Large Program Cost Estimating: Nuanced Implementation Assumptions Make Non-Nuanced Impacts

Transformative transportation programs often comprise discrete complex projects to deliver an overall vision. Even with substantial benefits, the cost, complexity, and risk of the entire program often creates a “sticker-shock” reaction that dominates public discussion. When escalation is factored into the program, costs can appear unreasonable or not financeable. In this scenario, benefits and costs are never discussed in a parallel (and equal) basis. If this leads to more delay, escalation creates an ever-more expensive output, leading to ever less support for the transformative program.Aviation and highway industries often deliver their programs as discrete projects of independent utility (for example, an additional lane of highway, or a new airport terminal). Rail and bus transit infrastructure projects, in contrast, are usually presented as the entire program (new vehicles, infrastructure, stations, facilities) even if some aspects of the program could be presented as a discrete project. By focusing on the program, rather than projects, transit proposals present stretch delivery dates and feature mountains of escalated costs. This paper uses the recent Boston North-South Rail Link (NSRL) Reassessment (Massachusetts, U.S.) as a case study. An examination is made of the potential benefits of packaging the program to advance independent but complementary projects. The expectation is that this approach reduces escalation, resulting in overall program cost savings in real dollars. While further research to validate this premise is suggested, the concepts of the paper can be used to reassess traditional megaproject schedule and delivery assumptions, reducing the identified cost escalation over the years.

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    • The analysis and conclusions expressed in this paper are solely those of the authors and not MassDOT. © National Academy of Sciences: Transportation Research Board 2020.
  • Authors:
    • Galante, Giuliana
    • Bruzzone, Anthony
  • Publication Date: 2020-9


  • English

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  • Accession Number: 01746946
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS, TRB, ATRI
  • Created Date: Jul 28 2020 5:33PM