Subscribe via RSS Feed

Deep Bore Tunnel ongoing disaster update, or why no new transportation megaprojects should ever be designed for cars only, in one chart

[ 45 ] January 25, 2014 |

I was a bit surprised to get some pushback on the notion that deep bore tunnel project in Seattle was a terrible idea in my previous post on the subject. I think I can see where it comes from psychologically–the viaduct, while ugly and extremely unsafe in an area of seismic activity, is an very efficient and useful piece of infrastructure. Seattle traffic is pretty bad, and the idea of taking something so big and important out of the picture without replacing it with something that’s also big and important is understandably alarming.

Going back far enough, the possibly plausible alternatives to the tunnel were: retrofit the viaduct, rebuild the viaduct, build a big urban waterfront freeway, build a shallow ‘cut and cover’ tunnel with downtown exits, and a ‘enhanced roads and transit’ option which contained a substantial non-freeway road in the place of the viaduct, a widening of I-5 to increase capacity on the other freeway through downtown, and a series of other improvements to help address in increase of traffic downtown. To be clear, there are no great options here: one can find serious problems and shortcomings with all of them. (The rebuild option, for example, demands an answer to the question of traffic flow during the 8-10 years it would probably take to construct it). Some of these, including retaining/rebuilding the viaduct and the urban freeway, were undoubtedly aesthetically worse options than the tunnel, but the tunnel was the worst option from a strict cost/benefit analysis of all the possibilities for what should be a profoundly obvious reason: a majority of current viaduct users use it to get in or out of downtown, not to get through it quickly, and the tunnel is too deep to include any downtown exits. Astonishingly, they decided to knowingly replace an important piece of infrastructure with the one option that had no utility for a majority of users of the viaduct.

For a variety of reasons, by the end of the process the politically viable options appeared to be the deep bore tunnel and enhanced roads and transit plan. The latter drew a lot of skepticism, including from some people who should have known better, in part because it just seemed implausible that a bunch of little things could replace one really big thing. But in order to respond to such fears, we need look no further than WSDOT’s own study of the options. Dominic Holden (in what is probably the single best summary of the comprehensive case against the tunnel) explains:

The most compelling evidence for I-5/surface/transit is buried in the state’s own SDEIS. In an appendix of a transportation discipline report, WSDOT cites the miles of travel, hours of travel, and hours of delay that would exist if we built the I-5/surface/transit option. To compare that data to the tunnel, The Stranger filed a records request with the City of Seattle to obtain the most recent data the state is using to forecast miles traveled, hours traveled, and hours of delay on the tolled deep-bore tunnel.

The data shows surface/transit performing slightly better in the downtown system overall, with fewer miles traveled, fewer hours traveled, and less delay. Specifically, hours of delay would drop from 37,500 hours with a tolled tunnel program to 36,700 hours with a surface option. Hours of overall travel drop from 106,600 to 103,600, and miles traveled drops from 2.5 million to 2.4 million.

Granted, these aren’t huge differences. But this data proves something very important: The much more expensive tunnel doesn’t perform any better than I-5/surface/transit.

That flies in the face of Governor Gregoire and other tunnel advocates who have insisted the I-5/surface/transit option won’t work. When I asked about the traffic impacts of the tunnel at a press conference on October 29, Gregoire said, “The alternative [to the tunnel] is taking 110,000 cars and putting them on I-5 and the streets of Seattle. You want to see a stalled city, you take those 110,000 cars.” But the state’s own data shows that downtown is actually more “stalled” with a tunnel.

This is not at all surprising, when we bear in mind that the majority of viaduct users will find the tunnels useless, even before we consider those who’ll avoid it for purposes of fare avoidance (more on that below). Furthermore, there are increasingly good reasons to take WSDOT’s future traffic projections with a hefty grain of salt–there’s a good chance they’re overestimating future traffic in and through downtown Seattle. Along with their national counterpart, WSDOT’s projections have been overshooting actual traffic for a good while now. A devastating chart from Sightline provides some visualization of this phenomenon:

VMT-C-P-chart-big

The USDOT has been overestimating future vehicle miles traveled for a long time now. And this trend is continuing: they overestimated 2013 vehicle miles traveled by 11%. In 2012. WSDOT is not appreciably different than USDOT on this issue; their long-range forecasts for 2008 ended up overestimating VMT by well over standard deviation (see pg 9 here) but despite that error, their 2010 model predicted in the dip would return to 20th century growth rates in 2011, and continue on that trajectory until 2030, essentially replicating the now evident folly on the graph above.  But the declining trend in Washington dates back over a decade–there were fewer VMTs total (not per capita in this growing region, but total) in 2012 than 2002. And WSDOT is still using these clearly broken projection models. In some cases, this makes their projection models overestimate the utility of their projects, but in the case of of the tunnel project, where the budget relies on revenue projections from future tolls, it also means this is another way they’re underestimating the total cost.

