Thursday, December 13, 2007

The brilliance of freeway tunnels (part 2 of 2)

Part 1 here. Reading the paper sparked a couple of my own variant ideas. All of the conceptual cross-sections show two tunnels, but some tunnel concepts contain as many as 8-9 lanes in each one (stacked 2-3 levels high inside the tunnel cross-section). Might we get away with a single tunnel instead of two, since we're keeping I-45 on the surface? Would that roughly halve the cost?

Another variant: a tunnel allows us to think outside of the 45 corridor itself. Is that really the best place to put the new capacity? If you look at a map of Houston, you can see that big driver of the congestion on 45 is that a large swath of NW Harris County drains into it on local streets. For whatever reason, 249 inside the Beltway never became the spoke freeway it should have been. A tunnel under the 249 corridor may make more sense, connecting to the 249 freeway outside the Beltway and relieving both 290 and 45. 290 could definitely use the relief, and it would provide a more direct trip into town for the people of that heavily populated area around Willowbrook.

Combining the two ideas, it may even make sense to run a single tunnel under 45, and another single tunnel under 249, coming together at some point near 610.

I am really inspired by the potential of tunneling in Houston. If they're successful in this corridor, there are all sorts of other places around town that could certainly use the same solution: (here's a map to help you visualize)
  • How about adding capacity to the always-congested West Loop?
  • Bring the 225 Pasadena Freeway into the center of town as originally planned? (taking the load off of 45S inside the loop)
  • Connect the Ft. Bend Parkway to the southwest corner of the 610 loop?
  • Create a missing spoke freeway between 290 and I-10 outside the Beltway?
It solves so many problems, like limited rights-of-way, community and environmental impacts, and construction congestion - while providing the new capacity we need to grow, as well as the congestion-priced express lane network we need to solve our congestion and commuter transit problems.

For a long time I've wondered how we'll connect center-median express lanes (like on the new I-10) with crossing freeways without creating an insane tangle of ramps (or forcing express traffic into the congested general lanes for the exits, defeating their purpose). But if the express lanes are underground - including the connecting exit ramps - then the problem is solved!

TXDoT and HCTRA need to see this as not a one-off project, but building an expertise and capability that can be applied over decades of growth. The cost of that learning curve and that equipment has the potential to be amortized over many projects, not just 45, making the economics even more compelling than it already is.

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34 Comments:

At 8:41 PM, December 13, 2007, Blogger Brian Shelley said...

I don't like to toss the phrase about, but that's brilliant. I gather from other comments that the cost comparison between tunnel and surface along an existing corridor does not justify the tunnel. However, a tunnel underneath a developed area would be vastly cheaper than purchasing the surface property and it would provide new access and not just expansion of existing access.

 
At 10:03 PM, December 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I think you have gone a little crazy on the tunnel concept. Tunneling through suburban areas where demand is limited and right-of-way acquisition is feasible? Why? The Fort Bend Parkway expansion is easily done at ground level. The need for the 225 extension is questionable and surely can't just justify the cost.

There will never be enough funding to pay for the projects you mention, not in a million years.....not from the government or tolls.

The reality is, I think it is highly unlikely that we will see a vehicular tunnel built anywhere in the United States in the next 30 years. I think the only project candidate that may have a chance is the 710 freeway missing link in Los Angeles.

 
At 9:47 AM, December 14, 2007, Blogger Falafel said...

I am for tunnels everywhere if it means added capacity! Maybe the West Park Tollway can get added capacity with a tunnel vs. a double decker. I also like the idea of added capacity for the west loops.
Great idea Tory!

 
At 1:50 PM, December 14, 2007, Anonymous RedScare said...

Hmmm...tunnels are worth it, even though they may cost 50% more than surface roads.

Rail is bad, because construction costs are rising.

High speed rail is bad, because of upfront costs.

One of these articles is not like the others.

 
At 2:07 PM, December 14, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

It's all about how many people get moved at what cost...

 
At 4:16 PM, December 14, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

There was a proposed toll road extension of 249 to the North Loop along the BNSF right-of-way, but the neighborhoods fought it and I believe won.

