Lowell Streetcar Costs

There was a question last week about the recently approved budget for the Lowell Streetcar extension and why it appeared higher on a per-mile basis than prior extensions.

I wanted to have the detailed data before answering. While part of the reason is that all construction costs are up, this project actually contains $2.6M in street construction. So the actual Streetcar project is a little under $12M.

Track Construction $3,425,618
Rail Procurement $554,530
Overhead Electrical System $3,422,845
Street Construction $2,622,502
Private Utilities $1,965,073
Construction Contingency 5% $364,432
Subtotal $12,355,000
Design, Management, City Staff
Design/Project Management $1,183,500
City Staff $175,000
Other (PSI Expenses, Const. Office) $31,500
Subtotal $1,390,000
Misc. (NextBus Adjustments, Signs, etc.) $255,000
Reimbursement Agreement Obligations $425,000
Striping $25,000
Subtotal $705,000
TOTAL $14,450,000

18 responses to “Lowell Streetcar Costs”

  1. Chris –

    Thanks for getting this breakdown of the numbers… Below are some questions, not necessarily intended to be critical, but the high numbers caught my eye…

    The figure that really jumps out at me is the $1,183,500 for design/project management. Given that the streetcar is now a known quantity in Portland, does it really take that much $$$ to design/oversee an 8-block loop?

    And the $1,965,073 for private utilities makes me wonder how many utilities are being relocated from under the streetcar ROW and how many are being moved for other purposes.

    The “overhead electrical system” is running neck-and-neck with track construction, for what is fundamentally poles and a wire… is the streetcar budget being used to pay for streetlights (used as overhead wire support poles in parts of the original streetcar alignment) for this area?

    Is the cost so high because a new electrical substation is required? If so, will future expansions of the loop be able to utilize this substation without having to construct an additional substation?

    Of course I realize it is probably too late to make any changes at this stage… I’m just trying to get a grasp of what the numbers really mean.

    Bob R.

  2. Mike, if you mean the vehicle itself, we’re not ordering any vehicles for the Lowell extension. We ordered 3 (which will arrive this fall) for the Gibbs extension, bringing the fleet to 10, and they will be sufficient for Lowell as well.

    However, if we ever do get to 10 minute headways (the goal, but we never seem to be able to convince our funding partners to pay for it), we would need one more vehicle. We hope the locally-manufactured prototype car could serve that purpose.

  3. $14.45M can be made to look very small. For lot people it is someone else who is picking up tab, so why worry. I do. Special interests and just plain politics have prevented the State of Oregon from implimenting and using “Impact Fees” as a method of charging the beneficiaries of projects like this Lowell Street Car extension. Limited system development charges cover a minor part of what this $14.45M extension is going to cost. I am not against our streetcar line, I think it is great. However all of the cost of this extension must be paid by the beneficiaries businesses and property holders. They need to step to the plate, up front, and sign agreement of remonstrance which ensures that NO cost of this extension is paid by the general public. Right now we let most of the developer get off scott-free and most of the public do not even know it. Well it is not completely scott-free it is just that area’s like where the Lowell Street Car line is getting extended is in a Urban Renewal District. That means that the PDC/City of Portland collects taxes from this district in what is called “Tax Incentitive Financing” and that goes into a pot completely seperate then all general tax funds shared by the Multnomah County and the City of Portland. So every other citizen of Multnomah County and the City of Portland subsidize virtually any and all cost generated in this area that would be paid out of the general fund including transportation. These funds have not been open to the complete review of the public. They have been used like a private sluss-fund. When someone tells you that they do not have money to build or maintain our roads and highways or keep convicted prisoner in jail just look at Urban Renewal Districts/Tax incentive Financing methods for one of the reasons that we are in this position.

  4. Paul, $4.8M of the $14.5M is coming directly from the adjacent property owners through a local improvement district.

    I think it would be hard to argue that the general public does not receive a benefit from the Streetcar, just as it does from infrastructure like roads and sewers.

    P.S. I would urge you to use the occassional paragraph break in your comments. It makes them much more readable.

  5. I’m for the Streetcar, but as always hate to see such a rigid expenditure of money, it’s wasteful. I still am amazed that Portland is spending so much more for it’s Streetcar than other places and has so much less to show for it (performance, frequency, and service wise – you can claim all of those development things if ya want to but that doesn’t make the thing go any faster or carry anymore people).

    I’m glad it’s going in, but just like paying 40k for a 20k dollar car, I’d feel ripped but I’d be able to get somewhere. It’s really kind of sad.

  6. Adron, the frequency issue is a function of the fact that it’s easier to find capital dollars than operating dollars. I agree that this imbalance is screwed up!

  7. I have to agree with adron that the streetcar is woefully slow. I think I could walk faster than it goes. I realize it’s a big development tool but I’d like to see it run a bit faster too. What could be done to speed it up (e.g. dedicated lane where feasible, traffic signal priority, etc.)? Are they trying to make the Eastside line any faster?