Speaking of tolls! Back when the tunnel project was politically vulnerable, WSDOT did its projections for toll revenue based on $3.50/$4.00 tolls. As a matter of basic fairness, tolls should if anything probably be higher than this. But as a matter of avoiding massive toll avoidance, especially in a region with little history of and tolerance for tolling, this seemed obviously and totally unviable. Now they’re  admitting as much: the draft proposal from a meeting of the Advisory committee on tolling and traffic management two weeks ago is now online, and it shows that they’re recommending a toll of $1 ($1.25 during peak hours) to avoid massive toll avoidance. While that figure might be low enough (although some people will still avoid any toll on general principle), their projected revenue figure of 1.1 billion over 30 years requires an average of over 91,000 daily trips in the tunnel. Relevant facts: there are presently about 105,000 daily trips on the viaduct. Over half of them end or originate downtown. Overall traffic has been flat to slightly declining for over a decade. In order for the numbers to support this revenue forecast, we have to believe the same models for projecting VMTs–the very same ones that have been systematically and badly wrong for a while now–will somehow start being correct again.

WSDOT’s other current megaproject that is going quite badly in the 520 bridge replacement. For fun, here’s a projection vs. reality history of traffic on the bridge in chart form, courtesy of streetsblog:

 

How should we think about WSDOT and USDOT’s systematic failure to adjust to what is clearly a major change in the trendline on VMT? Clearly, simple bureaucratic interia is part of the story. But I think it’s instructive to compare WSDOT to another local bureaucratic agency currently engaging in a tunneling megaproject: Sound Transit. One commenter on the previous post criticized me for complaining about cost overruns thusly:

I challenge you to name a single $3Bln project that has come in exactly on-time and on-budget. I don’t think I’ve been on a $3Mln project that has met those two criteria (for keyboard commandos – talk to someone in tech and see what their opinion is). If you require that, you end up with people completely sand-bagging their projections, and then the project will look so bad, it won’t get started.

He’s certainly not wrong that most megaprojects have cost overruns. But commenters immediately and correctly noted that U-link, Sound Transit’s light rail tunnel from downtown to the University district, which is over 80% complete, is on track to open six months early and over 100 million under budget. (It doesn’t quite meet the commenters’ criteria for a $3 billion project, as it was only a $1.95 billion project). A bit of history: Sound Transit was created in the mid 90′s to deal with the Puget Sound region’s staggering lack of regional mass transit. They currently run a very useful and well used network of regional express buses, and heavy commuter rail from Tacoma and Everett to Seattle, but their most important charge was building a new light rail system. ST started out more like WSDOT–massively underestimating costs and underestimating time needed on the initial light rail line. Once that became apparent, in 2002 there was a major leadership shakeup. Since then, ST estimates have been sober and conservative–the bids for future tunneling expansions of light rail are already coming in well under budget. In 2008, despite the initial overpromise and despite the first light rail line not even being open yet, voters in the Puget Sound approved by wide margins round II of ST funding, which raises $18 billion over 30 years to fund, primarily, major extensions of the current light rail system. For well-crafted public transportation projects, lying about actual cost and time needed to completion is not necessary to engender sufficient political support. For roads-only projects, this is not the case: the first version of ST II failed the year prior, when it was tied to major new roads spending. And Washington politicians understand this: the Republicans in the state senate (and two “democrats” who switched side to give Republicans control of the chamber) refused to pass a bill that would give King County permission to raise taxes to close a funding gap for Metro bus service unless it’s tied to their unpopular, pork-larded, low on maintenance and high on new projects roads bill. Why? Because they know they can’t pass it unless the transit-starved voters of King County are essentially extorted into supporting it (Happily, that horrible bill was not passed, and King county found a legal way to potentially raise revenue without state authorization). WSDOT’s future as an agency of its current size and scope depends on misleading the public about the true costs of their projects (I’ve ignored here, of course, the environmental impact of building the future infrastructures for cars).