Tunneling underneath low-density areas (98% of Houston) seems pretty unrealistic. I could see a tunnel extension of Spur 527 to downtown, maybe a tunnel of some sort to relieve the Uptown area, and perhaps most enticing, an I-45 tunnel going beneath downtown that would enable us to destroy the elevated portions and reconnect downtown with the neighborhoods around it (smaller version of the Camacho proposal). Other than that, I can't see tunnels happening in Houston.

 
At 10:11 AM, December 16, 2007, Blogger engineering said...

Tory,

Have to admit to you that some of the highways you mention I did not know about. :)

Keep in mind that the challenge to come up with an alternative to the 16-lane reconstruction/expansion for I-45 came after seeing the alternatives proposed by the Downtown Management District and Hines. Both of these were for I-45 between I-10 and Pierce Elevated. Thus my personal question, if it is good enough for downtown why not good enough for north of I-10?

Given the conditions of I-45, the tunnel alternative was what I consider the best option. I don't advocate tunnels for all highways but tunnels have some benefits that should not be dismissed.

Following are some of these benefits: in urban areas with limited and expensive right of way, tunnel don't require additional right of way; expansion of highways with high traffic volumes, tunnels have little impact on existing traffic; addressing environmental impacts, tunnels help clean de air, reduce noise pollution and limit storm water run-off; need of more capacity, tunnels increase corridor capacity without need for more right of way; and need to generate revenue, unless TxDOT adds new lanes on I-45 TxDOt cannot collect tolls. And, I-45 gets expanded north of I-10 and south of US-59, in between is Pierce Elevated. How will Pierce Elevated be expanded?

There is one very important element to be noted, tunneled or not. Tolling a highway provides the ability for congestion management. Because of Texas legislation the only way to toll a highway lane is to add "new" capacity (catch 22).

Another very important fact is that it is very unlikely that the Houston region will meet by 2012 federal mandate on air quality. Meaning the feds will not provide funding for new highway projects (worst case of catch 22).

Lastly, the brilliancy of the I-45 tunnel is that 1) provides for moving existing HOV traffic to tunnels and use of curren HOV surface lanes for higher type of mass transit, and 2) tunnels can be designed as emergency evacuation routes and emergency shelters (it is not a matter of if but when the next category 5 hurricane will blow Houston apart). But these are not new concepts. Central Expressway in Dallas has demonstrated their light rail next to it proven to be very succesfull (would love for METRO to have such success). Also in Europe, i.e. Norway, has roadway tunnels designed for emergency shelters. In the case of Houston, the I-45 tunnel alternative has the ability to protect the lives of over 1/4 million people or more.

So, as brilliant as we would like it to be, the I-45 tunnel/parkway concept is just what has been done for decates. Even in Houston tunnels are more common than people think, i.e. 1950s tunnels under the ship channel and current storm water tunnels large enough to drive a car.

Lastly, I have seen a proposal to extend the Westpark toll road from the 610 loop to Main Street via a combination of surface and tunnels that includes both highway lanes and light rail. An elevated toll lanes and at grade light rail following the existing Westpark corridor and before Kirby they go into a tunnel (two tunnels, each with two highway lanes at the bottom and light rail on top) all the way to Main Street. Now this I think is brilliant. But like the I-45 parkway/tunnel concept, it appears that these type of projects are only good for people in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, London, Madrid, Shanghai, Moscow, etc. :)

Thanks for the feedback and helping to open the minds of Houstonians.

gonz.

 
At 1:38 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Tory,

"It's all about how many people get moved at what cost..."

More like "at whose cost".

You may be correct that it is more expensive for the government to be in the business of doing things like operating buses, trains, and subways, than not. That makes sense. However, I think you are way off-base on the general idea - given a choice between a car-based community, and a transit-based community, as to which is greater cost overall (private + public monies).

You are only considering costs to the public sector, and this is all conservatives ever mention. But you are leaving out more than half of the pie. You never consider that it costs a heck of a lot of money to own and operate a vehicle. I don't care whether the money goes to Uncle Sam, or to Exxon, or to Toyota - anything that comes out of my pocket needs to be added up if you want to do comparison of costs. And you might assert that "transit will never get anyone out of their cars". That is not backed up by any data I have ever seen, including recent data from Christof.

