Staggering Costs

by Kieran Healy on December 26, 2007

Via Atrios, the Big Dig is just about done:

bq. When the clock runs out on 2007, Boston will quietly mark the end of one of the most tumultuous eras in the city’s history: The Big Dig, the nation’s most complex and costliest highway project, will officially come to an end. Don’t expect any champagne toasts. After a history marked by engineering triumphs, tunnels leaks, epic traffic jams, last year’s death of a motorist crushed by falling concrete panels and a price tag that soared from $2.6 billion to a staggering $14.8 billion, there’s little appetite for celebration.

$14.8bn is an awful lot of money to spend on a road project to reconfigure the infrastructure of a large city by putting a chunk of the Interstate underground. As Duncan says, it’s slightly less than two months worth of U.S. government spending in Iraq.

{ 2 trackbacks }

joe shaw / you can’t even buy a war for $12.2 billion
12.30.07 at 10:27 pm
Secretly Ironic » Blog Archive » Sure, The Big Dig Was Cheap, But It Was Way Less Efficient At Killing Civilians
01.02.08 at 11:36 pm



JP Stormcrow 12.26.07 at 5:22 pm

But how manly is it to be an ‘Infrastructure President’?


David Obst 12.26.07 at 5:29 pm

Winning the ‘War on Terror’, Iraq is but one battle in that war, is much more important than a five mile stretch of freeway.


Barry 12.26.07 at 5:51 pm

You still think that the invasion of Iraq was about winning the war on terror?


Tom 12.26.07 at 6:00 pm

Comparisons to the war on Iraq are a bit unfair, aren’t they. The war makes any use of public money that doesn’t do harm, or does only conventional harm — bulldozing parks or whatever — look good regardless of price.


Steve LaBonne 12.26.07 at 6:13 pm

I’m not sure “think” is the verb you really wanted there…


Barry 12.26.07 at 6:43 pm

Good point, Steve.


David Obst 12.26.07 at 7:03 pm

Thinking is good. If ben laden had stayed in Somalia and we would have attaked and gotten him out of there; then the war that the radical islamists started against everyone not islamists would be over. Please start thinking.


David Obst 12.26.07 at 7:06 pm

I’m sorry,Sudan


mq 12.26.07 at 7:41 pm

More like one month’s spending in Iraq. This year (for the FY 08 supplemental) Bush requested Iraq approps of $158 billion. So that’s over $13 billion per month.

In FY 07 Congress appropriated about $135 billion for Iraq, so that’s over $11 billion per month during the past year.

The rate of actual spending is a bit lower because there’s so much appropriated money in the pipeline it isn’t all being actually spent yet.

Bush’s spending request for Iraq in FY 08 is more than the entire nation spends annually on the complete American road, highway, and bridge system (maintenance, repair, new construction, everything).


Matthew Kuzma 12.26.07 at 7:51 pm

Here in the Minneapolis Area, the North Star Commuter Rail line was just cut in half because the pricetag of $300+ million was too steep for our legislature. They cut it down to about $150 million, and the difference is roughly 8 hours of combat operations in Iraq.


abb1 12.26.07 at 8:00 pm

C’mon, a whole month of blowing shit up is a lot of shit blown up.

Yes, the big dig was a sizable disaster, but I’m sure it pales in comparison with a month of post-major-combat-operations in Iraq.


fred lapides 12.26.07 at 9:30 pm

I am not sure why so many think it necessary to compare money spent–ill spent or otherwise–for foreign affairs–in this case war in Iraq–with domestic spending that is not US government spending but rather govt helped local spending. In fact, why do we spend as much as we do to station some 40 thousand troops in Europe and another 35 thousand in Japan and 30 in S. Korea when we could fund health care, or better, pay me a nice social security check? We do not get rid of the one in order to fund the other. The question really is in how we allocate the taxpayer’s money. Boston? Well Harvard, MIT and Boston University all have massive buklding plans underway, and Boston is a great town that at long last has a winning baseball team.


John Emerson 12.26.07 at 11:14 pm

Fred: Mostly because most of the squealing rage about the Big Dig comes from people who are unwilling to look at the problems with the Iraq War at all.

A fairly weak rhetorical response, I agree. But that’s the logic.