It’s heartening to see the current troubles leading not just transit advocates but conduits for the center-right version of conventional wisdom like Dori Monson jumping on the kill the tunnel bandwagon. (And he is not the only well-connected person hinting that rumors from insiders suggest the situation with Bertha is considerably more dire than has been publicly acknowledged). We need to build an infrastructure for the actual future–the one where VMT decreases are a long term trend, not a recession driven anomaly, and where global warming is real–not the future WSDOT won’t stop foolishly projecting.  WSDOT in in desperate need of a ST-2002-style shakeup. The 10% or so of the tunnel completed could make a pretty cool skate park.

….A commenter asks how confident we should be that the current VMT trend is real and not noise and recession-driven. It’s a reasonably question and I give my answer in the comments, but in poking around I found another chart, this one VMT per capita coming out of recessions. The recent recession was, of course, the worst of the bunch, with the sorriest recovery, so this isn’t necessarily unimpeachable evidence that something else is going on. That the levelling off occurred around 2004 nationally (and earlier in some places, including the Puget Sound) is more strong circumstantial evidence. Sightline daily’s “Dude, Where are my Cars?” series is good on this.

driving-per-capita

Comments (45)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Murc says:

    On the subject of toll avoidance, am I the only one baffled by the presence of tolls to begin with?

    Seriously. Toll road regimes (really, charging for any use of public infrastructure; toll roads, a feee for going to court, a fee to renew various licenses and permits) demands that you construct a massive collection and enforcement edifice around it. Wouldn’t it basically always be better just to use, you know… tax revenue? We already have a massive collection and enforcement edifice when it comes to taxes. Let’s get some economies of scale going on.

    The only reason I can see for erecting separate fee structures for use of public infrastructure is if your goal isn’t revenue, but to discourage use. And in that case I would also submit that if you want to discourage use, simply don’t expand capacity.

    • Captain Splendid says:

      Economies of scale? Fascism!
      A bunch of crony-backed companies getting access to a nice Tap: Freedom!

      • UserGoogol says:

        Not really. It’s quite easy to design a road system where cronies make filthy lucre and still pay out of general taxation. Privatize the road and have some convoluted structure for how the government pays them. Conversely, there are purely state-run toll roads.

    • Anonymous says:

      Out-of-state revenue is another one. It’s why those teeny tiny NE states all have toll roads, and why Delware’s toll-per-mile is something like 5-10x that of the NJ Turnpike, NYS Thruway and similar roads: it’s largely non-Delawareans passing through from DC/Balt to PHL/NJ/NYC (and there’s no alternative).

      Of course this rationale is largely moot in the West.

      • Lee Rudolph says:

        Not VT.

      • Tom Servo says:

        Yeah. Especially when you have a state like Oregon with (I believe) no sales tax and get all the Washington residents coming down in their SUVs tearing up roads to come down and do their shopping on the cheap. Near borders at least, especially with states like Oregon and New Hampshire and Delaware that have no or low sales tax, I actually think tolls are highly justifiable. So it’s also inconvenient for residents but it’s nice that out of staters have to at least partially pay for their externalities. Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

        Now, down in my old home in Dade County (yes, Dade, I still hate the hyphenated name, everyone I know still calls it Dade County) this is much less justifiable if at all. The nearest border is Georgia, a good 6 hours drive, very different from being in Mass or Washington (state). Of course, they do down there. Thanks, Mayor Pinga-ellas. I distinctly remember him saying in the 90s, that if we raised the sales tax we’ll neeeeever have a toll in Miami-Dade County! Fucker.

    • Informant says:

      Toll road regimes (really, charging for any use of public infrastructure; toll roads, a fee for going to court, a fee to renew various licenses and permits) demands that you construct a massive collection and enforcement edifice around it. (Emphasis added.)

      You need to stop cutting your crack with Dutch Cleanser if you think there’s a “massive collection and enforcement edifice” required to support charging court fees and license/permit fees. Charging and collecting the fees in those situations are typically no more complicated and time consuming than paying for a cup of coffee and there are sound public policy reasons to put some sort of minimal hurdle in the path of unlimited court filings, license applications, etc.

  2. Breadbaker says:

    The problem with “surface-transit” is that the transit part of it, because of the way that certain Washington state taxes can be allocated, was always a chimera. There was never, once, on the table a proposal that would have guaranteed operation of a transit solution that would get around the mess, in whole or in part, from the day the monorail (which fit it to a T) was taken off the table.

    • djw says:

      This is, of course, a problem with the tunnel option as well. One of the things the tunnel toll revenue is theoretically funding is $$ for transit to mitigate all the new surface traffic the tunnel will force onto downtown. I fully expect that’ll be one of the first things cannibalized to cover cost overruns and toll revenue shortfalls.

