Saturday, May 8, 2021

Expensive Infrastructure: for a Not Great Reason

A civil engineering friend of mine posted a link to this article recently, called Why American Costs Are So High. I've heard discussion of this before off and on, when it comes to public works projects like new subway lines. Comparable projects in European (let alone Asian) cities do not cost anywhere near as much. Why is that? 

It's not possible to blame labor unions, since Europe is at least if not more unionized than U.S. cities. So I was curious to see what my friend, whose opinion I respect, thought was worth sharing.

This is how she summarized the article:

Moral of story: we should be more humble and curious, willing to look far past ourselves for solutions.

Great overview of why infrastructure, like new public transit, costs so much more in the U.S. than in other rich countries. It's a big problem because things that can really help people and make our lives/towns better don't get done because [they're considered] too expensive, cost overruns.

Also, too often our high cost of construction is blamed on unions and environmental laws, and then used as reason to lower wages and protections. This is so easily debunked because countries with strict environmental laws and very high unionization/high wages, like Sweden, France, etc build things for so much cheaper than us.

There are many things in this article, from building techniques, to how we deal with cost of changes/conflicts, to project management. But as the author notes, they all stem from our lack of willingness to learn from other countries.

"Incuriosity is not merely ignorance. Ignorance is a universal trait, people just differ in what they are ignorant about. But Americans are unique in not caring to learn from other countries even when those countries do things better. "

"The United States at best thinks it’s the center of the world and at worst thinks it’s the only thing in the world, and this has to change."

"However, all of this depends on solving the last of the above nine problems. Americans have to understand that they are behind and need to imitate."

The full article is worth the read.

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