Steve LaBonne 12.26.07 at 11:39 pm

I don’t think it’s weak at all. People who bleat about waste in government yet don’t bat an eyelid at our enormously bloated military (relative to any conceivable conventional military threat) and ruinously expensive (in lives and treasure) military adventuring (which is partly due to the have big hammer – see everything as nail syndrome) are full of crap.


vivian 12.27.07 at 2:00 am

Abb1 the Big Dig isn’t a disaster. It was a remarkably anti-glamorous public works project that made getting aroundthe Boston Metro area bearable in the medium term, though rather inconvenient downtown while it was going on. It had a couple of big problems, two social and one technical. There was significant fraud at the lowest level of building materials – trucks of concrete getting rejected, and getting back in line to try again. That plus soil issues caused leaks. There was the “no one will notice if we use cheaper materials to hold up the ceiling” problem. And there was the financial mess that hid the cost multiplier of fifteen or so. Those are awful, but not unusual, and on my last visit to Boston, we could really see the huge improvement in commuting traffic, tourist travel and general appearance of the neighborhoods. Even the scale of the construction-corruption was fairly small, especially compared to the new definition of ‘Bush League.”


greensmile 12.27.07 at 3:51 am

The topic was big dig. I am happy NOT to drag in all the other garbage you might consider related in some way…its a ferocious stink hole all by itself.

The price claims that got it started were so massively wrong the pitchmen should all be in jail.
If you want to get past Boston going either N-W or E-W, life is indeed better…but they added no parking spaces nor improved [as if they could] the surface streets on to which this new freeway dumps people…the city is more congested than ever and parking costs approach those of the vastly more densely populated NYC. It took some people 4 hours to drive from downtown Boston to their suburban homes 10 or 15 miles out because of a few slippery inches of snow because the place is now in a permanent state of “traffic jam waiting to happen” at any rush hour. You still can not get a safe reliable subway ride to many of the suburbs and bus and subway fare is not far below New Yorks MTA fares. Commuter rail has grown busier with the rise in gas prices but service has actually degraded , especially on-time operation.
The OVERRUNS on the big dig would have handily remedied many of Boston’s transportation migraines if that money had be spent where it would do someone other than the construction lobby some good. We had a long string of Republican governors and Democratic mayors watching over this fiasco so its pretty much equal opportunity pork.

Talking like 8 billion in lies and 4 billion in larceny is some how OK is just plain crazy. Only a motorist would think anything got better by this massive fraud of a project.

And I STILL can’t ride a bike through that town safely unless I stick to the river.

Voters are not blameless in this either…it went on over a decade.
No, I hardly think champagne is called for.


P O'Neill 12.27.07 at 4:16 am

Just yesterday George Bush was both praising the monster budget bill that he signed for keeping the Iraq war funded a little longer, while complaining about a huge, nay, staggering $10 billion in earmarks. In fact it looks like he’s getting ready to give himself a line item veto in January for these earmarks, which if he used it on every single earmark would save that staggering $10 billion. Just over one month’s spending in Iraq. Yet the same pundit class that never talks about paying for the war would hail the earmark-busting as a masterpiece of fiscal legacy burnishing and base-stroking in an election year.


Barry 12.27.07 at 12:59 pm

greensmile, in #16, about the Big Dig: “The price claims that got it started were so massively wrong the pitchmen should all be in jail.”

Steve, in #14, about the reason behind the post in the first place: “I don’t think it’s weak at all. People who bleat about waste in government yet don’t bat an eyelid at our enormously bloated military (relative to any conceivable conventional military threat) and ruinously expensive (in lives and treasure) military adventuring (which is partly due to the have big hammer – see everything as nail syndrome) are full of crap.”


A 12.27.07 at 3:13 pm

Bhutto has been assassinated.


Seth Gordon 12.27.07 at 3:19 pm

Any public-works project that made it easy for Mitt Romney to get from the State House to the airport can’t be all bad.


Steve LaBonne 12.27.07 at 3:44 pm

Bhutto has been assassinated.

Showing that our massive aid investment in Musharraf’s Pakistan- such a reliable, stable democratic ally!- has been a much better value for the taxpayers than the cost of the Big Dig!


David Obst 12.27.07 at 4:02 pm

How much money did we spend in WWII. We could have saved a lot of money there too.
We all know Hitler would have stopped at England.


abb1 12.27.07 at 4:12 pm

Shouldn’t it be more like “how much money did Hitler spend in WWII”? You know, compare to the autobahns ‘n stuff.


