A costly and long-delayed subway project raises questions about America’s ability to build needed infrastructure.
BRIAN GORDON GREEN/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE. Metro Washington’s burgeoning population has overwhelmed the public transportation system, making traffic unbearable.
A trip through Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport offers a glimpse of what people in the past thought transportation would look like in the future. Opened in 1962, the airport boasts a quintessentially “mod” look, thanks to a stunning, Eero Saarinen–designed main terminal meant to evoke flight. But Dulles evokes the early 1960s in another way: its lack of a rail connection to the city it serves recalls a time when the automobile was king. Indeed, Dulles, the city’s primary international airport, is situated nearly 30 miles of congested highway away from the District of Columbia’s downtown core and linked to the city by only infrequent public buses. Chronic heavy traffic makes the ride painfully slow.
But change is coming. This past summer saw the opening of the first segment of a new Washington subway (dubbed Metro) rail line that eventually will connect Dulles to D.C.’s central business district. The new line’s first phase cost $2.9 billion to construct, and the most optimistic estimates put the final price tag for the project—decades in the making—as high as $5.6 billion. That’s nearly $1,000 for every man, woman, and child in the Washington metro area. The sluggishness of the process and its eye-popping cost raise troubling questions about America’s ability to construct vital infrastructure. . .
As a point of comparison for just how expensive the Silver Line will prove to be, consider the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, for which the Russian government was roundly mocked for its vast spending—some $51 billion on construction, nearly $10 billion more than China spent on its 2008 summer games. In particular, critics pointed to a 30.4-mile railroad/highway connecting the ski slopes to the town of Sochi, which alone cost $8.7 billion—about $286 million per mile. As one commentator noted, it would have been cheaper to pave the pathway with a centimeter-thick layer of beluga caviar.
But Washingtonians shouldn’t be quick to chortle. If the Silver Line meets its currently projected cost, it would cost $243 million per mile. And the Russian project included both road and rail, while ascending mountains. . .
Is there a saner approach to transportation infrastructure? . . . .Click here for the full article.