Testimony on Capital Cost Report at MTA Board Meeting

MTA Board Meeting

February 22, 2018

Building Rail for Less

Good morning and thank you to the MTA staff and board for allowing me to testify today. My name is Dani Simons, I am the Vice President for Strategic Communications at Regional Plan Association, an organization that works to improve mobility, economic opportunity and sustainability in the NYC metropolitan region.

I am here today to call attention to a new RPA report, “Building Rail Transit Projects for Less”. Our research found that the cost of building new subways and commuter rail here is more than twice as high as in cities like London, Paris and Los Angeles.

We sincerely thank the MTA for providing us valuable insight to inform our project, and for having us in to brief them and being open to exploring ways to fix what is a very broken system.

The system today hurts everyone, the public which doesn’t get the new projects it needs to connect them to opportunity, the private sector, labor and the MTA staff themselves who see these problems and are frustrated too.

The good news is, is that we also found that by adopting practices that are already common in peer cities from Los Angeles to London that we could be saving 25-33% on large capital projects and likely saving money on smaller ones as well.

Here are just a few of the recommendations that RPA is calling on the MTA, state and city political leaders and labor to adopt:  

  • Create realistic budgets and project timelines. Political pressure often leads the MTA to lowball initial project cost and timeline estimates.

  • Engage the public early and often. Right now the public is engaged in a narrow way. The MTA’s outreach in advance of the L Train shutdown may be a model to incorporate in future projects but only if it listens to what elected officials and communities have to say. In the case of the L train shutdown, this means adding elevators to the 3rd and 6th Ave stations, for example.

  • Put one team of professionals in charge of each new project from start to end. A temporary special purpose entity should own responsibility to deliver the project on time and budget. This has worked well in London and other peer cities.

  • Rationalize environmental review. Right now the national average for reviews is 84 months, compared to international peer cities with strong environmental track records that manage to complete similar processes in 18-24 months.

  • Use design-build for all new rail lines and extensions. The MTA should replace its traditional design-bid-build procurement for megaprojects with the increasingly accepted practice of design-build, in which a single contract is made to design and build the project.

  • Rethink labor practices and work rules. Other world cities including London and Madrid have demonstrated how employment and wages can be maintained while delivering projects faster and at lower costs. Two examples of reforms include realigning overtime pay to start once the 40-hour workweek is completed and reducing the number of staff required to operate tunnel boring machines (TBM’s).

In this time when the MTA is strapped for resources, we have two ways to provide more funding. We can raise it, by things like a surcharge on For-Hire-Vehicles and Congestion Pricing. And we can fix our broken system and free up billions of dollars for new projects. We think the answer is both.