So, what is the operating cost of moving 50,000 people down I-10 every day, from Katy to galleria / downtown, for highways versus rail?

Let's take a good guess:

Rough calculation for me is that it costs roughly $1 million for that community to take that round trip by car (40 miles round trip, * .50 cents per mile, * 50k trips), or roughly $200-$250 million per year (given weekends). If you could operate commuter rail over that same area, it would take operating costs of $125-$150 million per year for that line alone, plus let's say the rail trip costs of $5 each way for a ticket - for it to come close to the current true road costs. This does not even include that I-10 in highway form will have maintenance costs as well, which would probably mean that up to a $160 million subsidy per year for that rail line alone might be justified. In reality, I think even a subsidy of $20 million per year to operate that line would be excessive. And even if you only move 20% or 10,000 people every day with the rail line, guess what? That still is: $200,000 for those trips via car in total public + private expenditures (not including road maintenance), or $100,000 in fares + up to a $100,000 subsidy per day for rail (which it most certainly would not require- that is around $30million / year) to equal the road costs.

Conclusion? You seem to think that roads are a slam dunk over rail projects in terms of cost, but you do that by ignoring that total costs = taxes + out of pocket costs for both systems.

If anything, total out of pocket costs for things like rail and express bus are going to be cheaper than pursuing a car / toll-road strategy. I would say bus lines and rail should both take precedence over new highway construction, although I still support highway construction as well.

And if you want to talk about high-speed rail to Austin / Dallas, etc - well, if other countries are any example, HSR is profitable.

-Mike

 
At 2:58 PM, December 17, 2007, Anonymous kjb434 said...

Transit requires taxes to fund its operation. That's money i would rather have in my pocket to pay for owning my own car. I rather choose to use my own money to go with the mode of transportation i like. The extra money i may pay to own my car allows me to also travel where transit is extremely limited.

I comes down to whether you trust the government or yourself to spend your money. I go with myself.

 
At 3:35 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

KJB,

Agreed - actually, you made my point for me.

The point is, cost is a misleading issue that transit opponents use. The real issue they have is a philosophical qualm with greater public funding of transit. I have no such qualms.

I do agree that in general I trust money in my hands over the government. But if, as in the case of transit, I believe that public monies could be spent on huge capital projects that would ultimately lower my average total commuting costs and be less expensive for the community as a whole, then I am in favor of collecting that money and building those projects.

I think this sort of boils down to whether you are libertarian versus utilitarian in philosophy. I believe in the greater good, even if I do not directly and immediately benefit. And I wish transit opponents would be honest as far as costs, and admit that their true objection is to government, and not costs, as you have done. I can respect that perspective - and disagree with it. But the costs arguments are basically just baloney.

-Mike

 
At 3:51 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Michael: Your cost argument is based on the theoretical costs of moving people by transit, assuming the transit vehicles run substantially full (where they can certainly be more cost efficient than cars). I'm talking about the costs when you look at real ridership divided by full costs, which generally end up higher on a per passenger mile basis than cars, even without the public vs. private distinction. See this post for details:
http://tinyurl.com/2wofml

 
At 4:00 PM, December 17, 2007, Anonymous kjb434 said...

If i'm taking transit to reduce my cost of travel, I agree it's better.

The only problem is that to me (and many people) the cost of driving is not an issue. Whether gasoline is at $1 a gallon or near $3.50 a gallon hasn't affected me personally. The reality is that gas up to near $5 a gallon is not a real problem in most people's pocket book.

Also, the only way I would ever consider taking transit is if it's faster. The reality is that is never is in my case and many commuters. METRO's park-n-ride is the only service that is quite affective at moving a commuter faster than taking their own car.

 
At 4:21 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Tory,

From your link:

"Divide 4.48 trillion into 988.2 billion and the cost of driving averages 22.0 cents per passenger mile."

I encourage you to use the 22 cent figure, but the figure that everyone uses is actually the IRS figure, which is 50.5 cents per mile for operating costs alone. Which, if you will look at TI's table for operating costs, is actually much more expensive than commuter rail and heavy rail - at .36 and .39 respectively, and comparable to light-rail. Which is exactly my point - rail lines can justify high capital costs because they are cheaper for the community to use / operate on a long-term basis.

