Perpetuating public policy insanities

Perpetuating public policy insanities

Past sadly once again is prologue for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, recently rebranded as “Pittsburgh Regional Transit.” But no slick rebranding campaign can change the fact that this agency is a recidivist poor planner of public transit projects.

Nearly two decades ago, the Port Authority foisted upon the public the North Shore Connector, that light-rail line from downtown Pittsburgh, under the Allegheny River, to the near North Side.

What began as $350 million project had, by the time it opened for business 10 years ago, become a more than $523 million project.

The sick joke on the tax-paying public was that the scope of the project had been reduced – a “spine line” to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center (perhaps the most useful part of the project) had been lopped off and transit officials had the audacity to claim that it came in “on budget.”

Fast forward to last week and word that another Port Authority project – dare we say another boondoggle in the making? – appears to be parroting the North Shore Connector mess:

The cost of the Bus Rapid Transit project linking Downtown to Oakland has gone from $230 million to about $352 million and the scope of the project has been reduced.

And that’s because a federally required independent review of the project concluded that the Port Authority under-estimated the costs.

Nonetheless, officials insist parts of the project not to be built immediately – think foremost of 46 bus stops outside the project’s “core area” whose construction will be “deferred” – eventually will be constructed. As will be ancillary infrastructure upgrades.

If at all, for a price, of course, which reasonable people might conclude will mean a higher total price tag and we’ll bet a further reduction in the project’s scope. Maybe transit officials also, again, will claim how the project came in “on budget.”

“Does North Shore Connector ring a bell?” asks Jake Haulk, president-emeritus of the Allegheny Institute. “What a joke. These people couldn’t plan a cost-effective birthday party. So much gibberish and pandering twaddle.”

As Brookings Institute scholar Clifford Wilson concluded, in part, in a 2014 transportation white paper, “(W)hat cannot be debated is that inefficient and intractable public policies have significantly compromised the performance” of public facilities.

But this is what the public gets when it allows the Government Transportation Leviathan to keep poorly planning and even more poorly executing public transit projects.

It’s the same old story time and time again. And, frankly, the public that pays for these sad stories also is underwriting repeated public policy insanities.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).