2021 Infrastructure Bill

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neroden

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It could be my fault for ‘misnomer-ing’ their idea, which might be better described as excessive staffing, little to no competition, antiquated regulations, and over-generous contracts thwarting any attempt to keep the costs of rail down. In their prediction, these issues would eat through the 66 billion rather quickly, and may prevent actual projects getting completed (in a timely and non-costly way). To be fair, this has happened with other infrastructure projects like the 2nd Avenue tunnel, the Big Dig, and the CHSRA (at least to my understanding. If I’m wrong, feel free to politely correct and cite).
Some clarifications.

2nd Avenue Subway *did* have problems with contractors chiseling and charging excessive amounts, however. Not unions -- contractors. NYC in particular has a lot of problems with overpriced bidding, which is mostly NYC-specific.

Big Dig was fundamentally always going to cost what it cost, it was warned about in advance, and it was advertised with an lowballed cost by the politicos who wanted to build it. It's a *road tunnel* and they're *very expensive*, partly due to width and ventilation. Rail's cheaper.

CHSRA had one problem with a chiseling, money-extracting contractor on the first segment; that contractor hasn't been hired again. CHSRA is actually coming in on budget, pretty much, in constant 1995-era dollars; claims to the contrary are dishonest, and have been made by a *change in the procedure used to account for inflation*, which is essentially a dishonest way of doctoring the numbers. This change in how costs are reported was mandated by anti-rail extremist politicians.

The fact is that outside NYC, Amtrak hasn't had any of these problems and its projects have mostly come in on budget, with the exception of NYC-area projects. There is a problem in NYC.
 

Willbridge

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Having worked on both sides of the union /management fence I would note that the cost of using union labor sometimes is not the wage scale but rather the contract work rules. If these are not kept up to date they raise costs and may actually result in disbenefits to workers.

The rail industry went through this for years until both sides discovered that they could negotiate and some of the small craft unions were merged.

The big problem with the Infrastructure package implementation will be finding competent staffing at all levels. The big consulting firms will be raiding the transit and rail employers and plugging in junior staff whose academic hours included little about railways. Consider that in 1990 when RTD (Denver) started to get serious again about rail transit there were two (2) of us going to the public meetings to answer the questions. By the time of the 2004 Fastracks package vote there was a team of experienced people in every aspect in house. It still was a big enough project that major components were contracted out. Step by step most of the package has been built and opened.

So if the infrastructure plan is approved in 2021, part of it should be recognizable by 2035 and then there should be a series of openings by 2050. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it but it is going to be difficult.

Sometimes I smile when I see this photo of my grandsons so confidently exploring the brave new world that we Baby Boomers are leaving them. Sometimes I cry when I see this photo as I think of how much time has been wasted by we Baby Boomers when action was so clearly needed long ago. And had it been taken at a steady pace we could have had better work at reasonable prices.

2015 10 03 IMG_8864kk.JPG

-- photo by Patti.
 

Tlcooper93

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Some clarifications.

2nd Avenue Subway *did* have problems with contractors chiseling and charging excessive amounts, however. Not unions -- contractors. NYC in particular has a lot of problems with overpriced bidding, which is mostly NYC-specific.

Big Dig was fundamentally always going to cost what it cost, it was warned about in advance, and it was advertised with an lowballed cost by the politicos who wanted to build it. It's a *road tunnel* and they're *very expensive*, partly due to width and ventilation. Rail's cheaper.

CHSRA had one problem with a chiseling, money-extracting contractor on the first segment; that contractor hasn't been hired again. CHSRA is actually coming in on budget, pretty much, in constant 1995-era dollars; claims to the contrary are dishonest, and have been made by a *change in the procedure used to account for inflation*, which is essentially a dishonest way of doctoring the numbers. This change in how costs are reported was mandated by anti-rail extremist politicians.

The fact is that outside NYC, Amtrak hasn't had any of these problems and its projects have mostly come in on budget, with the exception of NYC-area projects. There is a problem in NYC.
thanks for all of this clarification.
I have passed all of these thoughts along to my friends.
After reading what people have to say, I think there’s a couple of takeaways:

-I definitely ‘misnomered’ “union fees/costs,” (or whatever you feel the proper nomenclature is), but that was only one small part of my original question. This created a red herring and of course, my other half of the question went largely undiscussed. The main issue that I was failing to accurately describe seems to be with contractors.

-I think their fears don’t come from an irrational place. The US has a history of projects costing more than what they original stated, or more than they should due to any form of poor planning or negligence. My friends fear this will repeat itself, and wonder whether this is money wisely spent. I get it. Rather stereotypically of them, they wish the private sector has more of a say in passenger rail infrastructure (which of course is the case is parts of Europe, and seems to be showing signs of happening here too)
 
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neroden

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thanks for all of this clarification.
I have passed all of these thoughts along to my friends.
After reading what people have to say, I think there’s a couple of takeaways:

-I definitely ‘misnomered’ “union fees/costs,” (or whatever you feel the proper nomenclature is), but that was only one small part of my original question. This created a red herring and of course, my other half of the question went largely undiscussed. The main issue that I was failing to accurately describe seems to be with contractors.

