In 1964, the 18 mile long Bridge Tunnel that crossed Chesapeake Bay between Virginia Beach and the Delmarva Peninsula cost roughly $1.25 billion in 2015 dollars. Some 33 years later, Virginia built a second two lane bridge tunnel over the same distance next to the first one. That cost $197 million in 1997 or $294 million in 2015 dollars. In 2015, New Jersey spent twice as much to replace two old drawbridges between Ocean City and Somers Point with a 2.8 mile bridge and causeway for $600 million.
Less than a hundred years ago, America had the fastest, safest, and most affordable trains in the world. Most came to and from Atlantic City! Our highways and bridges were admired and imitated throughout the world. The world’s first “clover leaf” intersection in the world was where Route 1 meets Route 9 near Woodbridge. Almost every city in America had safe, clean tap water. Almost every American enjoyed affordable, reliable electric power.
Government taxes rarely paid for railroads, water companies or power plants. They were built and run by private businesses that made profits and paid taxes—and that usually charged less than what we pay now.
Government once used tolls, gas tax money, and local property taxes to build and fix our roads and bridges. Until 1976, New Jersey had no state income tax and NJ gasoline taxes in New Jersey were the lowest in America. Now tolls and taxes are higher than in most states, yet our roads and bridges are falling apart. Much of Routes 40, 206, and Routes 47 and 347 where Route 55 was never finished are death traps that haven’t been improved or replaced since the 1930’s!
The water and sewer systems in many towns are also falling apart. Our electric grid is so bad that even minor storms often cause major power losses that take hours or days to fix.
We are told we need the federal government, which is already $28.43 trillion in debt, to borrow more for $1.2 trillion of “infrastructure”. Why?
Why is money from gasoline taxes, tolls, property taxes, water, sewer, and electric bills that for years gave us the best “infrastructure” in the world suddenly not enough?
A good place to start is the 18 mile long Bridge Tunnel that crossed Chesapeake Bay between Virginia Beach and the Delmarva Peninsula.
Virginia built its first two lane Bridge Tunnel there for $200 million in 1964. That comes to $1.25 billion in 2015 dollars. Some 33 years later, It built a second two lane bridge tunnel over the same distance next to the first one. That cost $197 million in 1997 or $294 million in 2015 dollars.
The 18 mile length of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is almost identical to the 17 miles of Delaware Bay that separates Cape May, New Jersey from Lewes Delaware. In 1964, New Jersey and Delaware created a new “Authority” to buy Virginia’s ferries and raise tolls on the Delaware Memorial Bridge. The plan was to use that money to build our own Bay Bridge Tunnel from Cape May to Lewes!
Of course, that money was spent on other things. The proposed Delaware Bay Bridge Tunnel was never built.
However, in 2015, New Jersey did spend $600 million on the most expensive bridge built so far in New Jersey. It is the 2.8 mile long Route 52 bridge and causeway between Ocean City and Somers Point by Garden State Parkway Exit 31. It replaced two old draw bridges over two narrow channels that were built in the 1930’s. They went over boat channels in a shallow back bay, with a large island in the middle. The Ocean City site had none of the deep water, swift currents, and ocean waves that surround the the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.
Why did a 2.8 mile bridge over calm, shallow water and an island cost roughly half as much as the first 18 mile Bridge Tunnel in the open ocean by Virginia, and twice as much as the second one?
A related question is “Why did New Jersey take 4 years and spend $4.5 million to rebuild a 50 foot bridge over English Creek on Atlantic County Route 559 between 2011 and 2015?
Why did it cost $7.6 million to install traffic lights and modify the traffic circle by the Atlantic City airport? Why have costs become so unsustainable Americans can no longer afford to build and fix our “infrastructure”?
The answers are obvious. Everybody who deals with government construction knows why. However, they also know they will lose money and ruin their careers if they openly say so.
Costs are unsustainable because:
There is no accountability or responsibility. Nothing can get built or repaired without complicated applications and approvals by dozens of government agencies at the federal, state, and local level. The approval process takes so long that officials who do the hard work needed to start projects are rarely recognized, praised, or even remembered when the project is finished. Voters have no idea when or how important decisions are made until it is too late to change them.
Most funding for bridge and highway projects comes from a borrowed money and a confusing variety of funding sources. Few voters know or care about the costs of projects because “somebody else” seems to be paying for them. Most voters don’t care about the enormous extra cost of adding an artificial mountain for a Visitor Center next to the Ocean City-Somers Point Bridge because they don’t understand how it created higher taxes and inflation. They don’t understand that by spending at least three times more than needed on the Ocean City Bridge, Routes 40, 206 and 347 remain death traps.
“Davis Bacon”, “Prevailing Wage” and “Project Labor Agreement” laws limit competition and raise costs in countless ways. As a result, taxpayers pay roughly two to three times more on construction for government, than they do for their own homes and businesses.
Millions of dollars, many years, and gallons of fossil fuels were wasted moving sand and mud from one place to another to comply with environmental laws that do little or nothing to improve the quality of life for plants or animals.
More time and money is wasted to hire employees based on race, gender, sexual preference and “ethnicity” rather than talent, skill, and achievement.
Until these five problems are addressed, our roads, bridges, water and sewer systems and electric power grid will continue to fall apart, no matter how much we borrow and spend. For the first time, Americans are slowly learning that government debts will be paid back not by future generations, who nobody cares about, but by us in the form of devalued money.
The $1.2 billion “Infrastructure”- Bill is horrible and destructive in many ways. What is worst is that it pretends that we can avoid addressing these problems for another ten years.
For years, Americans didn’t worry about massive government debt. We thought it was a problem we were leaving for our children and future generations. We thought they would have to pay it back, and we didn’t care. We were the most selfish generation in American history, and the first to show such lack of concern for our “posterity”. When I was an adjunct college professor, I found that most of my students didn’t even know that that word meant.
However, we miscalculated. This debt is NOT their problem because our children and future generations will NOT be paying that money back. We will! In fact we are already paying. The high prices we now pay for almost everything are mostly caused by markets recognizing that our paper and plastic dollars are worth less than before, and will be worth even less in the future.
As the economist C.V. Myers, author of The Coming Deflation (1976), “Ultimately every penny of every debt must be paid – if not by the borrower, then by the lender.” Our generation of reckless borrowers who put the Federal government $28.43 trillion in debt are now becoming the lenders. We will also pay that enormous debt back when the pensions, social security, annuities, and other investment we depend on for retirement are paid in cheaper dollars, or not paid at all. We will pay high “capital gains” taxes when we sell investments for more paper and plastic dollars than we paid for them, but worth far less.
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Seth Grossman, Executive Director