Yesterday, we sent a request to the CHSRA board for back up cost documents for the published 2014 Business Plan capital cost estimate. Last summer, we were told they did not exist.
Cost estimates for large transportation infrastructure projects are produced in a standard way.
The engineers use a standard list of categories (track, utilities relocation, land acquisition, tunnels etc).
Using a spreadsheet or other software tool, they calculate the quantities of each item that will be required, provide a list of prices for each type of item, multiple the quantities by the prices, add it all together, then throw in some overhead costs and project reserves – BAM! You’ve got yourself a cost estimate, and a cost estimate table.
The documentation is pretty hefty for a project like California High Speed Rail where there are many different segments and multiple options for each. It was 1060 pages hefty for the 2012 Business Plan.
The published numbers in the 2014 Business Plan were strangely familiar. They looked very, very similar to the ones in the 2012 Business Plan.
We follow this project closely. Literally hundreds of millions of dollars of planning work had been spent, which had resulted in some small tweaks, some large ones – changes that would almost all of which would change the price tag. While mostly these things were increases (adding in the cost of impacted wind turbines) or raising the clearance level of a bridge, some would lower costs and some of them would shift costs from one segment or one phase to another. Things were going to change, because the project had changed and more was understood about the challenges of this project.
There was no cost reconciliation provided in the business plan to explain the changes. We pieced together one from multiple documents and were stunned by what we found. The “stability” of the project’s capital costs wasn’t because increases had been offset by savings. Almost every line item was unchanged, except for an across the board adjustment for inflation.
We did multiple Public Records Act requests to get the detailed cost estimates so we could try and understand what was happening. Finally, we were told that detailed cost estimate tables had not been produced for this cost estimate. Huh?!???
Either this is true and someone has some ‘splaining to do or it is not true and the CHSRA has some work to do on transparency.