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Dig this: State’s high-speed rail line is relatively cheap

By Joe Yovino

Wisconsin could spend almost $100 million on a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison by early 2011. And that’s in addition to the more than $40 million on pre-build engineering work during the past five years.

In all, Wisconsin will receive $810 million in stimulus money to build up high-speed rail around the state. That seems like a lot of your cash going toward a project, and it got me thinking about how it compares to the most expensive construction undertakings of all time. After seeing this list from Construction Management School, $810 million seems pretty insignificant.

At $22 million, Boston's Big Dig is the most expensive highway project in U.S. history. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

At $22 billion, Boston's Big Dig is the most expensive highway project in U.S. history. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

1. Big Dig – $22 billion with interest
The Big Dig, also known as the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, is the most expensive highway project in U.S. history. It cost $15 billion to build from 1991 to 2007, and an additional $7 billion in interest will be charged before the project is paid off in 2038. Its purpose was to relieve congestion on I-93 in Boston by steering traffic into an eight-lane, 3.5 mile tunnel. Since it has been in use, numerous leaks have been spotted and fatal accidents have occurred. In 2006, a woman was killed when three-ton ceiling panels collapsed onto her car. Even still, officials have maintained that the Big Dig has done its job.

2. San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, East Span Replacement for Earthquake Safety – $6.2 billion
After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that damaged a part of the east span, statewide studies were undertaken in an effort to determine whether or not California’s bridges were safe from seismic activity. Because of the result of the ‘89 quake and the information gained from the study, safety improvements were planned for the Bay Bridge. The entire east span is in the process of being replaced and it’s scheduled to open in 2013.

3. Mon-Fayette Expressway – $5.4 billion
Construction on the Expressway began in the 1970s and it’s expected to be completed in 2011. During the process, costs have skyrocketed from $1.2 billion to $5.4 billion because of rising costs of construction materials and design changes. Its purpose is to connect Morgantown, West Virginia and Pittsburgh, and assist in the economic revitalization of old steel towns along the way. However, the population along the first section of the Expressway is decreasing and roadway traffic is down from when the first section opened in 1990.

4. Ohio River Bridges Project – $4.1 billion
The Ohio River Bridge Project is intended to link Louisville with Southern Indiana, and according to kyinbridges.com, it “will result in safer travel, less congestion and improved access to destinations in the region.” Included are the construction of two bridges and a reconfiguration of Louisville’s Kennedy Interchange, also known as Spaghetti Junction, where three interstates (I-64, I-65 and I-71) merge. As of the summer of 2010, it’s likely that tolls will be imposed along its routes.

5. Interstate 69 in Indiana – $4 billion and counting
Not only will the I-69 project connect Evansville to Indianapolis, but according to the state of Indiana, it’ll also spur economic growth for the state and the country. Nationally, it’ll be connected to 17 of the country’s top 25 seaports and 15 of the country’s top 25 air cargo airports. Its importance is reflected in its rising cost; much of which is going toward the construction of the new Ohio River Bridge.

6. Central Texas Turnpike System – $3.6 billion
The Central Texas Turnpike is intended to provide relief to the growing Central Texas region, specifically Austin and San Antonio. According to Texas Governor Rick Perry, the project was completed a year ahead of schedule and $400 million under budget because of innovative methods of funding. It was financed by a combination of state highway dollars, local contributors, the sale of bonds and a federal loan.

7. Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project – $2.5 billion
Originally, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge was supposed to serve 75,000 vehicles per day, but nearly 200,000 vehicles crossed the bridge per day in 1996. The extreme congestion along with the accompanying wear and tear prompted the formation of a new plan to build two new six-lane spans. More than 10 million man hours have been spent on the overall project thus far, and 44,000 tons of steel and 100,000 tons of concrete have been used. The project is set to be completed in 2013 when the finishing touches will be put on the Telegraph Road Interchange.

8. I-95 New Haven Harbor Crossing Corridor Improvement Program – $2.2 billion
According to i95newhaven.com, the program “features public transit enhancements and roadway improvements along 7.2 miles of I-95, between Exit 46 (Sargent Drive) in New Haven and Exit 54 (Cedar Street) in Branford.” The result will be less congestion from New York to Boston. More than 140,000 vehicles per day use the roadway; 100,000 vehicles more than it was built to accommodate.

Joe Yovino is the Web editor at The Daily Reporter. He figures high-speed rail ranks about 810 millionth on the “Most expensive construction projects” list.

3 comments

  1. The conclusion you draw from all this, is that 810 million is pretty insignificant?!? Simply because it’s so much less than other pork-laden projects?
    So by that logic, if your kid comes home and says, “all my friends are shooting up heroin, but I’m only doing cocaine”…I guess you’d be pretty happy about that, since by comparison, ‘that’s pretty insignificant’.

  2. The problem with this analysis is that it doesn’t take into account any measure of usage. In some respects, it would be like comparing total state government spending by state. California and New York would always be at or near the top; Wisconsin would be in the middle, simple because Cal. and NY are big and Wis. is a medium sized state. If you looked at spending relative to population, the rankings would likely be different. In this case, the per person travel miles on these projects is likely a lot higher than the rail project. If usage were factored into the calculation, my guess is much of the discrepancy would go away.

  3. Rail junkies keep trotting out the $800 million sticker price on this thing. How about revising these figures to reflect the change in location of the Madison station? No way this thing comes in at less that 1.5 billion. That and fact the train will serve a teeny-tiny fraction of the travelling public doesn’t exactly strike me as much of a bargain at all.

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