» Transit agencies are investing billions upon billions of dollars into new transit expansions. We’ll get hundreds of miles of improved transit service as a result, but cost effectiveness could be improved for rail projects.
Virtually every metropolitan region in the United States and Canada is investing millions of dollars in new transit expansion projects. The map and database available here provide an overview of all of the major rail and bus capital expansion projects either being completed in 2014 or to be under construction at some stage in 2014. They also include some major renovation projects of lines or stations.
This year, dozens of new lines will open to the public, including light rail lines in Houston, Minneapolis, Edmonton, Dallas, Calgary; heavy rail lines in New York City and outside Washington; and streetcars in Tucson, Atlanta, Seattle, and Washington, among many others. Bus rapid transit — or some variety of it — will see its coming out, with new lines opening in Chicago, Fort Collins, San Diego, Orlando, Los Angeles, and outside Toronto.
In addition, dozens of projects will enter the construction phase, including three rail lines in Los Angeles; bus rapid transit projects in New York City, Oakland, Fresno, and El Paso; streetcars in Fort Lauderdale and Tempe, and more. Other regions, from Honolulu to Portland, will continue work on projects that have already started but won’t be ready for completion this year. It’s a veritable circus of construction activity, almost everywhere. In total, 737 miles of new lines or line extensions, in addition to 10 new stations or major station renovations, will be either complete or under construction in 2014, accounting for a total of $80.7 billion in programmed funding.
A note of caution: This frenzy of construction activity may not be everlasting. The federal government, though much-maligned, remains a primary funder of most major transit expansion projects, through its New Starts/Small Starts capital programs, the TIGER discretionary grant program, or other sources. Yet the freeze on federal funding that has cut resources from Washington tremendously since 2010 will likely have long-term consequences when it comes to paying for new lines. Peter Rogoff, Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, noted last year that “For the first time in modern memory, FTA was unable to make new funding commitments for any new projects through the New and Small Starts program in its 2014 budget,” according to Streetsblog‘s Tanya Snyder. New sources of local and state funding are essential to help fill the gap, or we need to focus renewed attention to the importance of federal spending on transportation.
But agencies also need to place renewed attention on ensuring that their projects’ budgets remain within reason. The eight subways of this bunch (representing light rail, heavy rail, and commuter rail) average an astonishing $1.1 billion per mile in cost. The average light rail project in this group of 24 projects across the country will cost $284 million per mile to build. Most of the light rail projects are being completed at grade and often in existing rights-of-way. While the average bus rapid transit project is far less expensive — just about $17 million per mile on average — most of the BRT projects featured here will not even give their buses their own dedicated lanes. Their major budget items are usually the construction of bus shelters, the purchase of fancy-looking buses, and upgrades for traffic lights.
When European cities can build full-featured tramways at just $30 million per mile, we know we have work to do to economize on planning, design, and construction budgets.
The investments made in new rail lines, busways, or stations are hardly the full sum of expenses dedicated to capital improvements by transit agencies. Indeed, the federal government distributes billions of dollars each year specifically for state of good repair spending or the purchase of new bus or rail cars, and older cities usually commit more to maintaining their lines than building new ones. In Chicago, for example, the Blue Line will receive almost $500 million of improvements beginning this year; in New York, almost $1.3 billion in improvements for which some construction is occurring this year are dedicated to six signal improvement projects in individual locations.
The following interactive map, which is also available in full screen mode through Google Maps Engine, offers the opportunity to explore the hundreds of new transit extensions being built across the U.S. and Canada — from a geographic perspective. What is perfectly clear is that, though many investments are concentrated in the largest metropolitan areas (New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto are investing $20.4 billion, $8.7 billion, and $8.1 billion, respectively), small and medium-sized regions are also investing significantly in improved transit, from Grand Rapids to Fort Collins.
If the map does not load correctly, reload this page or access the map through Google Maps.
The following chart, which is accessible and sortable through Google Docs, provides access to all of the information contained in the above map.
Note that there may be (and, in fact, likely are!) errors in the map and table included in this post. Please comment on the Google Table or in the comments here if there are issues that stand out or missing projects.