The Decade's Top Hits

» The 2000s may have seen the most investment in North American transit ever, with new light rail and metro lines opening from New Jersey to California.

I reviewed the biggest transit projects completed in the United States and Canada between 2000 and 2009 on the Infrastructurist a few days ago, but I thought it would be useful to provide a bit more information about how I compiled the data and give readers a glance at all of the major transit projects I can identify.

I determined the comparative costs of the project by factoring in inflation (both of the U.S. and Canadian dollars, separately). All project costs are noted in 2009 U.S. dollars. I did not include projects which began construction during the 2000s but which are planned to finish after 2009. I also did not include airport or private people movers in the top ten; if I had, New York’s AirTrain JFK line that opened in 2003 would have been number three, at a price of $2.23 billion in 2009 dollars.

The success of the most expensive projects in attracting their foreseen number of riders has been something of a mixed bag, with some projects, like San Juan’s Metro, falling far below expectations, and others, like Phoenix’s Metro Rail, doing quite well so far.

In terms of cost per mile, perhaps the most relevant way to compare various transit projects, eight out of the ten most expensive were metro rail, with an exception for the Boston Silver Line busway, at $315 million/mile, and the Newark light rail extension at $223 million/mile. New York’s IND 63rd Street connector, at the equivalent of $2.6 billion per mile, was by far the most expensive — though that cost is roughly in line with that of the Second Avenue Subway currently under construction.

During the 2000s, the top ten places (and their suburbs) for overall transit investments were:

  1. Los Angeles – $4.15 b
  2. Seattle – $3.84 b
  3. Vancouver – $2.86 b
  4. San Juan – $2.63 b
  5. San Francisco – $2.43 b
  6. Northern New Jersey – $2.20 b
  7. Washington – $1.92 b
  8. Phoenix – $1.88 b
  9. New York City – $1.36 b
  10. Philadelphia – $1.31 b

Los Angeles hopes to spend $14 billion on transit by 2020; if it does so, it will surely be in the lead once again for urban transit spending in the United States during the 2010s, followed closely by New York City, Denver, Houston, and Dallas. Each has a panoply of expensive new transit corridors on tap.