-Mike

 
At 4:43 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

KJB,

>>The reality is that gas up to near $5 a gallon is not a real problem in most people's pocket book.

You know, the interesting thing, is I think transit has 2 main reasons for existence, and cost of gas is one of the present ones, but I think that will go away as we move to electric or fuel-cell vehicles. I really think that congestion is going to be the more important reason in the long-term to have mass-transit. LA is adding something like 6 million people over the next 25 years. That is a tough assignment for any transit planner - but one which most seem to think roads can only go so far in helping.

-Mike

 
At 4:46 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The IRS number is what they allow for reimbursement for a *vehicle* mile (and is biased upward to allow for people having more expensive luxury cars). The average vehicle carries more than 1 person, so that's where the $.22 per *passenger* mile number comes from.

 
At 5:00 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Tory,

Thanks for the clarification.

However, that number implies that our cars contain on average 2.3 people. I know that the only time mine does that is when I am on a long family trip or going out to dinner - and from observing others on the freeway at rush hours, the overwhelming majority has only 1 person in them. So, when considering the case of commuting, the average car contains maybe slightly above 1passenger - maybe 1.2 or so. I wish I had better data than my "hunch" here, but I don't think it really changes the calculations much - by my estimates (using 1.2 people per auto, which I think is more than generous for the rush-hour commute), still makes cars $.43 per passenger mile, which is more expensive than commuter rail and heavy rail. And in the case of most commuters, again, the figure is still $.505 per mile.

-Mike

 
At 5:04 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Are the rail estimates based on actual ridership numbers (not just assuming full trains), and fully include all capital costs? Are they for existing lines (like NYC), or are they actual estimates for Houston lines?

 
At 5:06 PM, December 17, 2007, Anonymous kjb434 said...

I would argue if you had a job that required extensive personal use of your vehicle, the higher reimbursement rate is a perk and not intended just to cover your ware and tear. Many companies will use the lower 22 cent/mile figure but give a $500 a month car fee. This comes out cheaper to the company than the 50 cent/mile for mileage driven. The $500 a month also allows for the cost of owning a car to be much cheaper (or free depending on the car you get).

 
At 5:19 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Tory,

I am just pulling the operating costs off of the link from the tinyurl you posted - so it should be for existing lines - probably not fair of me to dispute some of the numbers, while using others, but hey, it's a free country. I'd bet our Main Street line has much better figures than this.

http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=88

Note: I am not debating the capital costs per passenger mile issue, but my understanding is that ultimately, the interesting figure is the operating costs. If they are less than the operating costs of another form of transit, then higher capital costs, amortized over time, would be justified and eventually those expenditures become 0 for any given project.

KJB,

The IRS is not giving people "perks". Now, if your car is already fully depreciated, then it is basically a perk. But if your car is brand new, then it is depreciating more quickly - it loses something like 1/3 to 1/2 of its value when you drive it off the lot. The IRS figure is just an average.

-Mike

 
At 9:57 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Capital costs are absolutely relevant. Most of these facilities have a useful life of less than 30 years before rebuild, so they are a substantial portion of the total cost.

When you look at the numbers at the link with capital costs included, those transit modes are far more expensive than driving. If they were cheaper than driving, then transit wouldn't be a problem, because they could charge enough fare to cover their costs and still be cheaper than driving, and thus should attract plenty of users. But that's not the case. All transit systems require substantial subsidies.

 
At 10:11 AM, December 18, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Tory,

Not true - a commuter rail line does not need to be rebuilt every 30 years. Maybe every 100. Other costs are just operating / maintenance.

Also, the estimates I am using are plain vanilla IRS estimates - in which case you are already saving approximately $.05-$.15 per passenger mile considering the case of commuting. Some estimates I have seen for cost per passenger mile , which include environmental and other social costs, which would put the savings of commuter rail in the neighborhood of $.50 per passenger mile.

>>If they were cheaper than driving, then transit wouldn't be a problem, because they could charge enough fare to cover their costs and still be cheaper than driving, and thus should attract plenty of users

I agree - where I disagree is whether they should do that. I am fine with subsidizing transit so that poor people can get to their jobs, etc. Which is why I said:

>>"It's all about how many people get moved at what cost..."

