ART’s Inevitable Cost Overrun and ‘Schedule Slippage’


The business owners suffering from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s movement of water pipes along Central Avenue, in preparation for “Albuquerque Rapid Transit,” probably don’t read The Boston Globe.

Lucky them.

A few weeks ago, Larry Summers, president emeritus of Harvard University, penned an op-ed with MBA-MPP student Rachel Lipson. They described the sorry saga of the Anderson Memorial Bridge, which links Boston to Harvard Square: “Rehabilitation of the 232-foot bridge began in 2012, at an estimated cost of about $20 million; four years later, there is no end date in sight and the cost of the project is mushrooming, to $26.5 million at last count.”

“Infrastructure!” is the rallying cry for left-leaning scholars and activists who claim to understand the best ingredients for economic development. Reliably ignored, in their advocacy for bridges, tunnels, parks, bike paths, “mass transit,” and “affordable housing,” is the ugly reality that government at all levels increasingly demonstrates a woeful inability to complete projects on time and on budget.

Summers and Lipson lament “bureaucratic ineptitude and the promiscuous distribution of the power to hold things up” and “the failure of leadership to insist on reasonable accountability to meet reasonable deadlines.” More and more voices are joining the chorus of critics. Harry W. Jones, of NASA’s Ames Research Center, has decried project-planning that reflects “optimism and hope for success in a supposedly unique new effort rather than rational expectations based on historical data.” For an eye-opening exploration of this problem, listen to economist Russ Roberts’s interview with Oxford University’s Bent Flyvbjerg.

Moving water pipes is just one task on the construction to-do list for ART. (As KRQE noted last month, the revenue “the Water Authority is spending on relocating water lines for the bus lanes and stations and now rebuilding medians [is] separate from the $119 million the ART project will cost.”) As the city presses ahead with the project — despite massive public opposition and two lawsuits — look for expenditures to increase and deadlines to lapse.