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Charlotte's Light Rail: Lynx Blue Line

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A couple of tidbits worth repeating from an otherwise fluffy Observer article on the BLE (they mostly discussed art along the line)

I was not pleased that the article is walking us closer to the March start date (rather than the late December mentioned in the last quarterly report)

Quote

CATS, however, will charge a fee to use the decks. The price hasn’t been set yet, and some riders with passes will be able to use the decks for free.

This is a big surprise

And about those ties:

Quote

CATS said earlier this summer it had found more than 2,000 cracked ties along the line. The ties are the concrete slabs in between the rails.

Brim, the project manager, said the ties have been replaced or fixed. She said they were discovered two years ago, and weren’t the reason for the project missing its August 2017 planned opening.

FWIW

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article166074892.html

Edited by kermit

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2 hours ago, kermit said:

A couple of tidbits worth repeating from an otherwise fluffy Observer article on the BLE (they mostly discussed art along the line)

Hi, I'm Michael, (first post, but I've been following mostly along)

Speaking of the Observer, I have a small collections to share. Wanted to see if anyone sees what is wrong with this...

Note: these are just related to CATS Lynx projects.

598a2be76c2fa_image(5).png.a4857a9dfa9c7c0b7ce0ab5d7beaf4e0.png598a2be6c84eb_image(6).png.4b807e36ffe1a59353045fea005b1728.png598a2be624270_image(7).png.611a37f3d4fa91375c7885f4f427665b.png598a2be842eb0_image(4).png.46b90fe7a67fdcbc3f42879a2a6df430.png598a2be4a7c4b_image(1).png.753e4063847740848ec49de5b12471ef.png598a2be3dc7c5_image(2).png.3620e073bab158265a412555bd194f6a.png598a2be32bdd0_image(3).png.ab75d54f7713f3294a1746cadf795c26.png

 

image.png

Edited by Scribe
removed streetcar headline.
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^ meh. Its just standard local news disease -- if it bleeds it leads. There are a similar number of articles that discuss the development boom created by the Blue Line (but fewer above-the-fold headlines about that). Unfortunately its disingenuous of the Observer to trumpet CATS "asking for more money" when the project remains (and has always been) slightly under budget. 

Election results tell us that the vast majority of Charlottean's support transit and are willing to pay for it and there are lots more clamoring for more rail soon.

Edited by kermit
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7 minutes ago, kermit said:

^ meh. Its just standard local news disease -- if it bleeds it leads. There are a similar number of articles that discuss the development boom created by the Blue Line (but fewer above-the-fold headlines about that). Its also disingenuous to trumpet CATS "asking for more money" when the project remains slightly under budget. 

Election results tell us that the vast majority of Charlottean's support transit and are willing to pay for it.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/when-silicon-valley-took-over-journalism/534195/

This was sent to me today by one of my favorite Charlotte Journalists. 

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4 minutes ago, kermit said:

^ meh. Its just standard local news disease -- if it bleeds it leads. There are a similar number of articles that discuss the development boom created by the Blue Line (but fewer above-the-fold headlines about that). Election results tell us that the vast majority of Charlottean's support transit and are willing to pay for it.

That's not it. Actually, in this case it is far from it. All those articles are decent journalism, unlike many of the fluff that the Observer has.

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1 minute ago, Scribe said:

That's not it. Actually, in this case it is far from it. All those articles are decent journalism, unlike many of the fluff that the Observer has.

Please share your perspective with us!

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1 minute ago, kermit said:

Please share your perspective with us!

Unlike the article from today - mostly fluff with briefly touching on some detail - most of those that I posted screenshots pointing out the mismanagement of the CATS projects - that is what news organizations are supposed to do. But in this case every single one is published on a Friday afternoon (or in some instances over the weekend). 

No matter how dumb and futile the idea is ( http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2004/09/friday_night_blights.html ), in my eyes this is disturbing. 

