Tappan Zee BRT Cost Estimates: Out of Step With Industry Standards

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has implemented modest improvements to bus service for only $135,000 per mile | Photo: vta.org

Five billion dollars, give or take. That is the alleged cost of putting bus rapid transit (BRT) along a 30-mile stretch of the I-287 corridor, according to New York State. But—as Tri-StateStreetsblog, and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino have all pointed out—this figure is unnecessarily high.

This is largely because New York State’s documents do not analyze the wide range of possible BRT options—and their price—for the I-287 corridor. To highlight this, Tri-State reviewed the cost of several BRT systems in North America. The following list outlines these systems’ location, total cost (often including the cost of buses and stations), the improvements made to install them, and cost per mile. These examples help put New York State’s cost estimates in perspective.

York Region Viva BRT: Suburban Toronto**

Total Cost: $171 million (in Canadian dollars; approximately $168 million US)
Distance: 50 miles
Cost Per Mile: $3.4 million
Improvements: Roadway improvements (mixed-flow traffic), intelligent transportation system technology (ITS), buses, stations, fare collection facilities, branding and marketing, and other costs (e.g. property acquisition and planning)
Year completed: 2005

EmX Green Line: Eugene, Oregon**

Total Cost: $24.6 million
Distance: 4 miles
Cost Per Mile: $6.15 million
Improvements: Dedicated bus way and curbside bus lanes, ITS, buses, stations, fare collection facilities, branding and marketing, and miscellaneous costs
Year completed: 2007

LA Metro Orange Line: San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, California**

Total Cost: $350 million
Distance: 14.2 miles
Cost Per Mile: $25 million
Improvements: Dedicated bus way, ITS, buses, stations, park and ride facilities, fare collection facilities, branding and marketing, and miscellaneous costs
Year completed: 2005

Santa Clara VTA 522 Rapid: Santa Clara Valley, California**

Total Cost: $3.5 million
Distance: 26 miles
Cost Per Mile: $135,000
Improvements: Roadway improvements (mixed-flow traffic), transit signal priority system upgrades, bus wrappings, and miscellaneous costs
Year completed: 2005

Cedar Avenue BRT: Suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota

Total Cost: $225.7 million (in 2009 dollars)
Distance: 16 miles
Cost Per Mile: $14 million
Improvements: Dedicated bus way, stations, park and ride facilities, buses and fare collection facilities, branding and marketing, and miscellaneous costs
Year completed: Still under construction

Euclid Corridor Transportation Project / HealthLine: Cleveland, Ohio++

Total Cost: $200 million
Distance: 7.1 miles
Cost Per Mile: $28 million
Improvements: Dedicated bus way, stations, buses, fare collection facilities
Year completed: 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr. East Busway: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania++

Total Cost: $183 million
Distance: 9.1 miles
Cost Per Mile: $20 million
Improvements: Dedicated bus-only roadway
Year completed: Opened in 1983, extended in 2003

As the above figures suggest, New York State’s cost estimates for BRT in Rockland and Westchester counties are out of line with industry averages. These systems were built for between $135,000 and $28 million per mile. Although unique project variables can lead to deviations in cost—for example, Connecticut’s CTfastrak is unusually expensive because extensive bridge work has been rolled into the project—New York State’s estimate of $150 million per mile is hard to justify.

County Executive Astorino recently suggested an incremental approach, starting with 12 miles of BRT from the Palisades Mall to White Plains, which would cost a total of $336 million, assuming the same cost per mile as Cleveland’s HealthLine system (which included buses and stations). While that figure is not negligible, it’s significantly less than $5 billion. With such a wide range of costs for BRT systems, it’s time for New York State to rethink how to implement a transit system in the I-287 corridor.

**Source: John Niles and Lisa Callaghan Jerram, Mineta Transportation Institute, From Buses to BRT: Case Studies of Incremental BRT Projects in North America, June 2010.
++Source: Annie Weinstock, Walter Hook, Michael Replogle, and Ramon Cruz, Institute for Development & Transportation Policy, Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit, A Survey of Select U.S. Cities, May 2011.

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7 comments to Tappan Zee BRT Cost Estimates: Out of Step With Industry Standards

  • [...] Cuomo’s Inflated Costs for TZB Transit Are Six Times Higher Than L.A.’s BRT (MTR) [...]

  • Pbug56

    Maybe those systems don’t have the same premium we have for horrific union contracts (I’m not anti union but road and rail projects in NY have obscenely high union led costs), bad laws, plus graft and bribes!

  • Jimmy

    Important point of order; do any of these costs include an entire dedicated lane on a new bridge?

  • Clark Morris

    What is the Tri-State allergy to rail with bus connections? Is it because they don’t want the higher ridership rail gets? Is it because they don’t want the greater local bus connectivity that happens because the local lines that connect with frequent (at least every 15 minutes) service also connect with each other? Is it because they don’t want the greater productivity rail offers? Rail trains can accelerate as fast as buses and stop in as short a distance as buses because the limiting factor is what standing passengers can accept, not what the vehicle is capable of. A mile of track costs about the same as a lane mile of pavement and you don’t need shoulders for trains.

  • [...] Executive Astorino, who has also emphasized the need for transit on Capital Tonight, has noted the wide range of forms that bus rapid transit might [...]

  • [...] and rightfully so. The lack of a solid financing strategy, an inadequate transit component, and questionable cost estimates for bus rapid transit have all attracted attention among residents and [...]

  • [...] about a huge public works project was based on made-up numbers? We owe a tip of the hat to the TSTC who made the discovery and StreetsBlogNYC who wrote about it in depth. And a wag of the finger to those daily news outlets [...]

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