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The Inefficient Construction of Infrastructure Is A Major Problem

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Particularly in New York City:

The astronomical costs of building the Second Avenue subway and other New York public transit projects are now the subject of a federal inquiry.

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The study was part of the spending bill that was approved by Congress last week. And it comes three months after an investigation by The New York Times revealed how city and state public officials had stood by as a small group of politically connected labor unions, construction companies and consulting firms drove up transit construction costs and amassed large profits.

The first phase of the Second Avenue subway on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, for instance, cost $2.5 billion for each mile of track. Another project known as East Side Access, which will carry the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal through a 3.5-mile tunnel, is on pace to cost $3.5 billion per track mile.

Elsewhere in the world, a mile of subway track typically costs $500 million or less.

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All those countries have completed major construction projects in the last decade that cost far less than American projects. The extension of the 14 Line in Paris, for example, was very similar to the Second Avenue subway project in length, depth, soil type, environmental issues and regulations, but it cost just $450 million per track mile. In Madrid, a project to extend the 2 Line, completed in 2011, cost just $100 million per track mile.

American transit construction generally is more expensive than work completed abroad, but recent projects in New York have cost far more than elsewhere in the country. In San Francisco, for example, the 1.7-mile central subway is being built for about $1 billion per track mile. The University Link project in Seattle cost around $500 million per track mile.

The Times investigation found that the high costs were the result, in part, of generous contracts, excessive staffing and archaic work rules.

I ride the Link to work every day, and it wasn’t cheaper because of corner-cutting — it’s pretty fast, quiet, clean, and reliable. As with healthcare, the sheer amount of rent-seeking in American infrastructure projects in general and New York ones in particular is a major problem.

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