Eno Symposium Examines Solutions to Transit Cost and Delivery Challenges

This week, Eno hosted a four-day symposium on transit costs and project delivery. Through this virtual event, Eno sought to create a forum to share findings from our transit cost and delivery report and exchange best practices in project delivery among transportation professionals, policymakers, and researchers.

The symposium focused on the broader challenges in project delivery, as well as specific themes related to governance, processes, and standards at the national, state, and local levels. Day one featured an in-depth presentation of the findings and recommendations from Eno’s ongoing initiative, as well as a robust discussion with guest moderator Jerusalem Demsas, who has covered project delivery issues extensively in her role as Policy Reporter at Vox.

The second day of the symposium highlighted work being undertaken by peer researchers on risk assessment, the role of citizen voice in decision-making as a cost driver for infrastructure project, as well as the accuracy of cost estimation. Representatives from New York University’s Marron Institute, Berkeley Law, and SPUR joined Eno experts for a panel to discus similarities and differences from their respective investigations into transit costs and project delivery. Common findings include the lack of staff capacity for managing megaprojects, over customization of project design, and challenges with public engagement and permitting that provide avenues for project opponents to stall and delay projects.

Environmental permitting and community engagement were covered in greater detail through issue-specific panels on the third day of the symposium, along with an in-depth examination of challenges related to staff capacity and expertise. These panels featured experts from transit agencies across the country along with and representatives from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).* Given the outsize role of these issues in determining project costs and timelines, these panels offered attendees an opportunity to learn about specific challenges facing project sponsors in the United States, as well as best practices to address them.

With so many regions in the United States either expanding their existing transit systems or building rail transit for the first time, the final day of the symposium featured region-specific panels focusing on the current state of project delivery on the ground. Representatives from Los Angeles and Seattle – which were among Eno’s four domestic case studies – discussed the history and challenges of the decades-long pipeline of rail transit projects underway in their respective cities, and lessons learned as each agency adapted to a growing capital program.

A third panel with representatives from Austin, Texas discussed the current state of Project Connect, the $7 billion light rail system approved by voters last fall, and how the city plans to utilize best practices to ensure Project Connect is delivered on-time and on-budget. The city has already taken notice of the findings in Eno’s report, and is considering a resolution to identify and reform existing permitting rules that could serve as an obstacle to the timely delivery of the new light rail system. Los Angeles Metro and Sound Transit are similarly taking a close look at our findings and recommendations to incorporate lessons and best practices into their existing programs.

Beyond the symposium, Eno is currently working on several reports that will further analyze transit governance, funding, and decision-making processes in countries across multiple continents. Eno will investigate governance and project delivery practices in New York City, and dive deep into cost breakdowns and patterns from the FTA’s capital cost database. In addition, Eno continues to engage with stakeholders, researchers, and agencies across the United States to disseminate findings and best practices, and write about key takeaways from our initial report through Eno Transportation Weekly and other outlets.

With historic levels of transit capital funding on the horizon, a willingness to hear and implement best practices to get more (and better) transit for our money is critical to meet our economic, equity, and climate goals. The enthusiasm and curiosity that attendees expressed in sessions and networking lounges over the last four days is a hopeful sign that organizations across the country are eager to find ways to build transit quicker and for a lower cost, and learn from successes in other countries and regions.

* – The Eno symposium was supported by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration

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