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bolwerk's avatar

What can be done to lower construction costs of new infrastructure in the U.S. (international input appreciated)

Asked by bolwerk (10317points) June 21st, 2010

There’s a lot of talk of modernizing and “greening” infrastructure internationally. The United States lags especially behind the rest of the world in transportation infrastructure, and the costs of new projects are unusually high compared to the rest of the world. Existing infrastructure is woefully inefficient: buildings are energy hogs, railroads are slow, locomotives are heavy, airports are increasingly congested and prone to delays, electric grids are aging, and fuel costs are almost guaranteed to go up in coming years. Meanwhile, the country is stuck with slow, congested, crumbling highways and little means of replacing them with more efficient alternatives. Since the 1950s, transit infrastructure has been abandoned and demolished.

What should be done to lower costs of new projects? What could be learned from other countries that have successfully implemented major infrastructure projects? Are the challenges social or financial or both?

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6 Answers

grumpyfish's avatar

Part of the problem is that when you implement first, it costs more & you get “lower tech” solutions.

That is, communications infrastructures in countries that are wiring now generally don’t involve land lines. Why run a wire to everyone’s house, if you can just put in cell towers per 1000 homes and sell cell phones?

This isn’t the whole problem, but it’s a component that needs to be understood to grasp the total problem.

CMaz's avatar

Push the button and start over.

You will never see a Panama Canal be built again. The insurance and safety needs alone would make it cost inhibited.
The resources, expense and redundancy to keep the employee totally happy is the culprit.

There was a time you could “afford” for a few to fall of the building while working. Not any more.

Disregard everything I said, if you live in Kuwait. Anything is possible when there is enough money.

cazzie's avatar

I think the US feels it needs to constantly re-invent the wheel. I hate to speculate why, so instead, try to answer your question with the ‘look at other wheels and copy THEM’ approach.

The US needs to look at other countries that do things well and simply ask for help. Our engineers in Europe would LOVE the chance to work along with theirs. (and in many cases probably have already. I was just at an International Hydro Engineers conference and met many people who worked with my Norwegian father-in-law from around the world)

I think Germany has some of the greenest power generating plants. Norway does bridges over icy lakes and rivers really well as well as tunnels. (not to mention oil drilling and I call for Safety Parity NOW because my husband ends up on rigs all over the world, including the most dangerous ones in the Gulf of Mexico)

But the biggest problem to overcome, like @ChazMaz alluded to, is cost. We’re used to paying a bit more here for petrol, road use, power, but what the US doesn’t quite understand either is the power in their number of people. For heaven’s sake! If we have an increased cost of national something, we have MUCH fewer taxpayers to collect it from. The US could collect all the money it needs for its National Health Program by putting a tiny national consumption/sales tax on non-essentials.

The entire world has a vested interest in the continued prosperity of the US. Its the global equivalent of ‘Too Big to Fail’ in some ways.

Engineers, politicians, need to meet up more often from different parts of the world, and not just physically. I’m working with a group that is building a virtual space for people to meet and exchange ideas in real time.

The US needs a big paradigm shift to help them start making decisions that look forward. (This is why we like your current President, he seems to get it, but also seems to have lost some momentum working against the ‘machine’.)

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

There are many ways to cut the costs of such projects. The social cost of using them are not and should not be considered acceptable.

For example bypassing the institutional and functional measures to protect workers would be easy but not acceptable.

On the other hand, the opposite is also true in some cases:
Doing what it takes to eliminate corruption and misdirection of public funds is not easy but is essential to lower the costs of such essential projects.

mattbrowne's avatar

Get more young people interested in science and engineering. We need new ideas.

Ltryptophan's avatar

Lose cars and replace with mass transit. Sell the interstates.

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