Watchdog: Follow the Money

Why do prices on public works projects often inch higher and higher?

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The price tag for big public works projects often balloons higher than originally planned — and that often sparks public outrage.

The Washington Metro system's Silver Line, the Columbia Pike streetcar in Arlington County, Va., and the Intercounty Connector in Maryland are three major transportation projects in the D.C. area whose costs have gone much higher than initially projected. A story in Thursday's Washington Post looks at the three projects and how their costs, and those of other major public works projects, often snowball.

"To get a project up and running, public officials may lowball a cost estimate at the outset, then ask for forgiveness and patience later," William Ibbs, a professor of construction management, told the Post.

Local officials often hope the lower cost figures will hold up over time, especially during an economic downturn, when they need to play up the ability of the project to create jobs.

The Intercounty Connector in Maryland has now doubled during decades of planning to $2.4 billion, because of inflation and added environmental mitigation projects, according to the Post.

On a $2.5 billion project, for example, inflation alone can add $60 to $70 million for each year construction doesn't occur, John D. Porcari, the former U.S. deputy secretary of transportation, said to the Post.

"You often see higher costs like this, but in our view, it's very much worth it," Stewart Schwartz, director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, told the Post.

"These are long-term investments."

Read the full article here.

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Kelly Cohen

Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner