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The book (the PMBOK -- Project Management Institute Body of Knowledge) says it's the project manager's job to reconcile stakeholder interests. It doesn't say what the PM should do if those interests are irreconcilable, as in the CRC example where Portland won't accept a solution which includes widening I-5 and ODOT won't accept a solution which doesn't include widening I-5. Cancel the project in this case, I guess. But it's clear that the PM is supposed to work at getting the two sides to agree, to facilitate negotiations, to suggest possible compromises. It isn't a question of the stakeholders ceding authority to the PM. It's the PM getting the stakeholders to forgo some of their interests, in order to get more important ones satisfied.

Not all PMs are up to this task, though.


At this point, the city of Portland seems resigned to a compromise proposal on the table; one which still is big and expensive, but less so than the original proposal. The compromise proposal, however, still has many flaws, and many transit activists in Portland don't like it at all. Of particular objection are billions spent on modernizing the freeway for several miles in either direction, and the treatment of Hayden Island--a popular alternative among transit activists involves no interchange between I-5 and the island, and a new bridge across the smaller south channel (which is not used for river navigation other than small craft) connecting the island with the Oregon mainland.

One other interesting wrinkle/constraint is the BNSF rail bridge just a short distance downstream. Eventually, if the Cascadia corridor is converted to HSR, this bridge will need augmenting/replacement. One technical issue with the current set of bridges is that the drawspans of the rail bridge and the current freeway bridge(s) aren't aligned, requiring large boats (primarily barges) to execute an S-turn in between. Addressing this obstacle to river navigation is one reason that proposals to keep the old bridges (which are still structurally sound), perhaps as arterial bridges, are considered non-starters by the project committee.

Another interesting wrinkle is funding for the MAX extension into Vancouver. While the capital costs of the tracks would be part of the overall project funding package, the operational costs of the line north of the river, which are in C-Tran's service district and not TriMet's, would be borne by C-Tran. (TriMet would operate the trains). Except--raising the money requires passing a ballot initiative, and the C-Tran board is concerned that Vancouver voters will reject anything that has "light rail" as part of it. The funding levy for C-Tran scheduled for next November has already been split into two parts, one to pay for C-Tran's basic operations and another to pay for the LRT and a proposed BRT system in Vancouver; and this second vote may be pushed off to the November 2012 election. (November 2012 is the next presidential election in the US, and presidential elections tend to draw more liberal voters than do midterm and off-year elections). If C-Tran voters refused to fund MAX operations in Washington--many have been calling for the transit components to be removed, if for no other reason than to reduce the overall project cost and thus the amount of tolls needed, I don't know what would happen to the project.

Finally, there's also the issue of the Glenn Jackson (I-205) bridge several miles upstream. Rulings from the federal government essentially prohibit any attempts to toll the I-205 bridge as part of the project, a major concern is that if tolling is a major component of the CRC, much auto traffic will simply shift to the Glenn Jackson bridge, overloading the road network in east Portland and Clackamas County. (Federal law in the US generally prohibits adding tolls to existing free highways that receive federal funding, except to pay for improvements).

Corey Burger

Minor spelling error: "model of piece and harmony" should be "model of peace and harmony". Otherwise an excellent piece about both projects and the challenges inherent in them. However, I would point out that as transit advocates, we need to start talking about transit outside of Portland (or Vancouver/Toronto in Canada) because I think people are having a hard time relating. It is better to talk about projects in Phoenix or Milwaukee or Calgary, which people can relate to, because they are seen are more "normal" in middle America (or Canada) and are places that people don't expect transit to succeed.


Certainly, although as a Portlander I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable to comment on the goings-on in many other cities. That said, Calgary's very successful C-Train system gets a fair bit of coverage.