Public Transit Capital Projects
(Table is sortable)
PlaceProjectTechCost '09 (m US$)Length (mi)Cost/ Mile (m US$)Rider/ day (k)Rider/ mile (k)Cost/ rider- mileDate
San JuanTren UrbanoMetro Rail263010.7246393.67302004
SeattleCentral LinkLight Rail240015.6154161.024002009
New Jersey (Northern)Hudson-BergenLight Rail220020.6107381.812222006
VancouverCanada LineMetro Rail200011.8169937.92532009
Los AngelesRed Line Phase 3Metro Rail18803.06272000
San FranciscoBART to SFOMetro Rail17308.71992003
PhoenixMetro RailLight Rail141020.071341.78292008
SeattleSounder (South/North)Commuter Rail139082.017100.1139002000/ 2003
PhiladelphiaMarket-FrankfordMetro Rail131012.910217913.9942009
New Jersey (Central)River LineDiesel Light Rail126034.03790.342002004
WashingtonBranch Ave ExtensionMetro Rail11006.51692001
TorontoSheppard Rapid TransitMetro Rail10803.43184613.5802002
Los AngelesGold Line to PasadenaLight Rail101013.774241.85612003
DenverT-RexLight Rail94319.1492006
Los AngelesEastside Gold LineLight Rail9006.0150132.24092009
VancouverMillennium LineAdvanced Rapid Transit86112.668806.31372002
MinneapolisHiawatha LineLight Rail81912.068322.73032004
New York CityIND 63rd St ConnectorMetro Rail7880.326272001
MontréalLaval Metro ExtensionMetro Rail7313.22286018.8392007
San FranciscoT-Third StLight Rail6965.61242007
WashingtonLargo Blue Line ExtensionMetro Rail6953.22172004
DallasRed Line Parker Rd ExtensionLight Rail62212.5502002
Salt Lake CityFrontRunnerCommuter Rail61444.01450.161402008
AtlantaMARTA North ExtensionMetro Rail5821.93062000
PortlandGreen Line and Transit MallLight Rail5758.369172.02882009
New York CityManhattan Bridge ReconstructionMetro Rail5732.12732004
ChicagoBlue Line Douglas ReconstructionMetro Rail53111.247292.62042005
ChicagoBrown Line ReconstructionMetro Rail53011.446988.6622009
San JoseTasman East/ Capitol ExtensionLight Rail4968.3602004
CharlotteSouth CorridorLight Rail4839.650202.12302007
Oceanside/ EscondidoSprinterDiesel Light Rail47922.02280.411982008
San DiegoMission Valley EastLight Rail4775.9812005
BostonSilver LineBus Rapid Transit4731.5315117.3652002/ 2004
St. LouisCross-County ExtensionLight Rail4617.5612006
PittsburghOverbrook ReconstructionLight Rail44210.7412004
St. LouisSt. Clair County ExtensionLight Rail41417.4242001
Las VegasMonorailMonorail4053.9104235.9692004
New MexicoRail Runner ExpressCommuter Rail39697.0450.139602006/ 2008
San JoseVasona ExtensionLight Rail3796.8562005
HoustonMetroRailLight Rail3717.549405.3702004
PortlandYellow LineLight Rail3665.8632004
Los AngelesOrange LineBus Rapid Transit35914.026211.52392005
MinneapolisNorthstarCommuter Rail26540.0720.126502009
BostonGreenbush LineCommuter Rail26318.0152007
SacramentoSouth LineLight Rail2616.3412003
Salt Lake CityUniversity Line and ExtensionLight Rail2347.3322001/ 2003
NewarkLight Rail ExtensionLight Rail2231.02232006
DenverSouthwest CorridorLight Rail2228.7262000
EdmontonSouth Line ExtensionsLight Rail2221.81232006/ 2009
New Jersey (Northern)Meadowlands Rail LineCommuter Rail2132.3932009
New OrleansCanal St LineStreetcar1805.5332004
CalgaryNortheast Line ExtensionLight Rail1761.71042007
ClevelandEuclid CorridorBus Rapid Transit1696.8252008
PortlandWestside ExpressDiesel Light Rail16614.71110.116602009
BaltimoreLight Rail Double TrackingLight Rail1619.417353.7442006
PortlandAirport Red Line ExtensionLight Rail1535.5282001
WashingtonNew York Ave StationMetro Rail1262004
CalgaryNorthwest Line ExtensionsLight Rail1092003/ 2009
MiamiPalmetto ExtensionMetro Rail1031.4742003
PortlandStreetcar and ExtensionsStreetcar963.925123.1312001/ 2005/ 2007
TacomaLinkLight Rail941.65942.5382003
St. LouisShiloh-Scott ExtensionLight Rail883.5252003
DallasBlue Line Garland ExtensionLight Rail673.1222001/ 2002
MemphisMATA ExtensionStreetcar642.0322004
DenverCentral Platte Valley CorridorLight Rail581.8322002
SeattleSouth Lake Union StreetcarStreetcar531.34110.8662007
New OrleansSt. Charles Line ReconstructionStreetcar476.372008
CalgarySouth Line ExtensionLight Rail472004
NashvilleMusic City StarCommuter Rail4432.01102006
TampaTECO LineStreetcar382.31710.4952002
Little RockRiver Rail and ExtensionsStreetcar313.4910.31032004/ 2007
EugeneGreen LineBus Rapid Transit264.072007
OttawaO-TrainDiesel Light Rail245.05102.0122001
San PedroWaterfront Red CarStreetcar111.572003
KenoshaStreetcarStreetcar52.032000
Airport/Private Transit Capital Projects
(Table is sortable)
PlaceProjectTechnologyCost '09 (millions in US$)Length (mi)Cost/Mile (million US$)Date
New York CityAirTrain JFKAdvanced Rapid Transit22308.12752003
AtlantaATL SkyTrainPeople Mover6261.54172009
NewarkAirTrain NewarkMonorail5091.14632001
San FranciscoAirTrain SFOAdvanced Rapid Transit5066.0842003
DallasDFW SkylinkPeople Mover2514.8522005
DetroitExpressTramTire-based People Mover820.71172002
MinneapolisAirport Trams (2 lines)People Mover710.71012001/ 2004
PortlandAerial TramAerial Tramway610.61022006
IndianapolisClarial Health People MoverPeople Mover511.4362003
TorontoLINK TrainCable-based People Mover430.9482006
17 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • San Juan was left out of the list of top 10 places. …

    Only 16 stations of the planned 36 were built. And there were stations planned in the historic downtown district, you know, the few districts that weren’t designed á la Tyson’s Corner.

