Just a quick note early on a Saturday afternoon about Sarah Palin’s Bridge to Nowhere and what it cost. Setting aside the question of earmarks as policy, I’m just interested in discussing the price tag. The proposed earmark was to be a total of $400 million dollars. So, how much does it cost to build a bridge in the United States, on average?
That’s not an easy question to answer for a number of reasons. For one, cost of doing business varies from state to state. Another problem is that no two bridges are exactly alike, either in form or function. But it is instructive to note that the entire U.S. Department of Transportation budget for building bridges across the whole of the country is only $5 billion dollars. Equally instructive is the fact that the Frederick Douglass – Susan B. Anthony Bridge here in Rochester – a national award winning bridge in New York State, by the way – was built for a mere $38 million dollars.
Again in fairness, the Bridge to Nowhere was a considerably more grand project than the relatively modest spanning of the Genesee River. The Gravina Island Bridge was slated to be higher than the Brooklyn Bridge and longer than the Golden Gate. It was required to be so because commercial fishing boats needed to get under the bridge and the span is the narrowest point between the two bodies of land.
But to put it all together, 38 million dollars gets you an award winning bridge in New York State that carries an average of 77,000 cars a day. But in Alaska – which has a cost of living surprisingly similar to New York – you need $400 million dollars to build a bridge for 50 people.