A $2 billion bridge to one person


The New York Times reported on two enormous construction projects of dubious merit:

[The first bridge] would connect [Ketchikan, population 7845] to an island that has about 50 residents and the area's airport, which offers six flights a day (a few more in summer). It could cost about $200 million.

The other bridge would span an inlet for nearly two miles to tie Anchorage to a port that has a single regular tenant and almost no homes or businesses. It would cost up to $2 billion.

The first bridge replaces a five minute ferry ride with a drive that most likely will take even longer.

And the representative from Alaska behind these pointless construction projects is hardly ashamed of this. Quite the contrary: He's proud of his achievement.

"I stuffed it like a turkey."

United States politics is not about trying to make the world a better place. It's about doing whatever it takes to get re-elected.

Comments (27)
  1. Steve says:

    Agreed! Not to mention paying back your largest campaign contributors

  2. Aarrgghh says:

    In fairness, I’d say that’s what politics is about everywhere, except cases where the goal is to retain control of the army so as to keep the junta in power.

  3. Ben Hutchings says:

    Now I don’t feel so annoyed about the £2 million cycle/pedestrian bridge near here which will only have a few hundred users a day.

  4. theCoach says:

    But Raymond, creating software is not about creating the best software, it is about creating software that will generate the most revenue from users. Both are proxies, and the best that are available to us today.

    These assumptions should always be tested…we know that capatilism is heartless, and that democracy is the worst except for the others, but we should keep trying to fix, and with great evidence replace these systems. But, like most things of consequence, it gets complicated pretty quickly.

    One of the things that I find interesting about politics is how people in different fields, with enormous appreciation of the complexities inherent in their own field, dismiss the complexities in running a government. The politicians then use this "common sense" language to demagogue for policies that result in all of this garbage.

    With all of that said, this is egregious behavior for an elected official. But to make this interesting, how do we propose a check in the system we have to avoid this kind of patronage. Who should we hold responsible? Or, how could we add feedback to the system to discourage this kind of garbage? One way would be to make some portion of the cost of these enormous projects fall to the state where they occur. A more populous approach (but much less effective) would be to tie the salary of the congress-critter to how little of the dole they get for their state.

    I am sure others can think of much better examples, but the problem is a structural one, and we have many tools at our disposal of making the proxy that is democracy better model "mak[ing] the world a better place.

    Sorry for the preachiness.

  5. DelMar says:

    Things like this drive me crazy – but it is the best way to get re-elected. My favorite example of strange government spending is farm subsidies for tobacco farmers, just shake my head and sigh –

  6. Petr Kadlec says:

    This seems more of a fun to me (maybe except the money, but if the money has been gathered somehow, what’s the problem? Such thing would never appear in Czechia; we would never have some extra $2 billion… ;-) ). There is nothing really bad in building some not-really-needed bridge.

    I am more upset when I see local politicians gaining votes on negative decisions. Like "yes, a highway is really a useful thing, build it. But not anywhere near us." (OK, I admit, I wouldn’t be happy to have a highway built just before my door, but it just has to be build somewhere.)

  7. Scott says:

    The article Raymond linked to requires registration and then once you register the full text isn’t available unless you pay for it.

    Here’s a similar article at the LA Daily News.

    http://www.dailynews.com/Stories/0,1413,200~20954~2090869,00.html

    There are some interesting point about the bridges bringing jobs to an area that needs them and the hope that the new accessibility will spur development.

  8. Oscar says:

    Some of us in the rest of the world get envious of the USA when we see what a staggering abundance of public money americans have to spend.

    In my country we really need to watch our spending because if we did things like this, before long kids wouldn’t be getting a good education because our schools would be underfunded or we wouldn’t be able to provide healthcare for everyone or all manner of other government services would begin to suffer.

    Cheers

    Os

  9. Stuff like this makes me wish for the line item veto and a president who would use it.

  10. Raymond Chen says:

    "if we did things like this, … our schools would be underfunded or we wouldn’t be able to provide healthcare for everyone."