  8. We’re working on a number of issues with Streetcar speed. Signalization and stop signs represent a small but important opportunity and we’re constantly adjusting to optimize these.

    Right now we have two areas where we often have bottlenecks due to traffic: eastbound Lovejoy in the Pearl and the Couch/Burnside area on 11th. We’re engaged with the neighborhood and PDOT on both those issues (the latter being very much tied up in the Burnside/Couch couplet issue).

    But the biggest system-wide factors affecting speed are passenger loading times and stop spacing.

    Passenger loading of course is the nice problem to have. All those people using the Streetcar slow us down. Encouraging Council and TriMet to give us more operating funds to put more vehicles out there is the answer.

    Stop spacing is probably the pertinent question for the eastside. Convenient access is part of why we have all those riders. So how much farther apart can we put the stops without starting to lose some of those riders?

  9. The success of the Streetcar is a curse when it come to service levels. Investments in automated ridership counts from most every station must come forward front and center. More Streetcars closer together is also part of the answer. If the demand is there and I know it is then the solution is getting the facts on top of the table, some experimenting and a mind set that we can make the Portland Streetcar experiment an urban success story of how to do it. Incremental step expanding it make sense. Funding this expansion requires business sense and an equation that manidates proven a Return-on-Investment (ROI).

  10. Paul,

    Streetcar does very low-tech ridership counts every quarter. We could put automatic people-counters in every vehicle (as on MAX), but spending tens of thousands of dollars per vehicle does not seem like a good investment.

    The quarterly counts give a reasonably accurate picture. We’re now at 8,000 average weekday riders. The challenge as usual is on the funding side.

  11. TO speed the streetcar up, I would suggest having stops NO CLOSER than every 4 blocks: each PDX city blocks takes an adult ~1-2 minutes to walk, and spacing stops only 3 blocks apart means there is an overlap of walking radius of less than 2 blocks between 2 stops.

    This is the biggest problem in slowing the streetcar down; the only traffic-congested area that really slows it down is a few blocks travelling East along Lovejoy, but that is only a small segment of the overall loop now used.

    I do hope for dedicated lanes in the eastside expansion, however.

  12. Streetcar moves at signal speeds in downtown, with one cycle usually enough to load and unload at each stop…not much to save there, and dedicated lanes wouldn’t get you much. Northbound a stop was added near Oak after intense lobbying by local businesses…everyone wants a streetcar stop at their front door as opposed to bus stops. Hmmmm
    Maybe on Lovejoy and up on 11th & Burnside Streetcar needs a little signal preemption power…keep things green a bit longer. Oh, but those poor Burnside commuters trying to dodge the jam on 26.

  13. (Warning: Semi-shameless, somewhat on-topic, very self-serving comment below!)

    FYI, for anyone interested in producing web resources regarding the streetcar or public transit in the Portland area, I have been informed that the city is uninterested in obtaining a domain name I have long held, “portlandstreetcar.com”. Therefore, I have put the domain up for auction with afternic.com.

    (End of self-serving comment.)

  14. It would be nice to get dedicated lanes, especially on MLK/Grand and Broadway/Weidler, which I have stated before already have too many lanes of traffic.

  15. Chris,

    The success of the Streetcar system is very important. I like you come out of the computer world and I know that dynamic information reporting is getting cheaper to collect and more important when factored with today Material, Labor and Bruden (MLB) cost. In this days world refined planning requires the detailed collection of incremental stop by stop data. Quarterly reports and guess-to-ment data just does not cut it. Operating Labor Cost with dymanic smoothing can result in saving and improvement in service of 15% to 25%. That can be a big deal with a lot of us because we would like to see Streetcar services extended to other parts of the city. We know that it has to run smart and have a proven cost effectiveness. TriMet has the technology/application programs and the collection devices and technology are getting better and cheaper everyday. This in the end will drive down the MLB costs to extend Streetcar routes.

  16. Paul, I’d love to have more detailed data, and have suggested we consider putting the people counters on one or two cars to use as “sampling devices”. But it’s hard to justify the expense.

    Being a loop route, we really only have one dimension on which to make service deployment decisions. We can have 2, 3 or 4 vehicles out on the loop at once. So the question is when to deploy the available service hours to maximum advantage. The current technique gives tells us what hours of the day have the highest ridership.

    What decisions could we make better with more precise data?

  17. Chris,

    I am not expert on anything. Symbol Technologies is a world wide leader and innovator in scanning, wireless/RF, GPS and on and on. They maybe player in this world. It is my understanding that they are a player in the new scorce container tracking systems where GPS labling and tacking system allow containers to be tracked worldwide.

    Modeling programs used by retail, wholesale, supply chain management, trucking and others schedule personel and equipment, its a big asset management system world and their are a lot of good wheels out there that should be able to be modified to fit Streetcar Asset Management that includes people, equipment and service levels.

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