Marin County town spends $2,000 per linear foot for bike path

San Rafael, in wealthy Marin County just north of San Francisco, is building a bike path near a new train line.  This isn't really worthy of national news until you consider the cost: up to $5.5 million for a little less than a half-mile of bike path.  That roughly comes out to $2,000 per linear foot.

Is this bike path being built over the River Kwai or a high mountain pass in the Himalayas?  Actually, it's being built in a flat downtown area.

The city claims that it needs to put metal beams under the bike path without explaining why.  All the existing businesses and warehouses probably are not supported by metal beams.  Even if there is some instability, they are talking about building a bike path, not an airport runway.

Councilman John Gamblin voted against the project, saying he was frustrated that SMART officials, who will use their contractors to build the bike path at the same time as they build the rail extension, kept upping the price tag.  He said, for example, that [the] City Council authorized $285,000 in advance steel purchase at their last meeting in May.  On Monday, the price for the steel was listed as $325,000 – an increase that SMART contractors said was needed in case some of the steel pilings for the bike path had to be redone, Guerin said.

"I know it's only $40,000 more, but we didn't authorize it," Gamblin said. "We authorized $285,000."

He also pointed to a $2 million cost overrun at the second Novato SMART station, as an example of what he said was a tendency for construction costs to rise without warning.

"I don't see an end to this, I really don't," Gamblin said.  "I understand why we used a non-competitive bid on this (pathway) project ... but it doesn't sit well with me that they knew what our budget was – and miraculously, their bid came in at that price, plus a 20 percent contingency."

As per the resolution adopted Monday, the crucial section from Andersen to Rice drives [about .5 miles] will cost $4.6 million, plus a 20 percent contingency of about $900,000 – or about $5.5 million total.  The balance of the 1.6-mile pathway [about a mile], which will be done at a later date, will cost an estimated $2 million, said Guerin.

To cover the first leg's $5.5 million, San Rafael is contributing a total of $300,000, while the balance is coming from Transportation Authority of Marin, Marin County, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

This is what happens when government builds something.  Government doesn't care about costs.  Government doesn't care about competitive bidding.  Government doesn't care about what truly needs to go into a project (are steel beams really necessary?).  And most importantly, government doesn't evaluate a project by its cost to see if it is worth it.

This bike path follows something grossly misnamed as the "Smart Train," which takes riders all the way from Santa Rosa, a medium-sized city in Northern California, almost all the way to a ferry station in Marin that goes to San Francisco.  I say "almost" because the train stops a good third of a mile away from the ferry station.

So, to get to San Francisco using this system, you will have to find parking in Santa Rosa (not easy to do), wait for the train, board the train, ride it south to the ferry, walk a third of a mile, wait for the ferry, get on the ferry, ride to San Francisco, then take one more bus or long walk to get to your final destination.  This is what passes for urban planning in California.

You have to wonder if, if San Rafael were paying the whole cost of the bike path, rather than foisting the cost on regional authorities, it would shell out the cash.  In any event, foot by foot, it may be the most expensive bike path in our nation's history.

Ed Straker is the senior writer at Newsmachete.com.

San Rafael, in wealthy Marin County just north of San Francisco, is building a bike path near a new train line.  This isn't really worthy of national news until you consider the cost: up to $5.5 million for a little less than a half-mile of bike path.  That roughly comes out to $2,000 per linear foot.

Is this bike path being built over the River Kwai or a high mountain pass in the Himalayas?  Actually, it's being built in a flat downtown area.

The city claims that it needs to put metal beams under the bike path without explaining why.  All the existing businesses and warehouses probably are not supported by metal beams.  Even if there is some instability, they are talking about building a bike path, not an airport runway.

Councilman John Gamblin voted against the project, saying he was frustrated that SMART officials, who will use their contractors to build the bike path at the same time as they build the rail extension, kept upping the price tag.  He said, for example, that [the] City Council authorized $285,000 in advance steel purchase at their last meeting in May.  On Monday, the price for the steel was listed as $325,000 – an increase that SMART contractors said was needed in case some of the steel pilings for the bike path had to be redone, Guerin said.

"I know it's only $40,000 more, but we didn't authorize it," Gamblin said. "We authorized $285,000."

He also pointed to a $2 million cost overrun at the second Novato SMART station, as an example of what he said was a tendency for construction costs to rise without warning.

"I don't see an end to this, I really don't," Gamblin said.  "I understand why we used a non-competitive bid on this (pathway) project ... but it doesn't sit well with me that they knew what our budget was – and miraculously, their bid came in at that price, plus a 20 percent contingency."

As per the resolution adopted Monday, the crucial section from Andersen to Rice drives [about .5 miles] will cost $4.6 million, plus a 20 percent contingency of about $900,000 – or about $5.5 million total.  The balance of the 1.6-mile pathway [about a mile], which will be done at a later date, will cost an estimated $2 million, said Guerin.

To cover the first leg's $5.5 million, San Rafael is contributing a total of $300,000, while the balance is coming from Transportation Authority of Marin, Marin County, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

This is what happens when government builds something.  Government doesn't care about costs.  Government doesn't care about competitive bidding.  Government doesn't care about what truly needs to go into a project (are steel beams really necessary?).  And most importantly, government doesn't evaluate a project by its cost to see if it is worth it.

This bike path follows something grossly misnamed as the "Smart Train," which takes riders all the way from Santa Rosa, a medium-sized city in Northern California, almost all the way to a ferry station in Marin that goes to San Francisco.  I say "almost" because the train stops a good third of a mile away from the ferry station.

So, to get to San Francisco using this system, you will have to find parking in Santa Rosa (not easy to do), wait for the train, board the train, ride it south to the ferry, walk a third of a mile, wait for the ferry, get on the ferry, ride to San Francisco, then take one more bus or long walk to get to your final destination.  This is what passes for urban planning in California.

You have to wonder if, if San Rafael were paying the whole cost of the bike path, rather than foisting the cost on regional authorities, it would shell out the cash.  In any event, foot by foot, it may be the most expensive bike path in our nation's history.

Ed Straker is the senior writer at Newsmachete.com.