Compare the article from today to the articles I captured to get sense of the difference.  (Do not take this as not supporting transit, but just my aversion to deceit and bad management)..

image (8).png

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OK. CATS certainly may be guilty of taking industry standard PR advice (or it could be that Steve Harrison and the editors like to file transit stories on Fridays to please the newspaper gods). I would also agree that CATS has struggled with both project management and PR (although considering the complexity of the projects CATS is responsible for I don't consider their management skills to be particularly poor)

However, I would argue that the Observer has done a rotten job of contextualizing CATS' difficulties. First, there is very little reporting on highway construction cost overruns and mismanagement, problems associated with air quality, traffic generation, homicide-by-auto (e.g. pedestrian and biker deaths), and the massive subsidies that roads receive from the public over and above user fees. Second, the Observer has almost completely ignored the positives of the Blue Line, BLE and the Streetcar (other than Ely being pretty good about pointing out the clear connections between development and LRT in Southend and around Brevard st and NoDa). The Observer has conducted no analysis of the tax base, sustainability, walkability, labor force and social benefits created by LRT. 

TLDR: Most news sources suck. CATS sometimes Fs up but they get shafted by the press regularly too.

(and welcome to UP)

Edited by kermit
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I am pointing out a bad pattern at the Observer. I do not know if CATS has anything to do with the articles being published on Fridays/Weekends or not.

I go to the "community" events that CATS holds and I've asked the questions why was CATS more then a year behind on the BL Capacity Expansion... or what happened to all the money that was to "ensure BLE summer 2017 opening" - without getting any answer most of the time, or a "this is a complex project" the rest of the time.

This article alone talks about $53.5 million paid out to keep project on schedule - and that is 18 months old... http://www.wbtv.com/story/31054302/charlotte-city-council-adds-13m-to-lynx-blue-line-contracts

Quote

Last year, the city added $19.5 million to construction contracts, and another $21 million a few months earlier. Danny Rogers, CATS’ project director for the extension, said Monday the city still has $147 million in project contingency.

“The project is extremely complex, with multiple third-party requirements and coordination,” Lewis said. “We have negotiated amendments to contracts … to ensure we recover and accelerate the schedule of a summer 2017 opening.

CATS keeps hiding behind the contingency as if they were supposed to use it up.

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article23575618.html

Quote

The Charlotte City Council Monday approved a change order to the Lynx Blue Line contract in order to keep the $1.1 billion project on schedule.

I hope that the Observer somehow sucks less after we discuss their practices on UP :tw_grimace:

Edited by Scribe
CATS replies...
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10 minutes ago, Scribe said:

I hope that the Observer somehow sucks less after we discuss their practices on UP :tw_grimace:

all of us are here because traditional news outlets have failed us.

(and lowest common denominator journalism means that the Observer is never going to get into the weeds on problems keeping NS to hold up its end of their contract or the Core Capacity Enhancement grants process). 

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^ I don't disagree. I have had serious concerns about Lewis' skills as a public-facing exec since shortly after he arrived.

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Just now, kermit said:

^ I don't disagree. I have had serious concerns about Lewis' skills as a public-facing exec since shortly after he arrived.

Ok, glad to be on the same page, just as long as I am clear that I want BLE to be even more successful then the original BL has been so far. :tw_glasses:

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Charlotte is going to find it very hard to deal with its growth rate if future expansion is done as well as this.  Since future expansion funding seems pretty unlikely, gridlock and transit delays will increase.

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You won't find me defending CATS management or project abilities, but-

Construction contingency for most projects essentially acts as a cushion between the minimum amount of work and running out of money. In most cases, it's there to address unforeseen needs, holes in the design documents and holes in the construction estimate. But as construction progresses and the relative risks of running into those holes goes down, it can shift into more wish-list items that aren't "necessary" but are desired. This could be anything from extra benches at the stations to extra attic stock for the maintenance shed, or any number of things.

In any event, I would rarely expect any contingency to be remaining by the end of a project, public or private. 

 

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44 minutes ago, tozmervo said:

You won't find me defending CATS management or project abilities, but-

Construction contingency for most projects essentially acts as a cushion between the minimum amount of work and running out of money. In most cases, it's there to address unforeseen needs, holes in the design documents and holes in the construction estimate. But as construction progresses and the relative risks of running into those holes goes down, it can shift into more wish-list items that aren't "necessary" but are desired. This could be anything from extra benches at the stations to extra attic stock for the maintenance shed, or any number of things.

In any event, I would rarely expect any contingency to be remaining by the end of a project, public or private. 

