Review: The Cross Florida Barge Canal That Never Was

Libertarians will read Ditch of Dreams as a story about bureaucracy and environmentalism run amok.


For as long as there have been maps of Florida, there have been men who have looked at them and thought: "Gee, it sure would be nice not to have to go all the way around." Enter the Cross Florida Barge Canal project—the eponymous Ditch of Dreams in Steven Noll and David Tegeder's 2015 history of the effort to dig a channel across northern Florida, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic. The story begins in the 16th century and peaks with the construction of just over 100 miles of canal as part of a New Deal initiative before petering out.

Framed as a David and Goliath story, the tale might be better read as a long, dispiriting chronicle of the ways that bureaucracy, political horse-trading, and environmental activism can paradoxically kill an ambitious idea in its prime and keep it alive in expensive, zombified form long after it should have been laid to rest.