    • Murc says:

      I’ve heard tell of this monorail Seattle had been thinking about; can anyone tell me why they actually decided against it? Elevated railways have a long and proud history of working amazingly well; I mean, Chicago seems pretty happy. Given the geographic limitations Seattle labors under, seems like it would’ve been an amazing thing.

      • djw says:

        That’s a very long, complicated, and controversial history. It was very grassroots for a mass transit plan, enabled by Washington’s use of citizen initiatives in governance. It was voted for approximately 73 times by SEattle voters until they voted against it. Detractors saw it as poorly integrated with existing plans, including the ST light rail. Advocates saw it as a Seattle-centric alternative to region-focused ST plans. Both had a point. When ST’s initial overpromise was becoming clear, it looked like a good alternative, until a few years later when its overpromises became equally clear. I voted for it every damn time, but it’s clear the agency was amateur hour and the technology choice may have been ill-conceived. I’m about 75% in agreement with Schiedleman’s retroactive case against the monorail here.

        • CD says:

          The monorail plan was demented. You just had to spend ten minutes working through the numbers to see that, ten minutes more than the median voter spent. Including you, apparently.

          You can call its support “grassroots,” but it’s grassroots in the same sense that UFO nuttery is grassroots. Its advocates were goofballs who wasted time and public money.

      • Anonymous says:

        You know how sometimes when people in college nominate a goat for student council president, everyone in the student body thinks it’s awesome and the goat wins, and then the assholes in university administration figure out some bureaucratic reason to screw them out of victory? It was a lot like that, but costlier & more depressing.

      • sibusisodan says:

        I’ve heard tell of this monorail Seattle had been thinking about; can anyone tell me why they actually decided against it?

        Worries that the track would bend, from what I recall.

  3. Tunnels for choo-choo trains only?
    HELL YES!!!

    Tunnels for passenger cars only?
    HELL NO!!!

    And existing bridges and tunnels should NOT have tolls.
    Among many other reason, air pollution.

    And those fancy “E-Z Passes” are nice, quick, and convenient – but an intrusion on people’s privacy.

    Taxes, my friends – the worst 5-letter 4-letter word in the world!

    Btw – “G-o-l-f,” is the worst 4-letter word I know.

  4. Ken says:

    I think you – or at least the WSDOT – has hit on a brilliant principle here. The best way to reduce congestion on a roadway is to close the exits to the places people want to go.

    • Chris Christie says:

      I am intrigued by your ideas etc. etc.

    • Mandos says:

      This is what gets me about traffic calming(aggravation) measures on residential roads that have, through poor planning, become major thoroughfares, as a sop to local residents. It either means you have a lot of angry, dangerous drivers in an hours long traffic jam every day, or some other less-influential residential neighbourhood becomes a widely-used thoroughfare.

  5. anomomouse says:

    I used to drive a van delivering beer for Pike Place Brewery (the old one, at 1432 Western), and the Viaduct was a Godsend.

    First off, it wasn’t connected to anything modern, as far as the statewide road net, so it was immune to whatever traffic horrors were rolling up or down I-5.

    Secondly, it served only the older, denser, parts of town, where there were neighborhood taverns.

    For a world limned by the College Inn, Cooper’s, the Maple Leaf, 74th. St., The Tin Hat, the Triangle and whatever the nom de jour of the the place at Fauntleroy and Alaska, the viaduct was practically a racetrack.

    If one were to get off at terminal island and do a u turn, Beacon Hill and Rainier valley were also at hand.

    I no longer live there, but it appears none of the proposals to replace the viaduct even tried to do what the viaduct did, that is, to be a highway serving the needs of people who were traveling within Seattle.

    It always seemed as if WSDOT was only concerned about getting people from Bellevue to Safeco, or from SeaTac to Pioneer Square.

    • Breadbaker says:

      The other thing about the Viaduct, I keep getting told it’s ugly, but no one really has to look at it other than people coming in by ferry (about whose aesthetic sensibilities I care not a whit), but the view from the Viaduct is unmatched and free and will turn into absolutely nothing. The current plans for the Waterfront roads that will replace the Viaduct will give the lie to the people who thought knocking it down would “transform the Waterfront” because the Waterfront in Seattle is a dead-end (again, except for the ferry riders, whose needs are going to turn the Waterfront into a concrete jungle, just one that doesn’t give anyone a view of anything.