    Some might argue that in the United States this has already happened.

  11. Kzinti says:

    "In my country we really need to watch our spending because if we did things like this, before long kids wouldn’t be getting a good education because our schools would be underfunded or we wouldn’t be able to provide healthcare for everyone or all manner of other government services would begin to suffer."

    Isn’t this the current situation in the US?

  12. asdf says:

    theCoach: you can’t refactor the government though. If you tried you would certainly be labeled as a terrorist, unpatriotic, communist, etc.

  13. Mat says:

    "United States politics is not about trying to make the world a better place. It’s about doing whatever it takes to get re-elected."

    Since Greek and Roman times, my friend. The more things change….

  14. Peter Torr says:

    Wow.

    "traffic congestion has robbed the average American of 68 hours a year in lost time."

    Yeah, I should just start walking to work every day and get those 68 hours back…

    What kind of a ridiculous statement is that, anyway?

  15. Louis Parks says:

    The fact that more of us can’t telecommute has robbed us of even more time than traffic, I’d bet.

  16. Peter Torr says:

    In other news, the lack of arbitrary save points in "Halo" has robbed the average XBox user of 68 hours a year in lost game play time.

  17. none says:

    Why should United States politics try to make the world a better place?

  18. Moi says:

    politics is not about trying to make the world a better place. It’s about doing whatever it takes to get re-elected

    This is news?

  19. Scott says:

    Peter,

    Do you live in Seattle? :) I do. I live 4.3 miles from my job according to maps.yahoo.com. Parking is unavailable at my job unless you have seniority so I take either a free shuttle to work or the bus. (I’m saving a TON of money on gas). It takes me about 45 minutes to go that 4.3 miles on either one due to traffic and the stops along the way. My wife works in Redmond which is 11.2 miles from our house. On a bad traffic day it takes her an hour to get to work. Somedays I’m convinced I could get to work in the same amount of time if I walked.

    "traffic congestion has robbed the average American of 68 hours a year in lost time."

    People living in the greater Seattle area have no problem believing that statistic.

  20. MilesArcher says:

    When I lived eight miles from my work, it took about 30 minutes by bicycle. With no traffic, by car it was about 15 minutes, with average commute traffic 35, and bad traffic 45 or more.

    The nice thing was that we had a shower at work, so I wouldn’t be any more stinky than normal.

    The way traffic is in San Jose, it could be even worse.

  21. Raymond Chen says:

    "This is news?"

    Of course it isn’t news. But few people admit it so brazenly.

  22. Raymond Chen says:

    Those numbers are also bogus because people choose where they live based on how long it takes to get to work (or vice versa). Most people are willing to live 30 to 45 minutes from work, but no further.

    In other words, the amount of time "lost" to traffic remains constant. Reduce congestion and people just move further away from work, so the total time "lost" remains the same.

  23. Scott says:

    Good point Peter, it actually only takes me about 15 minutes to drive to work with heavy traffic. So by being a good citizen and not driving to work I’m getting robbed of about 30 minutes a trip (an hour a day). But I’m saving about $30/week in parking fees. :)

  24. Peter Torr says:

    Scott:

    The thing is that the quote presupposes those hours were "yours" to begin with. My point was that without having cars to make transportation faster to begin with, you’d spend much more time walking. For example:

    Let’s assume:

    * It takes me 2 hours to walk to work.

    * It takes 5 minutes to drive with no traffic.

    * It takes 20 minutes to drive with heavy traffic.

    The article would claim that heavy traffic "robbed" me of 15 minutes a day, **but I wouldn’t have those minutes to be robbed of if I didn’t have the car in the first place**

    The car actually saves me 1 hour and 40 minutes even in the worst case.

  25. Raymond Chen says:

    Commenting on this article has been closed.

Comments are closed.

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