Across nation, big projects carry big bills, large concerns

The planned $2 billion New International Trade Crossing bridge linking Detroit and Windsor is the largest proposed infrastructure project in Michigan -- and one of the 100 largest in North America.

A list of the top 100 proposed infrastructure projects in North America, including Canada and Mexico, was recently released by CG/LA Infrastructure Inc., a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm. Among them are the NITC bridge, a $20 billion, next-generation air traffic control system for the United States, a $32 billion high-speed rail system in the Northeast and the $4.1 billion Ohio River bridges project.

These projects could create more than 20 million jobs over the next few years and are sorely needed to upgrade an out-of-date North American infrastructure system, according to CG/LA.

"Currently we are building our economic rebound on an infrastructure matrix that was designed 60 years ago -- highways, electricity, ports and logistics -- for a world that no longer exists," the company said.

Based on the $2 billion price tag, NITC would reflect an investment of $202 for each of Michigan’s approximately 9.9 million residents. (NITC proponents, including Gov. Rick Snyder, say that the bridge will not actually cost Michigan anything, in that the government of Canada is footing the bill for the project and will recoup its investment via tolls – and absorb any costs not covered by tolls.)

Notable large-scale public works projects around the nation include:

California high-speed rail

A month ago, the California Senate gave approval to start spending on what is estimated to be a $68 billion effort to link the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas by "bullet trains." The first phase of construction alone, in the middle of the state, is expected to cost $5.8 billion, funded by a combination of state bond proceeds and federal aid.

Advocates say the project will benefit the state in a variety of ways. Critics, including members of both major parties in the California Senate, fear the state has taken on a project it cannot afford.

Prior to the final vote, the Los Angeles Times reported that the project may have to spend about $3.5 million per day, every day, to stay on schedule.

At the maximum estimated cost of $68 billion, high-speed rail would be a $1,804 investment for each of California’s 37.69 million residents.

New York Water Tunnel No. 3

The idea of a new tunnel to carry fresh water from upstate New York to the nation’s largest city dates back to the 1950s. Actual construction began in 1970, the city reports, and is expected to end in 2020. The tab for the entire 60-mile project could come in at $6 billion for what New York calls the "largest capital construction project" in city history.

At the $6 billion figure, the water tunnel would represent a $728 investment for each of the 8.24 million residents of the New York City metro area.

Los Angeles Metro extensions

Los Angeles is spending more than $5 billion on extensions to its subway system, despite opposition to at least one of the planned routes, the Los Angeles Times reports. LA’s Metro system has four extension projects now under way. An analysis released in June from the Economic Policy Institute said Los Angeles would benefit "enormously" from mass transit investments, both in creating construction and ancillary jobs and in relieving economic losses tied to traffic congestion in the metropolis.

The $5.6 billion project represents $1,465 for each of the 3.82 million residents of metro Los Angeles.

Goethals Bridge Replacement Project

Similar to the proposed New International Trade Crossing bridge in Detroit, this $1.5 billion project will utilize a "concessionaire" that will design, build and operate the bridge connecting Elizabeth, N.J., and Staten Island, N.Y.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will pay for the bridge, which will replace an 84-year-old structure, with toll revenue. Tolls have been raised by as much as 100 percent to pay for the new bridge and other Port Authority projects, according to the Staten Island Advance.

Construction on the bridge is expected to start next year and be completed by 2018. The project and a related raising of the roadbed on the nearby Bayonne Bridge are expected to create 16,500 construction jobs.

Port of Long Beach (Calif.) Middle Harbor Project

Construction on this $1.2 billion expansion of one of the world’s busiest seaports started in May. It is expected to take up to 10 years to complete.

The expansion project will allow the Long Beach port to double traffic of the largest container ships. It will create as many as 9,000 construction jobs and about 14,000 new permanent jobs because of increased economic activity in the area, according to Port of Long Beach.

The entire terminal is being leased for 40 years to Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas Container Line and subsidiary Long Beach Container terminal in a $4.6 billion deal.

East Link Project (Seattle)

Public transit officials in Seattle have been planning a $2.8 billion expansion of light rail serving the city and surrounding communities for several years. Sound Transit, which proposed the expansion, has been locked in negotiations with the city of Bellevue on where the line should cross through the city.

The East Link would connect Seattle, Mercer Island and Bellevue, crossing Lake Washington via Interstate 90. Vehicle traffic in the area is expected to double over the next 30 years. The East Link is proposed for completion by 2023 but construction has not started.

Shepherd’s Flat Wind Farm

This $2 billion, 30 square-mile wind farm in north-central Oregon is nearing completion and will provide 845 megawatts of electric power for Southern California Edison. Some have called it the largest wind farm in the world.

The project, which contains 338 wind turbines, has been controversial because it’s being built using $1.2 billion in federal, state and local subsidies. Search-engine giant Google is investing $100 million the project.

Shepherd’s Flat Wind Farm will create 400 construction jobs and 35 permanent jobs, according to the (Portland) Oregonian newspaper.

Rick Haglund has had a distinguished career covering Michigan business, economics and government at newspapers throughout the state. Most recently, at Booth Newspapers he wrote a statewide business column and was one of only three such columnists in Michigan. He also covered the auto industry and Michigan’s economy extensively.

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Thu, 08/02/2012 - 8:40am
California doesn't need a high-speed rail system and certainly not at such federal government spending. It's only going to mean more federal funds diverted into California. Honorable mention for the train colors.
Thu, 08/02/2012 - 11:48am
Well with the DROUGTH around the country and coming to michigan WE WILL NOT NEED A BRIDGE to canada..
Charles Richards
Thu, 08/02/2012 - 1:08pm
This is a very nice recitation of projects and their anticipated benefits, but it would have been helpful to have had an assessment of past projects. How did final costs compare to planned costs? How did actual benefits compare to what was promised.
Jeffrey Poling
Thu, 08/02/2012 - 3:40pm
California, the "All For Me, Me For Me" nation state is at it again. Obsessed with being first and best in everything from Happy Cows to Closets, they will now display their superiorty in bullet trains as stated by USHSR President Andy Kunz, "California leads the way for many new things in this country, whether it's organic food or high technology or filmmaking. This will be the chance for California to lead the nation in transportation as well" -USHSR President Andy Kunz on CNN (see Amazing how a state already $16 billion in debt can afford $68 billion for High Speed Rail from LA to San Fransico and Detroit can't even get 3.3 miles track on Woodward. Truth is - they can't. California will get their HSR alright but the rest of us will pick up the tab. It's interesting how Michigan fits into this, supposedly national, 17,000 mile HSR scheme. While California will eventually get over 1200 miles of track, Michigan will get just 50 miles - from Detroit straight south to Toledo. Something is seriously out of kilter. Michigan, once a national leader, now sits on the sidelines while the rest of the country passes us by.