-I think their fears don’t come from an irrational place. The US has a history of projects costing more than what they original stated, or more than they should due to any form of poor planning or negligence. My friends fear this will repeat itself, and wonder whether this is money wisely spent. I get it. Rather stereotypically of them, they wish the private sector has more of a say in passenger rail infrastructure (which of course is the case is parts of Europe, and seems to be showing signs of happening here too)
The private sector is the source of pretty much ALL the project cost overruns, so your friends aren't being rational in that regard.

In Europe, the big difference is that far more of the projects are done in-house by permanent government staff. In the US, the lack of permanent in-house trained government staff means that private contractors can "sell the government a bill of goods" and defraud the government, and nobody in government is expert enough to know that this is happening until it's too late.

An example was on the Boston Green Line Extension. The first contractor was defrauding the government, but the oversight committee was too small, lacked expertise, so didn't realize this and kept assuming that the costs were real. Finally a new investigative board was brought in, and they had people with more expertise. They fired the fraudulent contractor *and blacklisted them*, reported them for possible prosecution, hired in-house experts, and rebid the entire project.

The new bids came in under budget and on schedule. They'd got a different group of contractors now that it was recognized that the fraudulent contractors were not being tolerated any more.


If you want better results you actually need *less* private sector involvement and *more* in-house permanent government employees with technical expertise. And private contractors who have a history of dishonesty and chiseling need to be banned from contracting.
 

MARC Rider

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The private sector is the source of pretty much ALL the project cost overruns, so your friends aren't being rational in that regard.

In Europe, the big difference is that far more of the projects are done in-house by permanent government staff. In the US, the lack of permanent in-house trained government staff means that private contractors can "sell the government a bill of goods" and defraud the government, and nobody in government is expert enough to know that this is happening until it's too late.

An example was on the Boston Green Line Extension. The first contractor was defrauding the government, but the oversight committee was too small, lacked expertise, so didn't realize this and kept assuming that the costs were real. Finally a new investigative board was brought in, and they had people with more expertise. They fired the fraudulent contractor *and blacklisted them*, reported them for possible prosecution, hired in-house experts, and rebid the entire project.

The new bids came in under budget and on schedule. They'd got a different group of contractors now that it was recognized that the fraudulent contractors were not being tolerated any more.


If you want better results you actually need *less* private sector involvement and *more* in-house permanent government employees with technical expertise. And private contractors who have a history of dishonesty and chiseling need to be banned from contracting.
I'm curious about private companies that outsource or contract stuff out, which would put them in a similar position to a government agency that is running a contract. Do they hire sufficient technical expertise to keep themselves from being defrauded? An example might be the Siemens Venture coach job with the lead plumbing fixtures. I can't believe that Siemens manufactured those defective parts themselves. Thus, they contracted them out, but how was the contracting oversight done, and is Siemens (like our American publicly held companies) under pressure from the markets to keep costs down, and did they do that by not hiring enough in-house technical expertise?
 

MARC Rider

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If labor costs are such an issue, why do so many companies pay their executives so much instead of haggling with them to lower the costs of their labor or cutting all their perks? :)
Or they could move their headquarters to Monterrey or Mexico City and hire Mexican senior executives (at Mexican executive pay rates).
 

neroden

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I'm curious about private companies that outsource or contract stuff out, which would put them in a similar position to a government agency that is running a contract. Do they hire sufficient technical expertise to keep themselves from being defrauded?
Frequently not. Similar problems happen. :-( Yes, it's documented in other industries. And in trains, Bombardier basically blew its entire company up by doing such things.

An example might be the Siemens Venture coach job with the lead plumbing fixtures. I can't believe that Siemens manufactured those defective parts themselves. Thus, they contracted them out, but how was the contracting oversight done, and is Siemens (like our American publicly held companies) under pressure from the markets to keep costs down, and did they do that by not hiring enough in-house technical expertise?
Can't speak to that directly.
 
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If we want to talk about pork we need to consider the Interstate Highway System where it runs through cities. Providence, where spent a lot of -95 time when I was young, is an example. I-95 runs though Providence where successful urban neighborhoods such as Cathedral Square were ripped out to build it. And the lost of massive amounts of the tax base is an important reason for the decline of the city. The highway was built in the middle 1950's. A short time later there a new parallel interstate, I-295, had to be built. It runs around Providence and reconnects to I-95 in southern Massachusetts. Had I-295 been built in the first place I-95 through Providence could have been avoided completely.
To make matters worse a massive interchange with I-195 which runs from Providence to Cape Cod was built in the 1960's, destroying more of the tax base. Then in the early 2000's that interchange was ripped out and replaces, costing more millions and destroying more the the tax base. But neither of these two interchanges were needed at all. I 295 might simply have been extended and then continued out to Cape Cod.
I can only wonder about how many other once successful cities have been eviscerated by Interstate Highways would might have been built around them. How many people were pushed into slums who once lived in decent neighborhoods. How many businesses were destroyed. How much wasted taxes have we all paid.
Railroads were not perfect. There was plenty wrong with the New York New Haven and Hartford. But it built up cities like Providence while paying taxes. It never tore down the cities as the Interstate Highways did to Providence.
 
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