Why Can't We Build Things Anymore? Because Government Is Terrible

Putting the 'fruc' in 'infrastructure,' New York City edition


Don't flag me, bro. |||

It's a common Democratic Party refrain: We no longer spend money on infrastructure! (Actually not true.) Our roads and bridges are crumbling! (They're actually better than they've been in a while.) Why, we used to build stuff like the Golden Gate bridge! (Who's we, kemosabe?)

You hear these types of questionably accurate comments in the places where they sound most plausible: Big, typically Democrat-controlled cities, where the roads and bridges and tunnels and airports really do feel like 1980s Romania. Earlier this month, notes the Manhattan Institute's Nicole Gelinas, statist New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and clownish Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) made a big show of riding around the subway and demanding more infrastructure money from Washington.

The only problem with that, aside from the question of why Kansas farmers should pay for Gotham commuters (and vice-versa)? With every layer of government comes a new chance for price-inflation. For instance, New York pays "flaggers"–people who stand near roadside construction sites and make sure that cars don't run over hard hats–$11.25 an hour. But, Gelinas, writes,

[Federal] labor investigators visited a Lower Manhattan job site two years ago and determined that the flaggers aren't traffic-control agents but construction laborers.

It's a nice promotion: Federal rules mandate that "laborers" in New York City earn $39.85 an hour, plus another $34.88 in benefits, for a total of $75 an hour.

Unless New York City started paying $150,000 and up for each flagger, the feds would take away our road money.

There's also a sexy racism/sexism angle:

"We have approached this matter as a [labor-law] violation," the feds wrote. But "since the involved workers were primarily female/minorities .?.?. there is a potential .?.?. civil rights violation."

Writing in the New York Daily News, the Manhattan Institute's Aaron M. Renn makes what should be a chilling observation: "Why do New York's projects cost so much? Disturbingly, no one actually knows." (Italics mine.) More:

Ten billion dollars — for a bus station. And if other projects are any guide, this price tag for a Port Authority Bus Terminal replacement is only going up from there.

That's after we've committed: $4.2 billion at the PATH World Trade Center station; $1.4 billion for the Fulton St. subway station; $11 billion for the East Side Access project; $4.5 billion for just two miles of the Second Ave. Subway, and $2.3 billion for a single station extension of the 7-train.

Last month, Reason's Jim Epstein wrote about New York's $4 billion train station." In 2012, Epstein and Kennedy asked "When Did Honoring the Dead Become an Occassion for Fleecing the Living?"

NEXT: Cathy Young: The UVA Fiasco and 'Believe the Survivor' Syndrome

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  1. “Why do New York’s projects cost so much?”

    Because they *can*.

    1. I thought it was BFYTW.

      1. Why can’t it be both? Oh, it IS both….

        OK then.

  2. I was thinking I should change professions- I mean, the responsibility to dollar ratio is hard to beat- but I kept reading and I’m a white dude, so it’s a no go. Thanks reason.

    1. i would do blackface for 150K

  3. made a big show of riding around the subway and demanding more infrastructure money from Washington

    Pay for your own shit assholes.

  4. OT: Did you gais hear that Hillary Clinton is running for President??!!!! So Excited!!!

    But….as I noted elsewhere….

    You know who else wanted to be his nation’s “champion” and also was known by one name, which also happened to begin with “H”….

    Coincidence? I think not…

    1. Hugo Chavez?

    2. Hannibal?

    3. The Hamburgler?

      (BAD FORM, answering my own question!)

    4. Hirohito?

      1. nice #2

    5. Hugh of the Vale?

      1. Way to Godwinson the thread.

        1. Hitler?

    6. Any number of Henrys, King of England?

    7. Hamilton?

    8. Hammurabi?

    9. Chaim Herzog?

      (or Whitey Herzog, if that makes you feel better)

  5. It’s never money for upkeep,that should have been factored in at the beginning.It’s for new stuff that will fall apart due to lack of UPKEEP.Oh, and prevailing wages run up cost.They never buy the cheaper labor.

  6. Bah! Build? We’re even worse at sustaining. One of my favorite quotes:
    “American’s love to build, but they hate to maintain” Dan McNichol referring to the the interstate highway system but is just as relevant to my line of work (aircraft maintenance)

    1. I think that’s one of those stupid generalities that fails upon closer inspection. The amount of maintenance on the interstate system is intense with some exceptions, mostly fucked up Blue urban areas, in my experience.

      GOVERNMENTS love to build and hate to maintain, I’ll go with that. Some indivs are not so good at it.

