Often people look at the cost of various infrastructure projects and shudder, as well they oftentimes should, how can these exorbitant costs be justified? I think a way to look at this might be to look at what some existing infrastructure is worth.
According to a 2010 piece a 28 mile expansion of LA’s subway system was estimated to cost 40 billion dollars. Meanwhile New York’s subway system, whose first underground line opened slightly over a hundred years ago, is 722 miles long giving it a rough replacement cost of 1 trillion dollars. At the time New York was building four additional subway stations at a cost of 7 billion dollars, at the time it had 468 stations, giving those a replacement value of 800 billion dollars. New York State is currently re-building one of it’s major bridges, the Tappan Zee, at an estimated cost of 3.9 billion dollars, if this figure were extended on a cost per foot basis to all of New York cities bridges, which have been under construction since the late 19th century, the value of those would amount to 31 billion dollars.
Now New York city is home to 8 million people, the metro New York city areas population is about twice that. New York city has a GDP of about 1.2 trillion dollars and is considered to be one of the preeminent cities in the world. Manhattan, the part of the city were most activity is centered is an island which is merely 22.7 square miles in size. New York city, home to many of the things that drives the United States as a global power would not exist without the infrastructure investments which have occurred, plain and simple.
So when we ask what an infrastructure investment costs what we should consider is not what it costs now, but what it will be worth 100 years from now, and how it will have shaped our world for the better during that time frame. Due to the complexity, difficulty, and cost of pursuing infrastructure investments these things tend to stick around far longer than anyone anticipates, and when extended over an appropriate time frame they are quite often bargains.