Tuesday, January 29, 2019

City Council, January 30th - The Wager of the SRC

The prelude to the big showdown on the SRC is tomorrow, Wednesday the 30th. Council has scheduled a work session and hopefully it will not just be a staff presentation and Councilors will be able to question, even cross-examine, staff. No public comment will be taken at this time in order to allow Council and staff to focus. (Comment will be received at a later meeting in February.)

It happens there's a big sports event this weekend, and what Council is asked to do is not so much to evaluate certainties, as it is to evaluate a wager. Sports betting is in many ways a good lens through which to consider the SRC.
  • Is the SRC and its Preferred Alternative a good bet? Are its predicted outcomes a good bet? It is a good bet to come in at or near budget?
  • Are there other, better bets out there for meeting some of its stated goals?
  • How much of your own money would you be willing to bet on any these?
By these measures, trying to think of risk in a personal way, I think the SRC scores very poorly. It's not a good bet at all.

This should not surprise us. Very large projects fail most often. Bent Flyvbjerg is probably the world's authority on them, and he has identified a great number of problems with them. We see many of these problems here.

Megaproject expert Bent Flyvbjerg in the New Yorker

10 Characteristics of Megaprojects in his
Oxford Handbook of Megaproject Management
If you think we need to consider more about greenhouse gas emissions, the SRC is not a good bet to reduce them at the scale we will find necessary, if it even reduces them at all. There should be lots of doubt here.

The traffic modeling on which the merits of the SRC is based erases any margin of error or uncertainty. If instead we consider realistic levels of uncertainty for any 20 year forecast, there is no difference between No Build and the Preferred Alternative. It is within any reasonable margin of error. Any meaningful reduction in congestion is not a good bet.

The effects of tolling are minimized and not carried through the analysis. There is reason to think that tolling, and not constructing the SRC, is actually the good bet.

The effects of induced demand are also minimized and not analyzed. They are merely swagged. This is a hope and a guess rather than a good bet.

The example of Mission Street between 12th and 25th shows us urban disruption and costs we may later come to regret once the SRC is built.

The large extent of "Category 4" soils and liquefaction hazard, the framework of a per unit cost estimate, and ODOT's extensive history of cost overruns together suggest the current cost estimate is not a good bet.

The admission by the Q & A authors that writing the document was daunting suggests the information in the whole DEIS may not be very reliable. Basing decisions on the DEIS increasingly does not look a very good bet. At the very least, the way it was used in the fall of 2016 required simplifications and distortions that now render some of the claims not a very good bet.

So what about the SRC is a good bet?

When you go down the list of claims for the SRC, time and time again you find that the SRC team and SRC proponents understate or erase uncertainty, or use poor analysis in order to create unwarranted certainty. They want you to think it's a good bet.

But if it were such a good bet, its advocates could be more forthright about the underlying sources of uncertainty and there would be more clarity and strength about its positive outcomes.

The Iron Law of Megaprojects from the Handbook:
"over budget, over time, under benefits"
There's a lot of words out there in favor of the SRC, but on the whole it's a vast quantity of muddle, rather than a more economical analysis of quality, that tries to rig things towards an end favorable to the SRC.

The SRC is not a good bet and Council should adopt a resolution calling for a No Build Record of Decision.


Jim Scheppke said...

Thanks for all your efforts to critique the City staff report, and for this summary of your findings, and for your recommendation. It should be noted that after meeting for six years, most of the lay members of the SRC Task Force reached the same conclusions as you did at their final meeting on August 15, 2012. There was no majority consensus to continue the planning project. It should have ended there. Here are the citizens who voted "No Build" at that meeting ...

Russ Beaton, land use expert
Eric Bradfield, Grant Neighborhood Assoc.
Rebekah Engle, CANDO Neighborhood Assoc.
Fred Harris, North Salem Business Assoc.
Doug Parrow, representing bicycle interests
Darlene Strozut, Highland Neighborhood Assoc.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(It's not terribly important, but weren't there seven votes for No Build? 4A and 4D got 12 together, 2A got one. So No Build was a strong second place finisher.)

Walker said...

May I suggest slight rewording and punctuating this differently to avoid a somewhat confusing read that required two re-readings:

The traffic modeling on which the merits of the SRC is based erases any margin of error or uncertainty. Based on realistic levels of uncertainty for any 20 year congestion forecast, the estimated overall congestion expected after not building the bridge is essentially the same (within the margin of error) as the congestion expected after building the Preferred Alternative. Any meaningful reduction in congestion is not a good bet.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I did not use your language, but I did revise the paragraph substantially so hopefully it is clearer! Thanks! (And if it turns out to need more tinkering or revision, will do so.)

Doug's Transportation Ramblings said...

During my involvement on the SCR Task Force, I applied the criteria developed for evaluation of the alternatives to No Build and concluded that No Build actually performed better under those criteria than any of the other alternatives. Of course, project staff who were operating on the assumption that a mega-project was desirable and the commitment to deliver one were not interested in that evaluation. I also suggested early on that we.consider other more more economical ways to adddress motor vehicle congestion and was told that we could only consider alternatives that fully accommodated the long-term projections of motor vehicle demand. Thus, the planning process is destined to produce a mega-project.