Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Matter of Years

We've all heard that expanding our drilling for oil won't do any good because it would take at least ten years for the oil to reach the market:

"Let's remember that the amount of oil in ANWR is too small to significantly improve our current energy problems. Further, the oil exploration in ANWR will not actually start producing oil for as many as 10 years." -- Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)

Many of the opponents of ANWR advocate a greater investment in mass transit, including high speed rail. For instance, Patty Murray won some award in 2003 for advocating rail subsidies.

So how long does high speed rail take to get from conception to actually bringing passengers?

The Southeast High Speed Rail (SEHSR) Corridor provides us with a good case study. The SEHSR will run from Washington, DC to Charlotte, NC, and will primarily be built on existing right of way. Four states formed the coalition in 1992. It is projected to open sometime between 2015 and 2020. So what's the hold up? It's not funding. It's environmental studies, and other studies. Here is what they need to complete:

Planning studies (1 - 1.5 years)

  1. Determine existing studies
  2. Traffic Forecasts
  3. Analysis Needs
  4. Conceptual Solutions
  5. Preliminary Cost Estimates
  6. Cost Estimation Valuation Process

Environmental Studies (5 years, after the planning studies)

  1. Purpose and Need
  2. Traffic Analysis (I guess the Traffic Forecasts from the planing studies isn't enough)
  3. Preliminary Alternatives
  4. Public Outreach
  5. Technical Studies
  6. Air Quality
  7. Noise Analysis
  8. Traffic Analysis (again?)
  9. Socio Economic
  10. Cultural Resources (what the hell is this?)
  11. Biological Resources
  12. Hazardous Materials
  13. Water Quality
  14. Floodplan / Hydrologic
  15. Energy
  16. Land Use
  17. Economic
  18. Wetlands
  19. Visual Effects (from the studies or from the actual rail?)
  20. Environmental Justice
  21. Cumulative and Secondary Impacts (one secondary impact: lots of trees killed for studies)
  22. Cost Benefit Analysis
  23. Refine Alternatives
  24. Alternative Selections
  25. Section 400 Evaluation (not to be confused with 404 - File Not Found)
  26. Record of Decision

Preliminary Design (2.25 years, concurrent with the end of the environemtal studies)

  1. Geometric Design (they've got visual effects already, what's this for?)
  2. Typical Selections
  3. Grading
  4. Drainage (this after they've got a study done on Floodplan / Hydrologic)
  5. Structural
  6. Traffic / ITS (another traffic study!?)
  7. Signing / Striping
  8. Lighting
  9. Utilities
  10. 30% plans

Final Design / Right of Way Engineering (3.5 years)

  1. 60% Plan
  2. 90% Plan
  3. Final Plans
  4. Specifications and Estimates (of what?)
  5. Right of Way Setting
  6. Right of Way Engineering
  7. Appraisals
  8. Purchase Offers
  9. Counter Offers
  10. Relocation
  11. Asbestos Clearing
  12. Demolition
  13. Condemnation (if necessary)
  14. Federal Regulations

So the sum of all these is about 10 years, according to the SEHSR website. And this is before construction starts, but after the several year period when they were getting the coalition of states assembled and doing preliminary planning. In the case of the SEHSR corridor, the total time is currently estimated at 23 - 28 years.

So 10 years to get oil out of the ground seems pretty fair compared to the speed under which the government would be able to get a high speed rail link to go a few hundred miles.

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