May
23

On planning and estimating Sandy relief costs

By

While I’m on the topic of tabloid coverage of transit, let’s consider the MTA’s post-Sandy spending spree and Nicole Gelinas’ recent questioning of the agency’s dollar figures. In light of the fact that it’s been a whopping seven months since Sandy and that service to the Rockaways will resume in a week, Gelinas claims that the MTA pulled its $6 billion post-Sandy price tag out of thin air and “has no clue how to spend $6 billion to keep our antique subway system dry.” Her argument rests on the fact that Andrew Cuomo, the public face of the MTA’s post-Sandy funding requests, has never said how his office and the MTA arrived at the final total.

On the one hand, Gelinas’ coverage of the MTA’s budget is usually pretty spot-on. She’s highlighted the ever-increasing labor costs and the impact pension obligations have on future fare hikes and service cuts. But on the other hand, her claims in this week’s columns are off base. I’ve been told by a few sources within the MTA and outside of it that their repair estimates were not just cobbled-together guesses. The FTA, the federal body that approves these funding requests, reviews the assessment process and helps estimate repair costs. Essentially, anything under water will have to be replaced, and the MTA and FTA worked to figure out what exactly was under water and how much replacement parts and efforts would cost. The MTA is still working on mitigation plans that will not come free or cheap either.

In fact, Gelinas’ piece runs the risk of drying up the well of federal money for disaster relief and mitigation. All governing bodies, from the state-run transit agencies to municipality-run DOBs, need flexibility in assessing spending requests, and the MTA has only just begun its work. Extensive efforts to replace parts in the East River Tunnels will commence soon enough and a plan for South Ferry will be put in place. Instead of objecting to costs reasonably estimated by everyone involved, maybe a better investigation would involve focusing on why everything costs so much to build in the first place. That is, at least, a legitimate concern.



Categories : Asides, MTA Economics

6 Responses to “On planning and estimating Sandy relief costs”

  1. Bolwerk says:

    Gelinas’ piece runs the risk of drying up the well of federal money for disaster relief and mitigation.

    I think you over-estimate her influence a bit. The people who want that well to dry up already made up their minds long before that piece.

    For that matter, I never quite understood the fascination with her on NYC transit blogs. She is clearly not a dribble-on-the-chin moron or a bar-chewing lunatic, and the tabloids have plenty of both, but she doesn’t say much that most of us don’t already know about transit, and about finance and economics she’s…well, I guess less muddled than most of her Manhattan Institute comrades, but that’s really not a big endorsement.

  2. Gary Reilly says:

    “[Gelinas] is clearly not a dribble-on-the-chin moron or a bar-chewing lunatic, and the tabloids have plenty of both, but she doesn’t say much that most of us don’t already know about transit, and about finance and economics she’s…well, I guess less muddled than most of her Manhattan Institute comrades, but that’s really not a big endorsement.”

    A+

    Gelinas is better than I expect from the Manhattan Institute, but still works for the Manhattan Institute.

  3. Larry Littlefield says:

    “On the one hand, Gelinas’ coverage of the MTA’s budget is usually pretty spot-on. She’s highlighted the ever-increasing labor costs and the impact pension obligations have on future fare hikes and service cuts”

    “Maybe a better investigation would involve focusing on why everything costs so much to build in the first place.”

    First place to look — pensions. As for public employees, pensions for construction workers were retroactively enhanced and underfunded by the construction companies. The executives took their bonuses due to underfunding and the ex-workers took their enriched pensions and headed for Florida.

    Now somebody has to pay. You can’t make private construction jobs pay for what they don’t get. Either the jobs won’t happen or they’ll go non-union, even though union workers are better. So they screw the government, and screw current employees to make up for those who cashed in and moved out. It’s the NYC way — screw the newbie and the common future, flee to Florida. In some ways the U.S. way.

    • al says:

      There is also the resistance to designs and systems that reduce complexity and construction time. Having tunnels wide enough for the train and station platform eliminates the need for caverns. It also allows for layup tracks between stations. Staged linear assembly systems take the idea of factory assembly lines and flip it so the work teams move with the work front.

  4. John-2 says:

    Back in the early 2000s, when the MTA started this project, no one considered whether it was wise to build such a fancy station — complete with “architectural elements” that let water in fast — in a flood zone.

    Wait, what? If by “architectural elements” Gelinas means a second South Ferry entrance in Battery Park, then yea, they did create another place where water could get in. But the other entrance was simply a shared one with the R stop at Whitehall, and that entrance has been there is some form for almost a century. Both those water access points can be at least partially mitigated by entrance and/or vent covers, as with other stations in Zone 1 flood areas — the key problem with new South Ferry’s design was it’s lower than every other subway point in the Battery area, including the IRT and BMT East River tunnels, and doesn’t have a drain/emergency pump option.

    The MTA probably did go overboard on their Rockaways cost estimate, since the main problem there was rapid storm erosion, as opposed to the design flaw 80 feet underground at South Ferry. Fixing that station without fixing the floodwater removal problem would be a waste of money, and figuring out a way to channel the water someplace else besides the station will be where the biggest expenses come into play.

  5. Chris C says:

    I have no idea if the MTA costs estimated are correct or not but I’d say they have a better idea than a journalist. Now if she has an additional qualification as a civil engineer then I might believe her.

    She writes

    “But the last time the governor’s office announced a concrete figure, back in March, it pegged “initial work” at replacing the washed-out tracks at $17.9 million.”

    Now here I believe she is confusing the initial costs with the cost of the whole project.

    From what I have read elsewhere (prob-bly on here) the initial costs were simply for clearing all of the debris from the route – some 3,000 tons – including 40 boats as per http://www.mta.info/nyct/servi....._08_12.htm

    The costs of the replacement tracks, signals, 3rd rail, track ballast etc etc will be in the hundreds of millions rather than the low tens.

    She herself reports that the steel sea wall they have installed is costing $18m.

    So is she seriously suggesting that the scope of works listed here
    http://www.mta.info/nyct/servi.....nSandy.htm

    is costing less than $20m ???

    I fully admit I have no idea on what the real costs are, nor am I an engineer so can’t give an estimate, are but I would trust the MTA costings rather than hers. And I’m sure that the Feds would have sent the MTA back to their calculators with a flea in their ears if they thought they were padding the costs unnecessarily.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>