      But lots of people are. All the restored tractors and cars and guns and people using barns built in the 1800’s….some people are verrrrry good at keeping things going.

      Yes, we throw away VCRs and CD players and computers – makes no sense to maintain shit like that. Doesn’t pay. The big stuff? At least many are good about it. Some aren’t.

      “America”? No. “American government and politicians”? YEah, I’ll go with that.

      1. You pretty much ripped that thought out of my mind. I’ve never anybody maintain possessions and structures like we do. This isn’t Cuba — upkeep of unnecessary shit is retarded. But if we want it to last, we make it last. Period.

        1. I will say, I was impressed the first time we went to Scotland – stayed in Stirling. Saw a house on the edge of town with a placard: “Build 1560; Renovated 1720” or some such. Still being lived in today. Rather impressive.

          We don’t have too much of that in the US of A 🙂 Fucking Ediburgh castle was also impressive.

          About the closest I’ve come to in the US was when we finally visited Monticello on our recent vacation. All the floors in the house are orig, they said. I kept looking down at the parquet floors in the parlor – just fantastic. THERE’S some maintenance been going on for a couple hunnert years!

          1. See Hoboken, New Jersey, for the antithesis.

          2. In 1560 most* Americans were living in tents, wickiups, igloos, etc. A lot of them were nomadic.

            Kinda hard to maintain for 450 years.

            * There are exceptions; Hopi, Inca, etc. But it’s even harder to maintain infrastructure while being eradicated or herded into reservations.

      2. It’s easier to get your name on new stuff.

        1. Yeah, this.

      3. The government loves maintaining things like the highway system. So does the private sector. It is the perfect vehicle for crony capitalism. An interstate runs the length of the state, usually hundreds of miles of interstate highway for each state. So the state can farm out upgrades and resurfacing contracts worth many, many millions of dollars every year. The projects just roll from one end of the state to the other – then cycle back to the beginning.

        The same goes for things like painting lines, painting bridges, etc. Big money contracts that allow a steady stream of money to the private sector. This means a steady stream of lobbying and campaign contributions to make sure that money keeps going to the right people.

        Win/Win, baby!

        1. Yep. Remember how fares were going to pay off the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan? Well, they DID,. The tolls continue – “for maintenance”. I have a very hard time believing they need all the money they charge, but….there we are.

          I will say, that is another magnificent (and maintained) structure I marvel at. Like when I finally saw Hoover Dam for the first time. HOLY SHIT! I just stood there for about 1/2 looking at it all – then bought a 1/2 hour helicopter ride to see it from there air.

          Shit like those bridges and the Hoover Dam are true marvels to me. And also belie this “no maintenance” bullshit…

  7. An empire slowly collapses inward under the weight of it’s own Byzantine bureaucracy. That’s probably never happened before.

    1. The Byzantine Empire, unbeknownst to European Christendom, kept the Muslims from conquering Europe for centuries. They didn’t even get thanked for that shit. Fuckin’ Europeans. All they got for it was a DMV as shitty as New Jersey’s.

      1. “The Byzantine Empire, unbeknownst to European Christendom, kept the Muslims from conquering Europe for centuries. They didn’t even get thanked for that shit. Fuckin’ Europeans.”

        Yeah, that’s ‘cuz the Muslims showed up one morning when the office opened and applied for a permit, and you know what happened next:
        ‘Please step to window #3…..’

  8. Not to mention the licensing. When I was scanning job listings in Seattle, I saw the (8-hour?) flagging classes. To get a license. To hold a “STOP” sign. Like the site foreman couldn’t teach you that in five minutes before starting.

    1. Although the flip side to this story is that an NYC flagger job just got very, very attractive. Would you rather get down in a dangerous trench laying pipe for $75 per hour, or stand around listening to podcasts while operating a stop sign?

    2. I went though that class years ago. Most of it was setup like how many feet out you need to put this sign or that sign on different types of roads. That sort of thing.

      It still amazes me when I see flaggers doing the very shit that was hammered during the class. Don’t stand in the path of vehicles. Don’t turn your back on traffic.

  9. It’s less than amusing that the one gubmint function that they should be spending money on, roads, is the one they ignore.

    Can’t deprive the light rail projects of funds to repair the 3rd world level streets, you know.

  10. Obligatory.

    But yeah, I’ve never understood shit like this: to pull a local SoCal example off the top of my head, to put in a parking lot at an overcrowded trailhead, it recently cost $500,000. Grade it flat (pretty sure it was flat already), pour gravel, build restroom. Should be $100k max.

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