I get what you are saying, and I did not expect the contingency fund to be left untouched... From the original BL experience with cost overruns CATS gave themselves a much bigger contingency this time around. One would hope/expect that if the fund is used, that money has a stated purpose and if the stated purpose is not achieved, there should be answers, very detailed answers as to what went down.

From everything I've seen to date, at CATS:

  1. Contingency is treated as must use (like a budget - if you don't use it you will lose it)
    • i.e. they started awarding additional funds first year into the project.
    • was the BLE plan bad/wrong and the contract written that the first 12 months you already have change orders in the millions?
  2. There is no accountability for the funds
    • i.e. CATS publicly state that it is to "ensure" the project stays on track for August 2017 opening, but then we get 9 month delay.
    • if the stated purpose of awarding the additional/contingency funds fails to deliver who is responsible for the failure?
    • In March 2017, the Observer ran an article "CATS unsure who to blame for delay in Blue Line extension" - http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article137160458.html
      • Hey there is this little nugget - "CATS said the contract allows it to assess a penalty of up to $10,000 a day for being late."
        • given we paid good money to make sure all is on track, this seems like a good starting point.
      • wait, hold your horses...
        • “The evaluation of the causal factors that ultimately determine what, if any amount of liquidated damages may be due to the City is complex and subject to negotiation with the contractor,” CATS said in a statement to the Observer. “The City will not seek to collect damages from BB if its evaluation determines that it is not due such damages."
      • Notice, there is no mention if internal audit of mis-management of the project. 
      • As long as the city does not find fault with BB, everyone else is off the hook?

Recap:

  • December 16, 2016 - We're good with August 2017 as long as weather is good
    • notably, we had a mild winter and weather was good.
  • February 27, 2017 - We are 9 month delayed
    • it is a complex project and utilities are complicated.
  • March 8, 2017 - We do not know how we got 9 month behind, but we are looking for someone to blame...

Feels like CATS is run like DesignLine (of Anthony Fox fame) - except they have a pass on going bankrupt... The city can - and must - do better!

I hope to get more info, maybe I've missed something, so links to city docs or news publications that are not already linked would be welcome.

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The world has turned upside-down! This morning I witnessed folks* parking in Uptown decks and taking the light rail south to Quail Hollow.

*workers who probably had monthly parking passes but still

 

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As long as they are paying - then more revenue! The Lynx really is convenient - and not just for the special events.

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On 8/11/2017 at 8:57 AM, tozmervo said:

The world has turned upside-down! This morning I witnessed folks* parking in Uptown decks and taking the light rail south to Quail Hollow.

*workers who probably had monthly parking passes but still

 

Between the trains filled with the buttondownvisor crowd and Jehovas Witnesseses doing whatever it is they do at New Bern, East/West and Bland street stations on a Saturday night I gotta say that the Blue Line has officially reached the mainstream.

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The word from CATS is that Balfour Beaty is only slowly responding to contract deficiencies  and apparently the recourse terms in the contract are insufficient to force an appropriate recovery. 

From what I heard CATS is sweating making the March open date mandated by the FFGA. 

The next quarterly report will be published in two weeks.

I am so tired of CATS bungling construction. 

* this is all 3rd hand information.... 

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when driving down N Brevard St today I saw a crew replacing what look like those concrete ties around 25th St. 

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1 hour ago, kermit said:

The word from CATS is that Balfour Beaty is only slowly responding to contract deficiencies  and apparently the recourse terms in the contract are insufficient to force an appropriate recovery. 

From what I heard CATS is sweating making the March open date mandated by the FFGA. 

The next quarterly report will be published in two weeks.

I am so tired of CATS bungling construction. 

* this is all 3rd hand information.... 

Thanks for this update.

So, apparently CATS is not just bad at managing the projects, they can't even negotiate a decent contract to begin with!

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On ‎8‎/‎15‎/‎2017 at 9:26 PM, Scribe said:

Thanks for this update.

So, apparently CATS is not just bad at managing the projects, they can't even negotiate a decent contract to begin with!

Or you know it really is a very complex project.  Custom construction is complex, doing it inexpensively takes time, to do it well costs money.  The axiom in construction is there are three goals: do something well, do something inexpensively, and do something relatively quickly; If managed well you can meet two of those goals.  

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