Steve LaBonne 12.27.07 at 4:15 pm

Right, because any old illegal war of choice that some idiot president decides to get us into is exactly like WWII. [shakes head in wonderment]


Steve LaBonne 12.27.07 at 4:16 pm

abb1 got there firstest with the mostest. ;)


Barry 12.27.07 at 4:32 pm

Steve, it’s like these nuts are compelled to make Kieran’s original point. Again and again and again….


Steve LaBonne 12.27.07 at 4:43 pm

The War on Terra-obsessed Islamophobe wingnuts and their slavering response to Bushit propraganda always make me think of the crowd response to the Two Minute Hates in 1984.


David Obst 12.27.07 at 6:49 pm

The name calling is outrageous. It’s is very unbecoming of you. Rather than debate a point or defend your argument, it seems you want to demean the person you are, ah discussing, things with. Almost like you feel inside that you might not be able to win an argument so you demonize the person you are, discussing with. If you are a Republican you stupid and if you are not stupid you are evil. That is why The president is stupid and he is also evil. Of course the islamists are not evil. I’m sure they are Feminist and probably pro-choice. For the sake of all of us please start argumenting issues and not what the left has become known for. Demonizing.


Barry 12.27.07 at 6:55 pm

david, if you’d like to make some arguments worth debating, rather than regurgitated propaganda, lies and strawmen, I’m sure that people here would debate you.

FYI – those who simply cruise in and dump rather foolish pseudo-arguments are frquently not believed to *want* an actual debate.


Steve LaBonne 12.27.07 at 6:55 pm

It’s not my fault that so many Republicans are stupid and evil. If you’d like to no longer be one of them, you might try actually learning something about the world instead of swallowing the fearmongering propaganda whole.


mpowell 12.27.07 at 7:04 pm

what the left has become known for. Demonizing.

Let me introduce you to a concept called trolling. Trolls are annoying fools who make the same stupid arguments (sometimes in different forms) over and over again. They are mendacious, recycle false data and do not argue in good faith. There is no point in arguing with people like that. Since they are annoying, we tend to make fun of them as revenge. Now I haven’t seen many posts of yours, but from this last line of yours, I am leaning strongly towards identifying you as a troll. Maybe you’re not a troll, maybe you’re just ignorant. If you’re the former, well, we know pretty damn well that it won’t do us any good to start ‘argumenting issues’ with you. If its the latter, I’m sorry you got to the party 3-5 years too late. There used to be discussion on a lot of these issues. But then things got pretty obvious as far as that goes and people generally either changed their minds, disappeared, or became trolls.


Katherine 12.27.07 at 7:16 pm

Okay then David, since you insist that you want a debate, let’s start with this:

“If ben laden had stayed in Somalia…”

Tell us again what Bin Laden has to do with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Apart from, you know, nothing.


David Obst 12.27.07 at 9:41 pm

troll2 (trol) n. A supernatural creature of Scandinavian folklore, variously portrayed as a friendly or mischievous dwarf or as a giant, that lives in caves, in the hills, or under bridges. [Ultimately from Old Norse.]

Demonize? So far you are making my case.
Do any of you guys have wifes or sisters, do you want them to live under islamic law? Are any of you gay or know anyone who is? How about Christian or Jewish? I could go on and on. There are people blowing themselves up and innocent woman and children for religous reasons. That is what this war is about. And also for the free flow of oil that the world needs to survive, right now.

I would like you to debate that!


abb1 12.27.07 at 10:44 pm

Under islamic law I could get a couple more wives; that would’ve been nice, actually. I’m sick a tired of having the same old wife for years and years. Don’t know what you’re so unhappy about, David; it’d be great.

Though you’re probably one of those losers who can’t afford even a single wife. Then maybe you should move to your friggin Norway and let us enjoy our harems and hookah.


mpowell 12.27.07 at 10:55 pm

The thing is, David, is that the right goes to far greater lengths to demonize their opposition. From day one, war opponents have been called traitors. On the flip side, I’ve seen plenty of engagement from liberals with war supporters. But for those who still think the invasion was a good idea… it gets pretty tired after a while.

Do any of you guys have wifes or sisters, do you want them to live under islamic law? Are any of you gay or know anyone who is? How about Christian or Jewish? I could go on and on.

