Adjunct Assistant Professor of City & Regional Planning Karen Frick recently wrote an article for Alexandrine Press -- publisher of the journal Built Environment -- on the pitfalls of infrastructure megaprojects and why cities and municipalities should approach them with caution.
Titled “A Sure Bet: Megaprojects - Not on Time and Not on Budget,” her article discusses the unexpected time and cost large construction projects end up taking on, adding financial burdens to cities and affecting local economies.
Below is an excerpt of the article, which can be read in full here.
Moments after clinching the nomination for the U.S. presidency in 2016, Republican candidate Donald Trump’s opening salvo to the American public was a call for infrastructure and job creation reminiscent of Democrat President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930’s. President-elect Trump triumphantly stated intentions for:
“…rebuild(ing) our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it."
Embedded in this call is optimism that infrastructure can be delivered quickly, on time and on budget. Recent history of major infrastructure — often called megaprojects — in the United States and worldwide tells us that this could not be further from the truth, even for projects cloaked with the guise of “shovel ready”.
Not only do projects take longer than expected, construction costs are far higher than anticipated. Very few things in life are a sure bet but this is one of them. As part of this this perverse bet, project sponsors estimate financing costs decades in advance of project completion. These estimates combined with construction cost projections do not fall flat; they fall head first into unpredictable fluctuations in the economy and then rise…and rise.
Even with this looming reality, another sure bet is that governing authorities across the globe will continue to embark on new megaprojects or major facility upgrades as infrastructure ages and cities look to the resiliency of existing critical infrastructure in the face of hazards and extreme events. My new book on reconstruction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in California provides a cautionary tale to which these entities should pay heed.
One of the most traveled facilities in the nation, the Bay Bridge’s East Span suffered a partial collapse during an earthquake in 1989 and yet the state and Bay Area region did not complete the new span’s construction until 2013. The project had all the makings for a quick infrastructure job having been initiated in response to a crisis and fully funded – at first. However, the project spiraled into chaos due in part to divergent perspectives between elected officials, transportation agencies and the larger citizenry on the project’s purpose: Was this simply a project to fix a broken bridge or could it make an aesthetically sublime impact akin to its bridge sibling on the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge? At the same time, should there be new rail capacity and a bicycle and pedestrian pathway given mounting traffic congestion and increasing regional economic growth? Along the way, costs increased many times over starting with $250 million to seismically upgrade the full length of the bridge including the East Span. Then the state decided instead to replace the East Span for upwards of $1 to $1.3 billion in 1997. Current estimates place the new East Span cost at $6.5 billion not including financing which could double the cost once the final tab is settled.
The new Bay Bridge raises several interrelated issues that warrant consideration that are more broadly applicable to improving megaproject delivery and design. First, in estimating costs and schedules to completion, project sponsors should assume that projects will not go according to plan. Large-scale endeavors like the Bay Bridge have what I have identified as the “7 C’s of Megaprojects” as they tend to be colossal, costly, captivating, controversial, complex and laden with issues of control over financing, design and project development. They also demand much communication between key actors, the media and the public. These characteristics in combination quickly complicate project timelines and cost estimates and eliminate all prospects for projects to be delivered on time and on budget.
Read Professor Frick's article in full here.