Rings and a Prayer

The City's Olympian Development Plans Rest on Smoke and Mirrors

The outlook for the planned extension of the 7 train to Eleventh Avenue is similarly hazy. Though the new transit link is the straw on which all else rests, no one knows if it can be completed by 2012 or within the planned $1.5 billion budget—the MTA didn't even hire a contractor to study the issue until this summer. (Recall that the recently completed Queens Connector took 12 years and $1 billion for a much shorter stretch of track.) Add in security costs (the 2004 Athens Games have budgeted $600 million for security alone) and the need for increased public services to the new development, and the cost of the Olympics could well soar past current estimates.

In fact, cost overruns have been the norm in recent Olympiads. Atlanta lost $1 billion on the 1996 Games, according to Georgia Tech planning professor Larry Keating. Sydney's "best Olympics ever" ended up costing the public more than $1.2 billion, nearly four times as much as original estimates, according to the New South Wales Auditor-General. The 2004 Games in Athens, meanwhile, have been an orgy of blown budgets and missed deadlines: The final tally will run at least $8 billion, the vast majority of it public money, even as the Athens Organizing Committee frantically slashes venues to save cash.

"At this stage it really is all make-believe," says Rob Livingstone of the Olympic bid-tracking site Gamesbids. com. "In Montreal for the '76 Games they hadn't planned a deficit, but of course they had one. Ask a Montreal taxpayer if they're happy about that."

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