The Cost Of “Infrastructure” Vs. War

August 2, 2007

As a resident of the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, I’ll no doubt be personally affected by the tragic collapse of the I-35W bridge.  This was considered one of the most heavily trafficked bridges in the entire state.  I’ve been glued to the TV all day watching all the latest developments.  One subject that keeps getting touched on is the status of bridges all across the country, most notably the alarming number of those that are categorized as “structurally deficient”.  It got me thinking.  Why aren’t we spending money on this?  Is it the cost? 

I decided to do a little research to get some perspective on what kinds of costs we’re talking about here. I started to look for bridges specifically, and I found one. A BIG one:

donghai  bridge

This is the Donghai Bridge in China. According to wiki, it is the longest cross-sea bridge in the world (20.2 mi.). It opened in 2005 and cost a cool $1.2 billion to build.

On the other hand, maybe we don’t have to worry about building new bridges as much as simply fixing and maintaining the ones that are already there.  According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we would have to spend $9.4 billion a year for the next 20 years to take care of these bridges.  Lots of dough (a total of $188 billion without considering inflation).

In contrast, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing about $12 billion a month. This means that we’re spending the equivalent cost of one of the largest bridges in the world every 3 days.  Or, looked at another way, the cost of the aforementioned repairs over 20 years is roughly the cost of a little over one year in Iraq alone.

Ain’t it somethin’?



  1. That is an amazing visual to comprehend, one Donghai Bridge every 3 days. I don’t think most people have a capacity to understand just how much $12 billion a month is without some way to break it down for them. Good post.

  2. Everything in China is so big: huge population, huge land area, huge cities, huge GDP, huge history.

    I’ve never seen anything like this Donghai Bridge. It too is huge.

    The I35 Bridge collapse in Minneapolis is so tragic. I can’t imagine how hard it is for the people who lost loved ones traveling on it yesterday.

    My heart goes out to them.

  3. Lou Dobbs is doing an excellent piece on our infrastructure right now. It really is mind-blowing.

    I guess the underlying point of this post is also to highlight the feeling of arrogance on our part as Americans. I mean, somehow we feel that we should go around building other countries and policing the world while our own structures crumble beneath us. Structures that, incidentally, are critical to our economy and our health. What’s really scary is the fact that the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the bridges the best rating out of all the various categories.

  4. Then there’s a third way to look at it. Since Lyndon Johnson instituted the ‘Great Society’ back in the 60’s, we’ve spent approximately 7 trillion dollars to eradicate poverty in this country (yes, I said trillion – with a “T”). Yet poverty stands at about the same percentage as it did 40 years ago.

    7 trillion would have gone a long, long way to building the best and safest infrastructure the world has ever seen. But I guess priorities differ depending on who you talk to.

  5. Yes, we need to spend more money on our own problems here in America and get the heck out of Iraq!

  6. It is a matter of priorities. Policy destroys bridges.

    • You guys all suck major balls

  7. I know that you’ll take any opportunity to bash Bush, but the facts of this bridge failure will show that:
    1). Deficiencies were noted with the bridge in critical substructure.
    2). Work was being performed on the bridge.
    3). The deficiencies in the critical substructure were not being addressed.
    Look at the security cam video of the bridge dropping. The steel substructure is clearly buckling.

    If the floor in your house is weak, do you deal with that issue by installing new shingles on your roof? The issue is not a lack of money, it is how it is being spent. As much as you’d like to paint GWB as the villain in this, the finger needs to pointed at your local engineers.

    States with severe winter climates that extensively treat their roads with chemicals that are corrosive to steel, inspect their bridges, note problems with the steel structure, then pound away with jackhammers on the decking of the bridge? Yup, Iraq is the problem.

  8. Maybe an open source bridge to Iraq is the answer after all… 😉

  9. paleo- It’s isn’t Bush I’m taking a shot at here, per se. Watching the coverage on TV, the meme that kept getting repeated over and over was the immense cost that’s involved with taking care of this kind of stuff, so I thought I’d put things into perspective. The shot is being taken at Congress more than anyone else, actually. They’re the ones who continue to fund the war, and they seem to have no problem dishing out $100 billion appropriations here and there for this thing. Like Sobi stated, it highlights how out of whack our priorities can be in this country.

  10. It’s all about the war with you isn’t it Chen?

    You completely ignored the source of 7 trillion dollars that I pointed out in an earlier comment.

  11. You completely ignored the source of 7 trillion dollars that I pointed out in an earlier comment.

    Yea, I did. I’m not sure if that number is accurate. Even if it is, and I conceded that it was misguided or fundamentally flawed, at least it was an attempt to improve things here domestically. So far, this war just seems like war for the sake of …um…war.

  12. “paleo- It’s isn’t Bush I’m taking a shot at here, per se. Watching the coverage on TV, the meme that kept getting repeated over and over was the immense cost that’s involved with taking care of this kind of stuff, so I thought I’d put things into perspective.”

    Yes, there is an immense cost. But my point is that no one seems to have a general idea of project management. Prioritizing repairs, fixing critical items, BEFORE throwing a new coat of asphalt over top of a defective/decaying substructure. I don’t think it is a shortage of money, it seems to be a shortage of brains. Some people died because of that. It’s not Iraq, it’s not Bush, it’s not the money available for repairs, it’s a lack of brains. Where did they go?

  13. “So far, this war just seems like war for the sake of …um…war.”

    A lot of people said the same thing in 1942 about entering the war in Europe.

    Hindsight is 20/20 though. In hindsight it is now clear that eliminating Hitler was in America’s best interest, therefore good for the U.S. domestically….even though Hitler had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor.

    I’m glad that this time around it’s the conservatives that have had ‘foresight’.
    And the Lefties are the ones that call themselves “progressive”? HA!

  14. Closing off the leaking sore we call the southern border, and cutting off the social freebies for people who don’t belong here would free up lots of money for bridge maintenance, too.

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