  6. Paul says:

    Great story here. I work in downtown Seattle. The tunnel will force all downtown commuters onto side streets. Anybody already coming through Seattle isn’t coming through on HWY 99. Too many bottlenecks at either end of the tunnel.

    Here’s an interesting point by Goldy over at SLOG: WDOT stopped Bertha just before they had to assume ownership.

    http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/01/24/maybe-bertha-isnt-stuck

    • djw says:

      Huh. I wasn’t aware of that particular provision. I have no idea what to make of it, but WSDOT’s utter lack of transparency invites speculation. Given that both the megaprojects have seen spiraling costs in the last few months, maybe the possibility that they can’t possibly complete both is part of the pause before full ownership.

      This really could turn out to be excellent news in the long run. To steal the facebook status update of a Seattle transit wonk of my acquaintance:

      Two and a half years ago, I pointed out that supporting a highway tunnel when there was a lower carbon option available meant you weren’t an environmentalist. Today, I must say, mea culpa – I just wish I had been in on the strategy! Rumor has it that WSDOT is figuring out which highway projects will have to be halted due to this project’s massive overruns. If you oppose highways, the tunnel is the best choice ever – it will starve the entire state’s highway budget. Good show.

    • stevesliva says:

      The tunnel will force all downtown commuters onto side streets. Anybody already coming through Seattle isn’t coming through on HWY 99. Too many bottlenecks at either end of the tunnel.

      Coming from the north on Aurora, it will be more or less exactly the same. Coming from the south, it will suck more.

      Tunnel is probably rated worse than no tunnel for delay because it enables people to zip from the south to the north to try to u-turn to the north end of downtown/SLU. Without a tunnel, SLU/Mercer area is probably less congested as cars coming north trickle in only as fast as streets can allow them to. Someone going from West Seattle to SLU in a car with no tunnel never really gets the chance to slow down someone coming from the north. All the Southerners are just deleted from the Mercer/Denny Mess. I sort of understand why West Seattle was so adamant about a replacement. No tunnel, and they clearly have downtown as a huge roadblock to get to many northern locations. Of course, the only reason they expect to get past downtown in a reasonable amount of time is because the viaduct is there in the first place. Demand rises to meet capacity.

  7. lornix says:

    I don’t know transit data or projection models very well (so I pretty strongly suspect that there is an error in my analogy and speculations below) – but I am a bit nervous about the parallel between “Temperatures have declined since 1998 – so climate change is a hoax foisted upon us by evil climate scientists” – and “Vehicle miles traveled have declined since 2002 – so increasing auto use is a hoax foisted upon us by evil DOT officials”. (I am presuming, and I feel reasonably comfortable on this, that if you look at VMT data going back to 1950, or however far back the data is available, you do see a pretty consistent upward trend over time – with downturns at the 1970′s oil price shocks – and starting roughly around 2008, which is typically attributed to the great recession – and maybe a few other time points.) I suspect that at least part of the flaw in the analogy is that weather is a much noisier indication of climate than VMT is of (private) transportation demand – so cherry-picking of shorter time frames is a more pernicious threat. But I am not sure that is enough. Are there any good transit planner types who have looked at the vehicle usage data over longer time frames and given careful analyses that demonstrate a real change in trend – or come up with good explanations for why we should expect the trend line to have changed so dramatically?

    • djw says:

      but I am a bit nervous about the parallel between “Temperatures have declined since 1998 – so climate change is a hoax foisted upon us by evil climate scientists” – and “Vehicle miles traveled have declined since 2002 – so increasing auto use is a hoax foisted upon us by evil DOT officials”. (I am presuming, and I feel reasonably comfortable on this, that if you look at VMT data going back to 1950, or however far back the data is available, you do see a pretty consistent upward trend over time – with downturns at the 1970′s oil price shocks – and starting roughly around 2008, which is typically attributed to the great recession – and maybe a few other time points.

      This analogy is a failure. A) 1998 was an anomalous year in part of an overall upward trend with a lot more year to year variation than VMT. VMT is very stable year to year. B) The current change to the trend began well before the recent recession, and has coninued (indeed, accelerated) after it. C) While there is no plausible climate theory that would tell us a decline from 1998 is statistically significant in a projectible way, we have a variety of perfectly comprehensible, data-driven reasons to explain a leveling off or decline in VMT, ranging the repopulation of city centers, increased telecommunting, and the relatively car/driving-averse lifestyles, habits and tastes of Americans under about 30.

