More examples this week of the real reasons our big public projects, like the Seattle streetcar, often get so off track. Up next is one of the biggest projects ever proposed in the Northwest. Will this one be more honest?
Seattle Times staff columnist
Seattle has a checkered history with transportation projects morphing into pricey boondoggles. On one day this past week there were two perfect illustrations why.
The first came in the form of a report in this newspaper that city officials last year lowballed the costs of a downtown Seattle streetcar. Nothing new there. Only this time, the costs were lowballed again even after city planners were told they were wrong.
“You aren’t changing anything in this operating plan,” a city transit chief rebuked another official, after it had been pointed out the new streetcars would cost 50 percent more to operate than either the public, or the City Council, had been told.
Fast forward and the streetcar line in question, along First Avenue, is under construction. So it’s too late to worry about a pesky 50 percent cost overrun! Mission accomplished.
Simply put, the political system first lowballs the costs and timelines in order to grease the projects for approval.This is a classic example of what university researchers have come to call “strategic misrepresentation” — or, as you amateurs might term it, “lying.” It is one of the two main reasons big public infrastructure projects are so often delivered late and way over budget.
The second reason was on radiant display Friday afternoon up in Vancouver, B.C. Our governor, who I like to call Sunny Jay for his effusive and often contagious enthusiasms, was on full beam when it came to a proposal to build a bullet train from Vancouver to Portland.
“When you build a high-speed rail line, you are building a monument to optimism,” the governor gushed. He went on to say that the Cascadia region’s unparalleled smarts, innovation and can-do spirit are what’s needed to get a projected 1.8 million riders annually speeding at 200-plus mph across the border.