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We’ve answered another question at Quora, this time related to the perception of why there haven’t been any recent large-scale innovative infrastructure or civil projects in the United States. As you’ll see in our response, there actually have been, but there’s also a very good explanation for why we don’t have a better civil infrastructure.
In a nutshell, the answer to the question of why there haven’t been any large scale civil infrastructure projects is that the nature of large scale civil infrastructure projects has changed.
Here, instead of launching something on the scale of an interstate highway system to connect major cities, a lot of focus has been placed upon connecting smaller cities to that system and to expand the local highway networks surrounding the major cities themselves and also their airports. That activity has continued into the present day, as there have also been a number of highly visible civil engineering projects completed in very recent years, the most successful of which is perhaps the Hoover Dam bypass between Arizona and Nevada over the Colorado River gorge.
We would also consider the development of the Internet and mobile phone networks as great examples of modern infrastructure development, but many don’t put them in the same class as the very visible concrete and steel construction efforts that most automatically think of when they think of civil infrastructure.
But to get to the real meat of the question, the answer is that a lot of these “concrete and steel” projects have been considerably less successful, to the point where they became such money pits that they actually prevent other, better projects from going forward because the money isn’t there to build them. California’s Bay Bridge is generally recognized as both a major waste and potential engineering catastrophe in waiting.
The same is true for Boston’s “Big Dig” project, the cost of which is still adding up.
Other massive multi-billion dollar projects have to be considered to be abject failures, most notably, Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel replacement project.
Not only was that particular project not wanted by the people it is intended to serve, all work on it has actually stalled out because the massive tunnel boring machine that was specifically built for the task has broken and nobody can figure out why. It’s been stuck underground for several years now.
Meanwhile, a lot of transportation funding is being diverted to similar pet projects of politicians, namely high speed rail and light rail projects, at the expense of effective public transportation systems.
So the bottom line answer to the original question is that we are still doing innovative civil infrastructure projects, but not as much as we could be because politicians are making far too many wasteful decisions.
Note: We edited our original reply above to relocate the “Roads or Light Rail” link to be grouped with similar links related to railroads and light rail projects.
U.S. Federal Highway Administration