Light Rail ‘Overruns’ and the Pilot

23 01 2009

RE: Light Rail costs pile up as more pilings are found in creek – Virginian Pilot – January 23

This is not another cost overrun. This is THE SAME cost overrun as before in different words. The article says, “The additional cost to remove the other 240 pilings has already been factored into light-rail cost overruns.” That sentence means that this is not an extra amount to be tacked onto the $288 million figure. This is PART of that figure already. The Virginian-Pilot has realized that they can get a lot of viewers by posting article about light rail, even if they are misleading and negative. Virginia Beach does not have to worry about things like this. 95% of their line is a clear path with no obstructions.

Norfolk is very different than the Beach. The Downtown portion of the city was founded in the late 1600s. In contrast, much of Virginia Beach was not even there until at least the late 1950s. Virginia Beach’s right of way for the light rail is an empty, completely straight route. This is why a Virginia Beach LRT project would be cheaper per mile and why the cost would be much more predictable. There are no unforeseen utilities on the line, due in large part to the fact that the rail line was there long before that part of the Beach even thought about utilities. The utilities that do exist are all on drawings because they had to get approval to run under the rail line. All major road crossings would be elevated, but in the Beach they would all be straight. When you build overpasses, the straight ones are always way cheaper than curved ones, because of the costs associated with curved steel beams. Going back to Norfolk on the other hand, you find a much different story. The major overpass is a snaking structure that curves under I-264 and over Brambleton and adjacent roads. Norfolk’s segment also include many more crossing than Virginia Beach would have, raising the cost because each crossing needs gates and signals. Norfolk also has a large portion of its rail line at street-level mingling with cars. An at-grade rail line costs much more than a standard line. To further raise the cost, Norfolk’s streets are filled with the unexpected. A large portion of utility lines were laid ‘as-needed’ using no standard practices or drawing that would be needed today. Downtown’s streets have been very heavily built up as well. When you break through the asphalt on a normal street, you find dirt and gravel combinations. All utilities are set at a standard depth and can be easily located for marking. In Downtown, however, when you break through the asphalt, you find concrete. Break through the concrete and you find cobble stones. Over half of the streets will have old trolley rails in them, hidden away, unable to be located from above. Under the stone and trolley tracks, you find turn-of-the-century sewer pipes alongside newer pipes, old water mains, electrical conduits, and a multitude of defunct gas lines mixed with active gas lines (All the streets used to be lined with gas lamps). When you get to the water crossings you find a similar story. Although today all they are used for is small personal craft, they were previously used for industrial purposes. After hundreds of year, you would expect some buildup of old pilings. For those of you who don’t believe that wooden pilings would last that long let me give you an example. Summers I work up at a Boy Scout camp in Surry, VA on the James River. Just down the river is a place called “Dillar’s Wharf.” Currently, there are just woods there. In fact, you would not even know it existed until low tide, when hundreds of pilings become exposed. The wharf was burned during the civil war (July 11, 1863) This wharf was around along time prior to the Civil War and here its pilings still stand.

To the Virginian-Pilot: DO NOT post stories that are misleading just to make a buck. You wonder why circulation is down. Perhaps it is because people can get negative anywhere.

To Virginia Beach: Do not worry about the cost increases that Norfolk is facing. I am not quite sure how the same people can tell me not to compare Hampton Roads to Charlotte and then turn around and compare Virginia Beach to Norfolk. They are two different scenarios.

Illustration on the complexity of Old Norfolk
Main St.
Granby St.
Granby St. looking North from Monticello. (Notice the builing that is 4th from the bottom on the left- It is still there, housing the Police Administration. They are alos building an addition on TOP of it.)
Pictures linked from Free Gallery of Norfolk Public Library
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