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Downtown Streetcar Could Cost Double What Voters Were Told

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Last year residents in downtown were offered a chance to bring a streetcar to their hood at a cost of about $125 million, and voters overwhelmingly said yes. Now it turns out the number they were given was kind of BS, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The project hadn't done enough engineering work to know how much it would actually cost so they gave voters a "guesstimate." An aide to City Councilman Jose Huizar told the Times that they gave voters a "back-of-the-envelope" figure based on how much Portland paid for its streetcar. Portland's 7.2-mile streetcar cost $251.45 million, so they figured Los Angeles' 4-mile line would cost about $125 million. Eric Metz, the project director for Los Angeles Streetcar Inc., wrote to city staff in an e-mail obtained by the Times: "It's really that simple. We didn't hire an engineer or anything that fancy."

That back-of-the-envelope number didn't take into account inflation or the fact that underneath Broadway there are lots of power lines and old pipes. The city wasn't sure just how much it would cost to deal with utilities, but the city's Transportation Department knew that it would be more than they expected long before the issue went to voters. One official with the department wrote during a meeting five months before the vote: "Do not know what is under the street. Could add significantly to cost overruns."

It sure did. It turns out that it could cost the project about $200 million just to deal with relocating utilities, instead of the $10 million the city planned on.

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But voters never heard about these concerns. The Times reports:

Staff members who spoke on the condition of anonymity said examining the project budget and revealing the shortfall had been politically awkward. Huizar's staff wanted to enter the federal funding process quickly, without disclosing the shortfall, emails indicate.

The latest estimate now stands at $327.8 million, which is more than double what voters expected. An aide with Huizar's office calls it the "worst-case scenario" and expects engineers will find a way to bring down costs. But the higher costs could mean that the streetcar will take five years longer than expected and part of the route past Walt Disney Concert Hall will get cut.Related:
Downtown L.A. Streetcar Project Accelerates With $62.5 Million in Local Funding