More like "at whose cost".

My point is, even with the subsidies, transit is cheaper overall because you are saving so much per passenger mile - see my earlier posts and show me where I'm wrong.

Transit's only problem is political opposition and high initial capital costs. After that, transit = long term savings.

-Mike

 
At 3:49 PM, December 18, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

"Maintenance" = essentially "rebuilt", just piecemeal. Look at the massive needs of the DC system built in the 70s.

> My point is, even with the subsidies, transit is cheaper overall because you are saving so much per passenger mile - see my earlier posts and show me where I'm wrong.

You are only looking at operating costs, whereas I include capital costs. That's the key difference. See the original link post (http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=88). When you add capital to operating, it's more than a car on a per-psgr-mile basis.

It's also important to note that those commuter rail costs are based on old cities with the vast majority of jobs centralized downtown - NYC, Chicago, etc. It's seems quite obvious they would not be achievable in a dispersed city like Houston with less than 7% of jobs downtown (i.e. they would not attract enough riders for the denominator of the cost per passenger-mile calculation).

 
At 2:10 PM, December 19, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

>>It's also important to note that those commuter rail costs are based on old cities with the vast majority of jobs centralized downtown - NYC, Chicago, etc. It's seems quite obvious they would not be achievable in a dispersed city like Houston with less than 7% of jobs downtown

I think the same results would be more-or-less attainable. You have what, > 500k jobs in the downtown / medical center / galleria areas? When you start the commuter rail service, you will have a frequency of say, every half hour. If demand warrants, you could increase that frequency. The operating cost per mile would not be affected much.

>>You are only looking at operating costs, whereas I include capital costs. That's the key difference.

No, you aren't. You are comparing capital costs for 2005 for roadways versus transit, and per passenger mile costs for the entire existing network. Even in the link you posted - they discuss that the figures are probably way off for capital costs for certain modes of transit because the basis for comparison is fundamentally wrong.

Obviously, such a comparison is going to bode well for roadways, as we have already poured trillions of dollars into our roadways and bridges - probably around 98% of our total transit budget for the past 70 years, which show up as around only several billion $ in capital if you are just looking at 2005. So, to arrive at the calculation that it only costs us .38 cents per passenger mile in capital costs of roadways is patently absurd - that is the capital cost in 2005 / per passenger mile taken over a network built over 70 years.

For us to even start a remotely fair comparison on the capital costs side, you would have to compare lifetime capital costs of roadways per passenger mile versus lifetime total capital costs for transit. And, you would probably want to exclude projects that are still under construction, as there are more railways under construction as a percentage of their total potential transit miles than there are roadways under construction.

 
At 10:28 PM, December 19, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes, adding up downtown, uptown, Greenway, and the TMC could be 500K jobs, but that is not the same as packed into a single downtown like Chicago or NYC. Instead of a direct commuter rail ride, you're looking at local connections that eat a lot of time. Remember the short Main St. line is still a half-hour end-to-end. Again, this is why commuter express buses are superior: cheaper, faster, no stops, going directly to specific job centers and circulating.

And clearly we have different perspectives on the economics. But consider this: the road network is not optional. It *must* exist, so the cost should be considered sunk, and not count against cars (with the relatively small exception of some marginal optional capacity, like extra lanes beyond the basic four on a freeway). Rail, on the other hand, is completely optional - so the capital costs should absolutely count.

In Houston's case, we already have the HOV network, so the question has to be: how many *new* transit riders will be added for the additional cost of building and maintaining commuter rail vs. the current express bus system. I believe it will be $billions$ for a relatively small additional ridership relative to the current system.

 
At 12:15 AM, December 20, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

>>But consider this: the road network is not optional. It *must* exist, so the cost should be considered sunk, and not count against cars (with the relatively small exception of some marginal optional capacity, like extra lanes beyond the basic four on a freeway). Rail, on the other hand, is completely optional - so the capital costs should absolutely count.

I thought we were talking about building freeways underground here. That sounds pretty optional to me. Also - new toll roads - those are optional, as far as I'm concerned.

