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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Red Rock Corridor Public Hearing: Flawed Studies, Cherry Picked Data, and Bad Numbers

Over the last year I've been watching the progress of all three transit corridors that are developing in the County as a concerned tax payer. Specifically concerned about the cost vs benefit of these projects and their reliance to be primarily funded by taxpayers who will never hear, let alone use, these bus routes. The Red Rock Corridor is most concerning. It started in September of 2013 when I requested to see the raw results for the surveys the project planners developed, conducted, interpreted, and reported to secure their funding. These studies are reported in the AAU. Suspicion arose when I realized their final reports on the surveys were nothing like other corridor survey results I've seen; they were nearly absent of any public concern of cost and lack of ridership! (see pic 1) 

After filling a data practice act with the assistant county attorney I finally obtained the raw survey results. Come to find out over a third of the citizens to fill out these surveys filled out comments critical of the cost, lack of proposed ridership, inconvenience of use, etc. None more apparent than the results of the September 2013 survey. (see pic 2 and 3) Red Rock Corridor Planners Deceive the Public to Secure Funding 

I brought the evidence of the findings to the County Board members and the RRC planners speaking to the conflict of interest having them run their own surveys and the evidence of the inaccurate reporting. No action was taken. The RRC commission eventually posted all the public comments in their entirety attatched to the end of a May 2013 report on survey results and re-named it an October update... but at least it's out there now starting on page 38: (The link and data are no longer available) 

The one sided surveys are just the beginning. The RRC planners are also severely underestimating the cost to build this 30 mile BRT corridor in both the AA and even more so in the AAU. Going back to the 2007 AA study it states the BRT option the Commission Chose in December would only cost $75 million (section 8-3 p. 32) In the 2013 AAU the cost prediction drops to just $45 million.

Over a dozen major expenses totaling well over a hundred million dollars have been left out of all the estimated costs for the Red Rock Corridor since the planning has begun. Leaving tax payers with the false impression this is a worthwhile investment.  In the original Alternative Analysis (AA) Study and even more so in the most recent Alternative Analysis Update (AAU). 

Going back to the 2007 AA study it states the BRT option the Commission Chose in December 2013 would cost $75 million (section 8-3 p. 32) in the 2013 AAU the cost prediction drops to just $45 million without explanation (p.14).

From the start, costs are extremely underestimated:
Based off the slightly more thorough 2013 Technical Memorandum #4 Capital Cost Evaluation some of the major costs missing in the $75 million dollar 2007 AA study are:
$14.3 million for the 20 additional buses that will be purchased (p.7)
$11.1 million for a lower Afton road BRT station upgrade (p.9)
$6.5 million for a Cottage Grove transit station (p.9)
$6.3 million to build a bus only connection from 61 to the Newport Transit Station (p.37)
Apx $6 million to build a Transit Station in Hastings (cost left out) (p.9)
Apx $4 million (at least) to build a bus maintenance shop (estimate off Apple Valley Red Line's shop cost)
$20 million million in cost adjustment for inflation using their own 3.5% a year figure (p.15)

That's a total of $74.4 million dollars missing from the $75 million dollar 2007 AA study quote for this 30 mile long corridor. Even this $150 million dollar estimate is very conservative. Evidenced by the fact the just 11.5 mile Red Line Corridor in Apple Valley cost $112 million

Add to this $150 million dollar estimate the fact there are additional miscellaneous costs missing such as the $35 million dollar project to completely tear out and widen the overpass and all the roads and ramps of the CR19 and hwy61 interchange. The project's sole purpose is to accommodate the buses that'd be riding on the shoulders of the this interchange to get to the Cottage Grove Station. This was discussed the May 2013 RRC commission meeting. see pic 5. 

Another unmentioned cost is the $2 million+ to pay for all the studies that are being completed now and in the near future. These costs were discussed at the February 2013 meeting. (p. 26)

The ridership numbers corridor planners are using to justify construction of the RRC are generous predictions on ridership in the year 2030 based off unknown calculation models! (Yes I've asked for the calculation equation to verify the math and was denied being told it was a computer program.)  BRT riders are predicted to be 2,420 daily ridership on the US hwy 61 based BRT Corridor in the AAU (p.13). Highway 61 in Cottage Grove currently has over 30,000 vehicles a day according to MNDOT (see p.11 ) and in 2030 is projected to have over 45,000 cars a day (see p. 22). For a road of that current and future volume their estimate is FAR too generous based on evidence of rider use on the Red Line corridor in Apple Valley that sees an average of only 835 riders a day on it's 90,000 - 128,000 vehicle a day road corridor according to a 2013 MNDOT report (p. 26 , also ). Yes, that's twice the volume of the 2030 RRC volume on US 61 and it's BRT line is only seeing 835 riders a day. 

How does the RRC planners explain how an area three times as densely populated and nearly the same population with a corridor that serves at minimum TWICE the volume of vehicle traffic a day is going to have almost three times the ridership of such a current place in 2030? 

As a tax payer I feel completely betrayed by the corridor staff who refuse to modify their dishonest behavior and by the local county and city officials who refuse to stop this conflict of interest that is breeding this corruption. I've been telling each one of them about all this. We are lying to ourselves and to our children who will have to pay for this if we think the AA or AAU is solid ground to build this unsustainable project on.