As far as the typo goes--as a father of several small kids, I find my stretches of peace and quiet tend to come in bits and pieces. :)

Jack Hope

Edmonton's proposed new LRT lines may be worth looking at in regards to a system that doesn't receive a lot of coverage and where the project may meet the "over-constrained" definitions. A number of the new LRT projects are switching to what they are billing as "low floor urban LRT," in comparison to the existing "high floor suburban LRT" that makes up the current system. The main difference to me appears to be a switch away from German stadtbahn style of light rail, where substantial sections are built to pre-metro standards, such as separate right of ways, crossing gates and longer distances between stations to the more "urban style" of separate lanes on existing roadways and sharing signals with automobiles. There's been at least some contention that building to these standards through this stretch of Edmonton will mean the line will not see a speed improvement over existing bus routes, plus the appearance of going all out to service West Edmonton Mall (an elevated station appears to be part of the plan for the Mall).

Edmonton, as the mother of all North American light rail does need a little more attention I think, when discussing what's happening with transit. That being said, it does seem to me that in Canada we're somewhat more fortunate than our American friends when it comes to these kind of issues. Strong provincial governments can easily bulldoze over municipal governments if they've got enough public backing to do so. Municipal governments here tend to be weaker so cross-jurisdictional issues come up less (as a province will generally handle that). For example, in Calgary, there are no immediately neighbouring cities or towns that aren't separated by a large swath of land. So the entire city is one city government, an occurrence that is pretty rare.

We also generally don't have to contend with major cities (or perhaps, I should say Metropolitan areas) crossing from one provincial jurisdiction to another. With apologies to Lloydminster, it does make things like this a lot easier when only one senior government has to get involved.

The end result of this is that I'm hard pressed to think of any Canadian projects that really are this heavily constrained or have conflicting constraints to the extent in the examples presented. I can definitely think of some silly constraints that crop up (in Calgary, a group called "Best West LRT" managed to reduce the section that was elevated thereby preserving the views of about 15 homes at a cost of over a hundred million dollars) but not to the extent shown here either. I think some constraints are inevitable in any project this side and while I and others may feel them ridiculous or silly, they can be necessary to achieve "buy in." But the examples shown here seem to go way beyond anything that might be seen as an acceptable price of "buy in " for stakeholders.

I can imagine it makes for an interesting work environment for those who have to deal with it!

Alan Robinson

@ Corey Burger

Having an in depth discussion about transit outside of transit friendly cities is a bit of a catch-22. There are large communities in Vancouver BC, Portland, and Toronto that are interested in making transit the best it can be. There, the transit debate is framed around how to achieve the best service experience where elsewhere, the transit debate is focused on the question of whether to give transit the support it deserves.

I presently study in Chicago, but I'm more interested in the transit debates back home in Vancouver than I am of the debates here. Here, there are obvious needs in the transit system that require funding or the resolution of inter-agency strife. Back home, the question is how to grow the transit system and make it the most comfortable and convenient way to get around. The latter debate is far more interesting.


Toronto's transit expansion is a mess that you might want to read more about:
- The St. Clair streetcar "upgrade" to a reserved median - the city wanted centre poles for the catenary, which required a wider ROW, which required narrower sidewalks and a meandering route. Also there's little signal preemption so the new line isn't much faster than the old one.
- Transit City: new segregated streetcar lines in Toronto which had to be standard gauge, and thus incompatible with Toronto's existing streetcars (including the new St. Clair line). Also some ridiculous intersection designs where the trains will cross streets. And now the whole thing may not even be built.
- The Sheppard Subway (2002) - because the new mayor wanted to show that North York was just as important as downtown Toronto, this short subway was built under a 6-8 lane suburban arterial with ample room for a streetcar in reserved lanes. Actually a reserved streetcar is exactly what the "sheppard east" line is/was going to be in Transit City, requiring a transfer at the end of the short subway line.


@Jack Hope: It's not clear to me what Best West LRT wanted, or if they accomplished it. I know that there was a group that wanted an at-grade LRT in Sunalta, but that didn't go anywhere.