      See Sevak here:

      These reductions likely reflect, in part, noneconomic changes in society that influence the need for vehicles (e.g., increased telecommuting, increased use of public transportation, increased urbanization of the population, and changes in the age composition of drivers). Because the onset of the reductions in the driving rates was not the result of short-term, economic changes, the 2004 maxima in the distance-driven rates have a reasonable chance of being long-term peaks as well.

      • djw says:

        …I do agree, though, that the trend we’re seeing (and the evidence for its most likely non-economic causes) are not a sure thing to continue. It would not be a huge surprise to me to see the trend tick back up. Given the range of possibilities, though, I can’t see how at this point it’s justifiable, as DOTs do, to simply project as the median outcome (meaning a ~49% chance the future will actually see more VMT growth) the kind of growth we saw in the last third of the 20th century to suddenly return and be the norm going forward.

        • lornix says:

          Thanks for the discussion – and the Sivak link. I am at least a bit more hopeful that – in the US – we might have arrested a very troubling time trend.

          • djw says:

            What’s particularly damning to me about the various DOTs projections is not that they overshot the actual total–that’s going to happen, you can’t predict every future change–but that they were overprojecting growth as long as 20 years ago, and yet their new projections are always the same curve from the present data point. They don’t seem to be taking on any new information at all.

            • MaxUtil says:

              Yeah, look at that last chart. Looks to me the the VMT growth rate has been declining fairly steadily for the last 30 years. The sudden drop off in the last 5 years is an aberration in the rate of change. But it looks to me like an acceleration of a long term trend. Predicting the same growth rate in 2014 as you did in the 80′s is just off, whether or not you think the last couple years are not the new long term trend.

  8. low-tech cyclist says:

    Groucho: You try to cross over there a chicken, and you’ll find out why a duck. It’s deep water, that’s why a duck.

    Hell, somebody had to say it.

  9. Anderson says:

    At first I thought this project was actually going to destroy Seattle & all its inhabitants, but then I realized not, & lost interest.

    Inefficient method of getting my ex-gf, anyway.

  10. Simstim says:

    Meanwhile, over here in the UK, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Birmingham will get rid of its city centre tunnels:

  11. dollared says:

    This is just another garden variety McGinnite post alleging that people being dropped on crowded surface streets and being prioritized behind the ferry wait line and then sitting through 31 lights will be just as happy as people in a high speed four lane tunnel.

    And if they are unhappy, fuck them and their children, they should be on cargo bikes anyway because they’re cool.

    Fuck that noise. Let’s build the tunnel, and if we need to add capacity on the surface, great, now we have two options.

    • Andres says:

      High speed? Have you driven anywhere in Seattle, ever? It won’t be high speed. Morons will crash into things on a daily basis, causing massive backups. If it’s even reasonably pleasant to drive on, people will drive on it, causing congestion.

      Remember when they started tolling the 520? My wife *loved* it. No traffic at all. That lasted about a year. Now she complains that it’s back to normal.

  12. Monte Davis says:

    You may be familiar with Bent Flyvbjerg’s Megaprojects and Risk. He’s collected data on transportation infrastructure projects (and more recently IT projects) for many years, and analyzed the reasons for cost and schedule overruns as well as inflated projections for traffic and other ROI. The record is dismal — and more depressing, it hasn’t improved much over decades during the rise of formal project and program management. Nor (contrary to received opinion) are private-sector projects systematically better in this respect than public ones, although they can often bury the bad news more effectively.

    The reasons are generally a mix of self-delusion by project advocates (“We have identified and allowed for all the unknowns”) and more or less deliberate deception of sponsors and decision-makers (lowballing, sandbagging).

    • djw says:

      This sounds really interesting; thanks. I’m familiar with Flyvbjerg, but from work that I’d classify as philosophy of social science stuff.

      • Monte Davis says:

        He was trained in engineering and science as well as social science. My impression is that he began looking at big civil engineering projects like Denmark’s Great Belt, Oresund, Chunnel et al out of interest in the social and political decision-making process — and then became fascinated by how consistently skewed the cost, schedule and traffic projections were.

        He now directs the BT School of Major Programme Mgmt at Oxford’s Said Business School. For all the prestige of that, his message remains unwelcome in much of the project/program management world, which keeps selling the promise of “on scope, on time, on budget” no matter how much data he amasses to the contrary. (This all goes for defense procurement in spades, of course.)

  13. [...] – I still love it when national media mention lil’ ol’ Washington. But maybe not when they make fun of our stuck tunnel machine. [...]

Leave a Reply




If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.

  • Switch to our mobile site