I agree that a basic road network is needed. I just disagree that any time there is additional capacity needed, the answer is always going to be to add more lanes, or charge for usage of lanes, or start looking to build freeways underground like the Big Dig. There is another answer here: add much more capacity with rail and enhanced bus service.

I think commuter rail could be built in such a way that it would complement bus service / roadways. Instead of having an express bus going into downtown and then circulating around various stops, you could just have a downtown circular bus, etc.

I agree that our HOV system makes Houston's case a bit more difficult to analyze. We would have to build a commuter rail network with the knowledge that we are definitely building a better, more efficient system for the next 100+ years.

 
At 7:37 AM, December 20, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes - we were talking about underground freeways and toll roads - I was just responding to your comment that the capital cost number for cars/roads was too low.

> There is another answer here: add much more capacity with rail and enhanced bus service.

Agreed. Once Metro can show a forecast that the HOV lanes are on some sort of trend towards saturation with express buses (i.e. reaching capacity limits), then the high-cost economics of commuter rail might start to make more sense to get that next step-up in capacity. But I don't believe we're anywhere near that limit, or forecast to reach it in the foreseeable future.

 
At 10:24 AM, December 20, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

>>Agreed. Once Metro can show a forecast that the HOV lanes are on some sort of trend towards saturation with express buses (i.e. reaching capacity limits), then the high-cost economics of commuter rail might start to make more sense to get that next step-up in capacity

One other factor to keep in mind is that commuter rail actually gets you service from the center to outlying areas as well - downtown / galleria out to energy corridor, for instance. With HOV, at least as currently implemented, you are pretty much only getting people into the city. There are a lot of people who would benefit from being able to go outbound, or drive into the city center and go outbound to various job centers from there. Living in Pearland and working in the Woodlands might become more feasible, or living on the west side and working in Clear Lake. Or living in Kingwood and working in the Energy Corridor. You get the idea. Instead of 40-50+ miles of driving, you might now have half that + train, or maybe a train into town, and then a train out to work.

So, I don't necessarily agree that the limit is "saturation with express buses", but rather - if the economics of driving makes operating cars more expensive than operating trains (where I believe we are already at), and there is enough demand to justify a network which provides inbound / outbound access (which, in decentralized Houston, I believe makes more sense anyway).

 
At 2:11 PM, December 20, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

That's why they're replacing the Katy HOV with 4 managed lanes, 2 each direction, each with guaranteed high-speed capacity for Metro, which will be able to run express buses both directions. Most of the rest of Houston's freeways have freeflowing contra-flow during rush hours - no problem for express buses in that direction.

Remember that commuter rail has a net speed with stops of about 30mph, so some of the commutes you're describing would be well over an hour one-way including transfers. Why would people choose that when an express bus could do it in less than half the time, with no transfers, using a combination of HOV, HOT, and/or contraflow freeway lanes?

 
At 5:53 PM, December 20, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

>>That's why they're replacing the Katy HOV with 4 managed lanes, 2 each direction

This only takes you to 610 / I-10 west interchange. And, I would maintain it is more expensive to build and maintain this 4 lanes + buses than to just start building rail.

>>Remember that commuter rail has a net speed with stops of about 30mph

There is a more concrete limit of buses only going up to about 60 mph, and then if they have to share traffic with cars at any point probably around 20 mph. The slowest bus in NYC averages 3.8 mph, much slower than the slowest train.

Trains can travel at higher maximum speeds than buses - it all depends on how much you want to invest in the rails. Also, for buses to cover the same ground as a single train, you need several buses, stopping at several park and rides, with on/off ramps / bridges to HOV park and rides. The train could also possibly have high-speed service either more infrequently or on separate tracks, connecting you all the way to places like Galveston and College Station.

The good thing, is we'll get to compare the benefits of rail versus bus right here, with 290 / 45 possibly taking the first step towards rail, with I-10 being behind those two corridors.

 
At 10:36 PM, December 20, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> I would maintain it is more expensive to build and maintain this 4 lanes + buses than to just start building rail.

Which gets back to my original point: it's all about how many people get moved at what cost. Those lanes may indeed cost more (although I don't think so), but they will move far, far more people, and they actually *generate* money from the toll revenue, which rail does not.