    For its length and technology, Tren Urbano costs are in line with the rest of the US. If only Puerto Rico’s government had finished the system…

  • Charles D

    It might be helpful to add in a chart showing the most expensive highway projects and airport projects of the last decade as a comparison. For some reason, we are always “wasting” money on “expensive” transit projects but you can’t seem to drive more than 20 miles without entering a highway construction zone. Until we own up to the fact that there is no such thing as a profitable public transportation modality and that the government has spent billions more on the automobile and the airplane than on rail, we aren’t likely to make much progress.

  • Not that I want to see St. Louis bumped up in the rankings, but a Missouri State Auditor’s report on the Cross County Extension says the final estimated cost was $686 million which is far above the $465 million you have listed.

  • Tom West

    Any chance you include daily passengers per dollar in your tables? (Passenger-miles/$ would be even better, but much harder to find out.)

  • John

    I second @Tom West… pretty please? It gives transit a really bad name if most transit projects are boondoggles, and I want to know what was and what wasn’t one.

    @Charles D, it might actually not be that bad if you look at highway cost per user or per passenger mile. I don’t think highways are particularly wasteful by these metrics. It’s just that they’re bad policy because they promote a car-dependent society. I think Canada is the perfect counter-example, because socially they are very similar to the states. The two big differences between the states and Canada as far as lifestyle subsidies are a) rebates on mortgage payments and b) federal money to within-city highways. The results are plain to see: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/NorthAmericanPublicTransport.png

    • It makes a big difference if you look at lump sum capital cost versus annualized capital cost. Lump sum deflates the economic cost of less durable infrastructure and inflates the capital cost of more durable infrastructure.

  • DBX

    You’re missing Chicago’s Douglas/54th-Cermak Blue Line reconstruction — a far more thorough project than the recent Brown Line scheme — which took place from 2002 to 2005.

    However, even with this included in Chicago transit, the sad fact is that it does not even get Chicago, the third largest metropolitan area in the country, into the top ten list for total investment. Which says something about the pitiable state of things here in Illinois, where no-one is even talking about a balanced budget even though we’re constitutionally required to have one, and where the latest infrastructure plan is more skewed towards roads than the last one.

  • Kelsey

    Do you have an estimate for the total amount of planned light rail projects in the US? I saw the list but a bunch don’t have numbers on them and I’m trying to get a feel for the size of the “proposed” market… thanks!

  • Chetan

    It’s not a matter of “if” any more, just a matter of when. We will have a move transit oriented America.

  • Wow didn’t know Yonah did the graphics for the infrastructurist too. Talk about a graphic god! This decade did seem to have a few good hits, let’s hope for a lot more next decade! Also how did the Boston Silver Line cost so much? I thought that wasn’t even real BRT.

    • Nathanael

      The Silver Lie dug bus tunnels in very difficult areas, with lots of underpinning, waterproofing, avoiding existing foundations, etc.

      And it was basically a big waste. :-(

  • Adam Krom

    I believe that the River Line was a DBOM project — design build operate maintain. I think that roughly ten years of operating expenses were capitalized into the project cost. If that is true, then you would need to back those costs out to compare to projects where operating costs are not included in the cost estimate.

    • The same is also true of HBLR. IIRC, both projects underwent the the DBOM process primarily to speed up their funding and thus expedite the construction of the line, hence why HBLR went from MOS-1 to MOS-2 within six years of operation. I believe NJT essentially borrowed against future monies placed into the Transportation Trust Fund which is used by the state of New Jersey to pay for varying transport projects.

      BTW, according to the FTA, the as-built capital costs for MOS I was $869.7M and MOS II was $886.5M.

  • Wait until next decade (or this decade). Here Maryland, our Red Line and Purple Line projects combined is going to be a fortune to spend at the same time to the state. Washington Metrorail’s Silver Line project is definitely going run the U.S. broke since heavy rail is too expensive to build two miles.

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