I assure you, I believe that you could go on and on. But hysterical exclamations about the threat of Islamic law are exactly what I’m talking about. That’s what I call argumentative dishonesty and mendacity. Of course I don’t want to live under Islamic law. Fortunately, that’s pretty much not a possibility. Or are you concerned about the poor women of Iran? Why do you assume we are not? Why do you assume that bombing Iran (or invading Iraq) would do anything for feminism there, much less objectively improve the quality of life for those people? That’s also pretty dishonest: assuming the hardest part of your argumentative burden is true (bombing Iran sets the women free) and then throwing the conclusion in our faces like an insult.


abb1 12.27.07 at 11:02 pm

I know I’ll also enjoy wearing those white robes to work; I’m guessing: excellent ventilation and no underwear necessary. Aaah…


Uncle Kvetch 12.27.07 at 11:53 pm

Not to mention all that yummy couscous!


David Obst 12.28.07 at 1:02 am

First off, after WWII we started ‘The Marshall Plan’ to fix up Europe. We spent a lot of money on that and I believe that it worked well. Our main objective was not to help Europe but ease some of the conditions that prevailed after WWI and were some of the causes for WWII; mainly so we wouldn’t have to come back and save their sorry asses again, also so they might leave us alone foe awhile. I believe that is what we are doing, or attempting to do, now. Are we making some mistakes doing this?, we sure are. I’ve recently read an article by Victor Davis Hanson at the Claremont Institute that every war we have been in the intel has been bad at times, we sent our troops not fully equiped, ie human and vehicular armour, not fully understanding our enemy, etc. In Afganistan, the taliban were a small minority and they ruled the whole country; in Iraq, Hussein and a small minority ruled that country. I believe in Iraq we are tying to give the average person a say in their government and maybe a better life. A 21st century marshall plan. With a religion and a history like they have, I know this is a very difficult job. It is like pulling teeth.

This is not all happening because Bush is Evil. Oh, and stupid.


Steve LaBonne 12.28.07 at 2:09 am

And nobody asked us to do it, and we have no clue how to do it, and it ain’t going to happen. Bush is indeed both evil and stupid for starting a hopeless and immoral war that had and has no justification whatsoever. Your fantasies about saving the world are delusions induced by mendacious propaganda.


ed 12.28.07 at 3:15 am

The difference is that the Bigass Dig was an elective project, The Glorious Iraq War was not. After Sandman Insane attacked us on 9/11, what rational choice did we have?


David Obst 12.28.07 at 3:32 am

I have tried but I can’t deal with you guys inability to formulate some kind of rational thought. I will move on and let you guys wallow in it.


Walt 12.28.07 at 4:19 am

Okay, that was funny. Trolls flouncing out when their trolling is not appreciated is an exciting new development in trolling technology.


John Quiggin 12.28.07 at 4:53 am

Interestingly Google finds a real David Obst, with a book and everything, including a Deep Throat conspiracy theory. Is it possible that he has just discovered Teh Intertubes?


JP Stormcrow 12.28.07 at 6:00 pm

The age works out, but just about nothing else per the blog (and profile) that his sig links to.


Kevin 12.28.07 at 6:42 pm

ed @40: Please come back and tell us this was a joke.
(If you are, in fact, serious, then please don’t come back at all. Ever.)


mpowell 12.28.07 at 8:08 pm

I think that occasionally you are bound to run into people who have just stumbled onto the concept of blogging. Its certainly possible that Obst is just now learning that there is a world outside of conservopedia and, unfortunately, he finds it pretty hostile. That’s because the difference b/w the Marshall Plan and Iraq has already been discussed hundreds of times on this very blog and fatigue has set in from dealing with the usual trolls on the issue.

That being said, some of his comments seemed aimed to provoke and irritate. If Obst is not an experienced troll, he is a natural.


fred lapides 12.28.07 at 10:17 pm

Hey! get back to Boston!! they deserve all that can be spent on them! Look at the Red Sox! If the comments here are an example of what the educated can do, lord help us all.


Sebastian Holsclaw 12.29.07 at 10:58 pm

Hmmm, the Iraq war has been a horribly mismanaged waste of money on a national scale. The Big Dig was a horribly mismanaged waste of money on a city scale. I can agree with that.

That was the point, right?


Steve LaBonne 12.29.07 at 11:11 pm

Sebastian, I’d say the post probably wasn’t directed at people like you who recognize the truth of both propositions.

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