Longfellow Bridge repairs will now take about as long as the original construction

In August 2013 I wrote a posting about how Boston’s Longfellow Bridge would cost at least 4X to renovate, in constant dollars, what it cost to build with circa 1900 construction techniques. In January 2015 I added a posting about a rumor that the project was a year behind schedule. I found this August 2015 WBUR article saying that the project has been delayed for an additional two years and that the projected budget was substantially higher than I quoted in my original posting. Thus it seems that, if there are no additional setbacks, the renovation will take roughly as long as the original construction and cost about 6X as much, after adjustments for inflation.

I’m thinking that even if Bernie Sanders gets elected and Congress gives him the $18 trillion that he wants to spend (WSJ), the country won’t look substantially different in terms of infrastructure.

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13 Comments

  1. Colin Summers

    September 24, 2015 @ 1:28 pm

    1

    It will look different if in 2020 we see a bridge that looks like it did in 1900, right? I mean, a decade ago that thing looked like it was a hundred years old.

  2. Nico Claus

    September 24, 2015 @ 3:09 pm

    2

    I have a modest proposal: recover the cost overruns by increasing the taxes on the citizens of Cambridge and Boston, since they always say that they don’t mind paying a little more in taxes (and are voting accordingly).

  3. Anonymous

    September 24, 2015 @ 3:22 pm

    3

    Isn’t renovating a bridge while it is in use has to be much more costly than building a new one?

  4. philg

    September 24, 2015 @ 4:12 pm

    4

    Anon: you can test that theory by looking at the projected cost of the Tappan Zee replacement. In that case I believe that the new bridge is being built without using any of the old bridge components.

    The original Tappan Zee was built for $81 million (1950 dollars).

  5. Anonymous

    September 24, 2015 @ 5:20 pm

    5

    According to Wikipedia, the old and new Tappan Zee bridges aren’t comparable structures: “Unlike other major bridges in metropolitan New York, the Tappan Zee was designed to last only 50 years.[3] The new bridge is intended to last at least 100 years.[4]”.

  6. philg

    September 24, 2015 @ 7:01 pm

    6

    Anon: Well, then I guess it is a real bargain at the $5-6 billion estimated price given in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tappan_Zee_Bridge_replacement. The old bridge cost $800 million in 2015 dollars, using http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm to adjust. If we assume that the project comes in at the $6 billion estimated price, it will cost 7.5X as much to build a bridge of the same length with theoretically greater durability. (Traditionally any benefit that starts 50 years from now has to be discounted, but given that it might cost another 7.5X to build a replacement bridge in 50 years ($45 billion in today’s dollars) perhaps this iteration is actually a good value.)

  7. Anonymous

    September 24, 2015 @ 7:51 pm

    7

    Phil: The new bridge will be the same length but will have more lanes and will be much more beautiful. They won’t be comparable structures. Could they have built the proposed bridge 1951 for less than 7.5x what they spent? I don’t know. Is it a bargain at 6 billion? I don’t know. Could we build it now for less than 6 billion? I would think it is possible, but we don’t seem to know how.

    The fraction of GDP is roughly the same for the two structures. They could afford the old one so we can afford the new one, if we want it.

  8. philg

    September 24, 2015 @ 9:47 pm

    8

    Anon: You want to consider anything that costs the same fraction of GDP as a good value? Given that the population has expanded tremendously that would mean a big reduction in per-capita consumption (since no matter what the total GDP was it would buy roughly the same basket of goods, but then that basket would need to be divided by more people (U.S. population in 1950 was 152 million and today it is 319 million).

    More lanes? Wikipedia says that the new bridge will have eight lanes. The old bridge had seven lanes. That’s not a 7.5X ratio. It is a 1.14X ratio.

    The new bridge will look nicer? I am going to bet that most commuters would have preferred the appearance of the bridge circa 1950 (i.e., a bridge without any traffic jams on it)!

  9. Izzie L.

    September 24, 2015 @ 9:58 pm

    9

    I would think it is possible, but we don’t seem to know how.

    The Chinese no how but US unions and contractor lobby would never permit that. They prefer to rape the taxpayers.

  10. paddy

    September 25, 2015 @ 12:31 am

    10

    Here is a question: if you just built the Tappan Zee bridge today, using the exact same blueprints, same steel, etc. how much would it cost? After all, with only minor modifications they could build the new bridge right beside the old bridge, then modify the on and off ramp portions accordingly.

  11. Izzie L.

    September 25, 2015 @ 8:10 pm

    11

    Don’t be silly. If they had used the same plans, they wouldn’t have been able to give out million of $ of engineering contracts to politically connected firms. And those firms would not have been able to donate back to their campaigns. And the campaigns would not have been able to air negative campaign ads concerning their opponents – “Call Charlie Smith now and tell him to stop abusing orphans and orcas!” Think of the “multiplier effect” all this spending creates!

  12. jack crossfire

    September 26, 2015 @ 1:56 am

    12

    It makes sense that after 80 years of economic stimulus plans, each one reducing the amount of productivity required to achieve ever higher valuations, we would eventually regress to the same level of productivity that was achieved with 1900 era equipment, valued at many thousands of times more money.

  13. Izzie L.

    September 26, 2015 @ 11:57 am

    13

    Again, don’t be silly. Per worker productivity in 1900 , despite the lack of power equipment (they did have steam shovels and pile drivers by then), would have been much higher – these would have been hard working Italian & Irish immigrants who would have worked 12 hrs/day digging and hammering like crazy (or like Chinese workers today) – this is how they were able to build a bridge like that from scratch must faster than a renovation takes today. And today, for every worker actually out on the bridge “working” , there are probably 10 ” consultants” checking the environmental impact on the fish in the Charles, the air quality, running the affirmative action program, doing archaeological digs, investigating claims of sexual harassment, etc.

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