This past weekend, the NYT reported that bids had come in to replace the aging Willis Avenue Bridge, which spans 304 ft between Manhattan and the Bronx. It was built in three years and nine months, completed in 1901 at the cost of $2.5 mil. Adjusted for CPI, this is $59 mil in 2005 dollars.

By comparison, the Brooklyn Bridge spans 1600 ft, cost $15 mil to build in 1883 or $300 mil in 2005 dollars. Today, 106 years later, with the advent of modern technology, we can replace the puny Willis bridge in an estimated five years at $600 mil, assuming no cost or time over-runs, based on bid submissions.

If we oversimplify things by assuming material and all labor costs have increased with CPI - giving no credit to a century of progress in building technology and advancements in material extraction and fabrication, then, $600 - $59 = $541 mil is the burden created by the choices we have made as a society in adopting regulations, studies, legal requirements, constituency approvals, bureaucratic overhead, etc.

It seems remarkable that these costs should be almost 10 times that of purchasing the skilled and unskilled man hours and the materials to fabricate the bridge, and that we should take 33% more time to get the job done. And these are best-case figures assuming no overruns.

The moral of the fable seems clear — by embracing a model which allows many different constituents to have a say in investment into public infrastructure, New York City and possibly the rest of the country have greatly retarded its ability to create and renew physical infrastructure. This is very clear in NYC where we contend with decrepit and aging infrastructure while cities in Asia maintain constant renewal of public works.

In a previously disastrous experiment, liberals thought they could achieve affordable housing at no cost by legislating rent control, only to watch landlords allow buildings to fall into neglect from lack of economic incentive. Perhaps a similarly misguided belief today that we can save the trees, the fish, and the environment at no cost by legislating all projects to obtain numerous constituent approvals will have similar consequences - leaving us with a stock of aging infrastructure by excessively raising the costs of getting them replaced. 

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

I reviewed the Census Bureau's calculations of the changes over the time periods 2000 to 2006, in the number of people who report themselves as non-immigrant residents in a metropolitan area. To my amateur view it is a change in the demographic patterns from the "white flight" of the last decades of the 20th century. The "flight" now is by all groups of "native" Americans. San Francisco, for example, has seen its black population drop from nearly 20% 2 decades ago to 8%. Riverside, which has been one of the fastest growing exurban counties in Southern California over the same period, has seen much of its growth come from African-American emigrants from Compton and Watts.

Bridge addendum from Yishen Kuik:

Vietnam $42mm Thuan Phuoc Bridge is a cable-stayed bridge that crosses the lower Han River at Da Nang, Vietnam. The four-lane bridge, completed in 2005 has a main span is
405 meters. The four-lane bridge is 1.85 km long and
18 meters wide.

Sweden & Norway $185mm The 704m Svinesund Bridge is a compression arch suspended-deck bridge crossing Ide fjord at Svinesund, and joining Sweden and Norway. 4 lanes, longest span 247 m (810 ft).

China $700mm The Runyang Bridge is a large bridge complex that crosses the Yangtze River. It is part of the Beijing-Shanghai Expressway. South bridge main span of 1,490 metres (4,888 ft). Upon its completion in 2005 it became the third largest suspension bridge in the world and the largest in China. The width of the deck is 39.2 metres (129 ft), accommodating 6 traffic lanes and a narrow walkway at each outside edge for maintenance.

Slovakia $172mm The 854 m Apollo Bridge spans the Danube at 231 m. The Apollo Bridge became the only European project named one of five finalists for the 2006 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award (OPAL Award) by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Scotland $40mm The Clyde Arc is a road bridge spanning the River Clyde. Dual two-lane carriageway, two cycle/footpaths (total width 140 m) in west central Scotland, 96m span.

Thailand $70mm The Second ThaiLao Friendship Bridge over the Mekong connects Mukdahan Province in Thailand with Savannakhet in Laos. The Friendship Bridge is 1600 meters long and 12 meters wide, with two traffic lanes.

If anyone can explain what exactly is in the 90m span Willis Bridge that makes it good value at $600mm+, I would be all ears. At that price, I would expect the bridge attendants to serve us coffee as we approach the ramparts.





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