You have to love their before and after picture: http://bestwestlrt.com/Default.aspx?pageId=131433
It didn't look all that different considering the existing elevated expressway, so they added fake graffiti!

Jack Hope

@23skidoo: I should have made that clearer in my initial post. Best West LRT was generally opposed to the entire elevated section running from downtown through Sunalta and then to right of way besides Bow Trail. A lot of speculation that I read about them speculated they were something of an "astroturfed" group to protect the views of several homes on a hill overlooking the interchange of Bow Trail and Crowchild trail. There were all sorts of rumours suddenly popping up that trains could "fall off of the guideway onto the school below" and various other statements made against elevating this section. That picture and others like it were also used as part of their campaign and a change in the scope of the elevated section (instead of continuing over the interchange, it now comes down into the middle of Bow Trail and proceeds up a newly created median) has been attributed to their "activism." The WestLRT project's website has a nice little video animating the route and the section where it drops down into the median of Bow Trail is the segment that was changed (to the tune of over a $100 million in additional construction costs) instead of continuing over the interchange.

Beta Magellan

Great post! Governance does indeed matter—in Chicago the regional MPO’s just put out their big 2040 plan and the transit section was refreshingly free of the expensive vanity projects which have plagued Chicago planning in the last decade (a circumferential line through outlying suburbs, a grade-separated busway a few blocks from recently-rebuilt transit lines, an airport express necessitating passing switches to be added to an existed elevated line…I could go on). Instead, everything either addressed a pressing maintenance or capacity issue, and since the the MPO has control over what’s funded Chicago won’t be eating it’s desert first. Of course some of these projects are at risk of becoming over-constrained—the possibility of consolidating some platforms on Chicago’s north side elevated line, where typical station spacing is only around a third or a fourth of a mile, has already drawn the ire of some aldermen, so we’ll just have to see how things turn out.

Beta Magellan

Above, that should be “dessert,” not desert. No need to imagine a bunch of planners stuffing silica into the mouths of unsuspecting politicians.


I’ll second the good Engineer’s mention of Calgary as an excellent counterexample (although they’re evidently not immune to the problems of over-constraint, as mentioned above), you’ve chosen three pretty odd choices. Phoenix’s system has exceeded ridership expectations, but from what I remember of the research I’ve read about Phoenix’s LRT it doesn’t have much of a peak commute and—when it first opened, at least—it’s used more for leisure than work trips (I once heard it referred to derisively as the ASU drunkmobile), which makes it pretty unusual amongst the major American systems.

Milwaukee’s an even stranger reference. Milwaukee’s the only city I’ve ever lived in without heavy rail, but I was there for the light rail debate, which was basically an exercise in racism by Waukesha County (the county west of Milwaukee). In Milwaukee proper, the bus service worked very well in the nineties but suffered a dramatic deterioration in quality of service when Scott Walker was County Executive, so if they want to do any sort of transit investment they really have to start from scratch, fortifying their bus network and rebuilding ridership over time.

If I were an advocate, I’d also look more close are Denver, whose FasTracks program’s the most ambitious transit expansion scheme outside 30/10, as well as Charlotte and Minneapolis, whose light rail lines also exceeded ridership and have the added plus of being somewhat ambitious on the land use front (Charlotte wants to increase density, and Minneapolis has been very proactive in investigating the line’s effects on employment, poverty and housing). I might also throw in Salt Lake City too—although it’s pretty middle-to-lower-end-of-the-pack for American systems in terms of ridership, I get the impression that Utah’s made light rail expansion pretty much a normal part of its transportation portfolio and that things tend to get planned and built pretty smoothly there.


Man, you REALLY hit nail on the head with this one! Very good overview on the political constraints. Sadly, it seems most transit projects that aren't a matter of outright necessity have a higher volume of artificial constraints, b/c a certain project ideal might be beneficial or just plain kewl to a certain stakeholder.

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