with those projects ($6-$10 million):

This would not interact with any of the retaining walls, which the T claims ratchet up the costs, and would avoid the slight curve and superelevation at the current station site for level boarding. Both ramps would be about 300 feet long—the same length of ramps at similar stations on the Fairmount Line. A small taking would be required from the parking lot of the car wash to the north of the rail right-of-way and east of Trapelo Road. You don't need four elevators for this. You need some concrete. And some actual thinking.

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