The Euclid Corridor Project: More Bang for the Buck

by Tom Reed
WMV Web News Cleveland
Story filed April 29, 2003

The timetable for the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project has again been pushed back, this time because of federal insistence that RTA get more bang for the buck.

RTA deputy general manager Michael Schipper says the completion date will likely be in 2007, instead of 2006 as planned.

RTA is counting on federal funds for half the 246-million dollar cost of the project, which calls for high-tech, low-polluting buses to operate in bus-only lanes along Euclid Avenue. The Bus Rapid Transit system would shave eight minutes off the ride from Public Square to University Circle.

Disregarding other benefits of the plan, a cynic might question the expenditure of almost a quarter of a billion dollars to save eight minutes on a bus ride. The Federal Transit Administration has another way of looking at the cost-benefits equation. Under a complicated formula, the FTA gives the project a cost-effectiveness rating of $35 for each hour of rider time saved annually. Schipper says the RTA was not caught by surprise by word that the feds were pushing for better efficiency.

"The project has always ranked low in cost effectiveness," he says, "But the FTA has recently put more emphasis on the cost benefit factor than in the past." The project ranks considerably higher in the eight other yardsticks used by the government.

Reducing the $246 million cost by 10% to 20% would help, but how realistic is this? Schipper is confident that the first 10% can be achieved without hurting the project, but admits it's a little harder to get to the 20% level. But with the project still in the design stage, planners have some flexibility.

One thing that will help will be a little less sticker shock on the cost of the buses. RTA originally planned to spend $1.2 million for each of the 21 vehicles needed. These will be 60-foot articulated buses, with doors on both the right and left sides. But now, Los Angeles and other cities are ordering similar buses, and the benefits of mass production should bring costs down.

Earlier bids came from foreign companies. Now, with larger orders in prospect, American manufacturers are getting into the act. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority has just ordered 200 buses from the North American Bus Industries in Anniston, Alabama, for $632,914 each.

RTA may expect to pay more than that because, unlike L.A., Cleveland requires doors opening on both sides.

Less expensive buses plus other savings may make the project more economical, but will it be enough? RTA has already awarded contracts for more than $23 million, and has spent more than $15 million of that. If FTA pulls the plug, all of this could go down the drain. But Schipper doesn't expect that. "Their intention has been to make the project better. They've given us no indication they're going to pull the plug. They're all very positive about the project. They want to help get our ratings higher. We're very optimistic that we'll improve the cost benefits rating."

The RTA will apply for a full funding agreement from the FTA this autumn. It typically takes about six months for approval.

So hold your breath, and stay tuned.

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