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Archive for August 3rd, 2007

A Foot is Worth…

$131, 578 per foot. That’s the estimated cost of rebuilding the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed earlier this week. Minnesota is in the process of rushing $250 million in state funds to replace the 40 year-old 1,900 foot span. In the mean time, hundreds of thousands of dollars are going to redirect traffic on neighboring routes.

Here is a shining example of the costs associated with continued dependence on the automobile, and the role it plays in present-day society. Granted, the bridge played host to more than just the private automobile, though it is safe to say that of the 141,000 vehicles that crossed that bridge daily, the majority of them were cars.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, over 70,000 of the nation’s highway-bridges are in a similar state of repair, with an estimated reconstruction cost of over $188 billion. That’s the equivalent of $2.4 million per highway-bridge, and a likely modest figure, considering the repair time-line would take over 40 years.

It’s also an example of how creating and maintaining infrastructure that favors the private automobile is actually a public subsidy of automobile ownership.

Compare these costs to the cost of Columbus’ proposed streetcar system. At present, the streetcar proposal calls for three lines, with a combined 7.8 miles of track ranging in price from $154-165 million ($4,024 per foot). Obviously bridges are more expensive to engineer and construct than is laying three rail lines, and 7.8 miles of track only begins to reduce the burden, but it is an example of the ineffectiveness of current spending on “transportation”.

Even a bridge that carries a rail line has the potential to decay over time. However, it’s the frequency of use that aids in decay. Reduce the number of vibrations and increase longevity.

Minneapolis has one light-rail line at the moment, but it carries traffic to the south rather than the north. That rail line cannot make up for the loss of this bridge. Consider, however the mitigating impact of a rail line heading north; A long-term investment that would cost far less over time, as well as reduce stress on the current infrastructure.

Those who yell “no subsidy” for a comprehensive transit system seem to be, in fact, the greatest beneficiaries of transportation spending.

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