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Analysis of Parametric and Database-Driven Cost Estimates in the Transit Industry

Models and Methods Track




Most major transit projects require some form of grant, either Federal or State, to be financially viable for a city. For those cities considering a transit project there are billions of dollars available each year from the US Department of Transportation (1). However, to qualify for these dollars the transit agency for the city, must demonstrate that the proposed transit project is cost effective.

This qualification requires transit agencies to prepare a cost estimate during the conceptual phase of the project. Because of limited budgets, in the early phases of these projects, the transit agencies generally rely on parametric and/or unit cost database cost estimating methodologies. For the transit agencies this is an advantage because a cost estimate can be produced efficiently with minimal cost. For the Federal Transit Administrations Consultant the review and analysis of parametric and unit cost database estimates can sometimes be a challenge. The review and corroboration process for these early phase estimates relies on a number of mechanical tests, mathematical skills, and expert opinions to insure the proposed cost for the project is accurate, comprehensive, and traceable.

This paper explores the FTA consultants’ challenges of working with the limited output from the transit agency’s proprietary cost database and/or parametric systems. Additionally, this paper will demonstrate a number of the consultants’ means, methods, and outputs through case study examples.

1. The US Department of Transportation issues grants to cities and municipalities, each year, for public transit initiatives. The FY 2011 Presidents Budget indicates $1.822 billion will be available this year for transit projects.


L. Brian Ehrler
Burns Engineering
4925 Greenville, Dallas, TX 75206
Brian Ehrler, CPE, PMP, LEEP AP, is a Cost Estimating and Risk Assessment Manager at Burns Engineering Inc., in Dallas, Texas. Mr. Ehrler conducts budget and schedule risk assessments, under contract, for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Ensuring comprehensive, durable, and economical budgets and schedules support the transit projects that FTA sponsors. Through these contract services Mr. Ehrler provides budget and schedule risk assessments, and to assist FTA grantees in meeting regulatory requirements while completing the project on schedule and within the established budget.
Mr. Ehrler began his career in 1990 estimating the cost of small construction projects in Illinois. In 1995 Mr. Ehrler moved to Texas and began work as a cost estimator for a commercial construction firm in Garland Texas. He later moved to an environmental construction company in Fort Worth Texas where he worked as a project manager controlling the budgets and schedules for environmental and civil construction projects. In 2004 Mr. Ehrler began working for a firm which provided services as a Project Management Oversight Contractor for the Federal Transit Administration, where he preformed project oversight activates supporting the construction of major transit projects throughout the United States.