> Trains can travel at higher maximum speeds than buses - it all depends on how much you want to invest in the rails.

Actually, it's more about how far apart you put the stops. High-speed rail really only works inter-city - or on odd point-to-point urban express routes, like Shanghai's airport to its main foreign business district (and even there the economics have been sharply questioned - it's really more of a showpiece). In Houston, any reasonable spacing for stops (3-5 miles) is going to top out around 30mph net, at best.

Again, that's a benefit of express buses: rather than have 1 train slugging through stops at 5 park-&-rides, you can have 5 separate buses go nonstop express. Even better, each of those park-&-rides can offer different buses going express to different distributed job centers, instead of just downtown. Just like flying, it's always better to go nonstop than connect through a hub.

 
At 5:29 PM, December 21, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

>>but they will move far, far more people, and they actually *generate* money from the toll revenue, which rail does not

Toll roads will generate money for the toll operator. Train fares will generate money for a train. Yet there is no inherent reason why a train needs a subsidy to operate. My point is that it is, in fact, less costly overall for the community to operate a train than it is to have each individual operate a car.

If we wanted to build a train to be profitable, I believe we could do it. I do not know of any fundamental law of transit that says trains = not profitable. HSR is profitable in Europe, and Union Pacific makes money on rail. Clearly, the railways are not just sucking money out of nowhere.

*IF* we wanted, we could charge $15 / day for unlimited use of the train with connections to light rail and bus. We could subsidize only the rides of those who could demonstrate a certain income level. We could institute "congestion pricing" for trains - and jack up the prices at rush hour. People would still ride that if it meant that they could get from Katy to Galleria / Downtown and back, in 20-40 minutes, 99.5% guaranteed on-time.

I believe this funding approach has not happened for the same reason that we do not charge people to send their children to public school - people don't want mass transit to be funded and operated in this manner. But just because you oppose the typical funding schemes is not a good reason to oppose the technology. A good reason to advocate for a profitably run train, perhaps.

>>Just like flying, it's always better to go nonstop than connect through a hub.

Show me a bus in Houston that does not have to get into normal 0-10 mph rush hour traffic at some point along its route, and you've got a good point.

A transportation system for the next 100 years should involve something with its own ROW along the entire route - similar to planes in flight. That could be a bus potentially, and I would agree that the current HOV system is better than not having anything at all, but we are still a far cry from where we will need to be in 50 years if we want to improve transportation in this city.

-Mike

 
At 11:04 AM, December 22, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> Show me a bus in Houston that does not have to get into normal 0-10 mph rush hour traffic at some point along its route, and you've got a good point.

The street grid, for the most part, is not the problem at rush hour. It's the freeways. A bus certainly slows down out of the HOV, but it's a trivial amount of its overall trip. And it's certainly far less of a trip-time hit than transferring from commuter rail to local LRT, then walking to the final destination.

If you believe commuter rail can be break-even or even profitable overall (not the case anywhere in the world - even in the highest-density cities on the planet), then we will have to simply agree to disagree.

 
At 1:07 PM, December 22, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Yes, if you believe city trains are inherently unprofitable, as opposed to nearly always structured to be unprofitable (like many other public services), then we can agree to disagree.

You want an example of profitable rail? The Heathrow Express is one such example. How is it profitable? They charge a lot for the tickets. And people still ride it - because it provides excellent service, high speeds, wi-fi, etc - and it is targeted towards business travelers. I am not suggesting that all rail should be priced this way, I'm just sort of surprised that you are against rail as a technology, as opposed to "public rail". Maybe because you know that if rail is implemented in Houston, you would most likely lose the funding battles as well?

But the funding - who pays - whether it is private or public - is essentially close to a zero-sum game in the end. Just because I am paying a toll-road operator and Goodson Honda instead of Uncle Sam does not make me the big winner.

 
At 4:23 PM, December 22, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Of course the Heathrow Express would be profitable, because those travelers can pass the expense through to their companies. Not an option for everyday commuters.

I am not against rail as a technology. I am for the most economic way to move people, and I don't believe rail is that. You do. And that's where we agree to disagree.

 

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