Over the last few generations, American infrastructure construction costs have exploded, even as many peer countries spend a fraction of what the U.S. does on the same bridge or tunnel or high-speed rail line. The difference in costs often boils down to domestic state capacity: bureaucracies in East Asia and Continental Europe tend to be better-staffed and more empowered to make professional decisions. The details are naturally more complicated, but the pattern is nonetheless clear: the countries with the lowest infrastructure costs are also the countries where the state acts swiftly, with mechanisms that limit the lag between financing and construction.
If infrastructure is truly on the agenda, we must not be afraid to draw lessons from how other countries maximize their bang for their buck, and thus to avoid repeating the mistakes made in our own recent history. In So You Want to Do an Infrastructure Project, Alon Levy lays out precisely what those lessons are, and explains what needs to be done — ideally, as soon as possible — to ensure we don’t just build back better, but also quickly, affordably, and flexibly.
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Alon Levy is a Fellow with the NYU Marron Institute and founder of the urban transit blog pedestrianobservations.com