2015 November 12 Thursday
America Used To Be Able To Build Stuff

A story from last year about how long it takes to build stuff in America makes me wonder if this has to stay messed up.

Regulations required the bridge's operator to study things like the impact of construction on Native American tribes that passed through the area more than a hundred years ago. In all, more than 300 groups were consulted.

The regulatory process took four years, the same amount of time construction on the 5,800 foot span is expected to take.

In America a lot of things broken by politics stay broken no matter how much they cost. Can we ever escape from what the politicians and their donors have done to mess up the country?

It is stunning what politically broken infrastructure spending mechanisms have caused: multiples higher costs.

Towering among giants is New York Cityís East Side Access project to join the Long Island Rail Road and Grand Central Terminal at cost of $3 billion per kilometer by the time itís finished in 2023. Beyond East Side Access, New York has two more projects (the Second Avenue Subway and No. 7 Line extensions) in the $1.5 billion to $2 billion per-kilometer range.

To put these numbers in global perspective, New Yorkís Second Avenue Subway will cost roughly eight times more than Tokyoís Koto Waterfront line and 36 times more than Madridís Metrosur tunnels on a per-kilometer, purchasing power parity (PPP) basis.

But this is not strictly a New York problem. Outside of New York, there are three more US projects in the top 12: Bostonís proposed Red-Blue Line Connector, San Franciscoís Central Subway, and Los Angelesís Westside Subway Extension.

Here are 7 ways the US government drives up the cost of infrastructure projects. Here are some bigger and smaller reasons.

Some possible areas of investigation include mismanagement of contractors, legislative and political interference, ostentatious architecture, onerous procurement rules (including, paradoxically, low-bid rules), time-consuming environmental reviews, prevailing-wage agreements, duplicated administrative functions, bans on certain types of revenue generation, strong rights for private property owners, aldermanic privilege, and political fragmentation.

Interestingly, none of the likely culprits are innate production factors - the high cost of land, the high cost of materials, and the high cost of labor. Land, materials, and labor are costly in the United States, but no more so than, say, Tokyo. And, as a 2011 Economist article helpfully pointed out, the $3.4 billion spent on the Calatrava-designed transit station at the World Trade Center wouldíve paid for the entire Second Avenue subway line if we paid what Tokyo pays for a mile of subway tunnel.

Also see Why is it so expensive to build a bridge in America? and an article on inefficient spending practices by state departments of transportation: More Money Wonít Fix U.S. Infrastructure If We Donít Change How Itís Spent.

It would be great to fix all this stuff and then crank up the spending to get great infrastructure repair and expansion.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2015 November 12 08:31 PM 

Black Death said at November 15, 2015 2:10 PM:

Indeed. For example, the Empire State building was built in just over a year, 1930-31, using construction technology considered primitive by today's standards. By contrast, the replacement for the Twin Towers, One World Trade Center, took over eight years to build. Ever wonder why?

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