'Bespoke' Station Design Responsible for Transit Costs Increases, Study Says

The first case study by the Transit Costs Project at New York University's Marron Institute offers a long awaited, and long necessary, glimpse into the bloated costs of construction in the United States.

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January 29, 2021, 7:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


"Why are American rail projects so costly? The initial results of an ambitious project by three researchers at New York University’s Marron Institute suggest one culprit hiding in plain sight: pointlessly fancy train stations," writes Connor Harris.

The Marron Institute team includes Alon Levy, who spurred some of the first widespread attention to the high costs of transit construction in the United States on the blog Pedestrian Observations before attracting attention from the mainstream media.

Until studies by the Marron Institute and the Eno Center for Transportation, there was a lack of scientistic information about transit spending in the United States.

As detailed by Harris, the team at Marron Institute's first case study focused on the Green Line Extension (GLX) built by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).

"In principle, GLX is simple," writes Harris. "It extends an existing light-rail line 4.3 miles into Boston’s inner suburbs, mostly in a trench that already holds commuter rail tracks. But GLX’s costs ballooned after planning began in 2006, reaching $3 billion in 2015—more expensive per mile than most subways."

As for why the cost for the project ballooned so quickly and so completely, the researchers identified bells and whistles on the line’s seven stations as the source of much of the bloat.

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