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July 18, 2006

Big Dig Collapses Confidence In Urban Engineering

This sounds... vaguely familiar.

Okay, so it's obvious. What-ev-er.

Boston's $15 billion "Big Dig" was meant to inspire awe, an engineering marvel on scale with the Panama Canal that would thrust U.S. cities into a new era. Instead, it faces a crisis of public confidence after a fatal tunnel collapse that could derail plans for other U.S. urban mega-projects.

...

[C]ost overruns, leaks, delays, falling debris, criminal probes and charges of corruption plague the nearly completed 15-year project, giving ammunition to opponents of similar plans in other cities considering tearing down aging elevated highways built in a construction boom in the 1950s and 1960s.

Now, with motorists afraid to travel through Big Dig after a woman was killed last week by falling cement, those skeptics have their most persuasive case yet.

"When things leak and certainly when things fall down that aren't suppose to, clearly that undermines people's confidence in government's ability to deliver," said David Luberoff, a Harvard researcher and co-author of "Mega-Projects: The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investment."

Seattle, he said, will struggle to convince voters that replacing the earthquake-damaged Alaska Way Viaduct on its waterfront with a $3 billion to $3.6 billion tunnel is worth the cost. Brooklyn, whose waterfront could be transformed if an elevated expressway were buried, faces a similar problem.

And a commenter was discussing just that in the Big Dig thread.

Another thing to hate Ted Kennedy for. This wa big-government urban-improvement liberalism, but it happened to be big-government urban-improvement liberalism I'd've liked to have seen work.

They can blame themselves for the end of their dreaming.

Fairness Update: Most of the project was presided over by Republican governors. (Kind of liberal ones, though.)

But whichever way you slice it, this stands as an indictment of the government's basic competence, and the corrupt, clueless, mobbed-up machine-politics governance of cities especially.

And let me say this: conservatives split on their objections to big infrastructure improvements and mass-transit projects and the like. Some object to them on principle, believing the government has no business in such matters.

Others -- like myself -- object to them not in principle, but for practical reasons. I have no objection in principle to big civil engineering projects, or new mass-transit systems. In fact, I rather like them... in theory.

But I object to them because I know the government is going to screw them up beyond belief and cost the taxpayers' billions for their shoddy execution.

I put such thoughts out of my head because I really was enamored with the idea of getting rid of the huge, ugly, elevated parking lot in the sky and replacing it with underground, swiftly-moving expressways. I thought they'd actually do it right for a change (albeit at a cost four times the original projection).

They didn't, and this is one conservative who won't be making that mistake again any time soon.

Restoring the once-inspiring Penn Station in New York? One of Pat Monynihan's pet projects. I love the idea of it.

But only the idea. I won't be supporting that boondoggle anymore.

It's like Instapundit always complains with respect to the Democrats: Give me something to work with on national security, he begs. Give me a reason to vote for you.

I am not knee-jerkedly adverse to projects like this. I like the grandness of the vision. It's that Speer thing that of course all fascist rethuglicans share, deep in their Aryan hearts.

But for the love of everything holy, if you want to do these things, give us something to work with. Do NOT obfuscate on the cost, do NOT allow projects to go drastically overbudget, and, please, do NOT deliver us shoddy merchandise at the end of the transaction.

PS: How's Those Multimillion Amtrak "Accela" Train Running? It's travelling as fast as it was supposed to, right? There aren't basic problems of shoddy workmanship on the million-dollar trains, like bathroom doors that won't shut or stuff like that, right? Having achieved the planned high-speeds of the Boston-to-New-York or New-York-to-Washington routes, it's now very successful and very in-demand, a nice compromise between standard, slow train travel and quicker jet travel, right?

It's New York to DC in just over two hour, and without having to get from a far-flung airport to the city. You just go to the middle of one city, jump on the train, and in a little over two hours -- as was predicted -- you're in the next city. A smooth, fast ride whose prices are kept down because so many people are eager to ride the rails, right?

Right?

Oh, wait, no. You charge almost as much as plane fare just to shave off forty minutes from the trip? And so no one really rides the Accela, unless it's the only train available?

So that was all a big failure too, wasn't it?

I'm sensing a pattern here.

Once again: I supported the Accela. Until it turned out, rather predictably, to be total crap that cost the taxpayers, what, half a billion dollars or something?

Guys: I can only be stupid so many times. You realize that, don't you? My capacity for stupidity and naivite is vast, but I assure you it is not endless.


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posted by Ace at 12:38 PM

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