Why Do Government Projects Cost More Than Forecast? Ctd

by Chris Bodenner

In response to our reader's frustration over the slow and expensive pace of US bridge construction relative to China's, another reader points to a report on the safety fears on the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge due to the haste with which it was built. Another writes:

One reason China may be a bit more efficient than the United States is that they don’t have any debates, about anything, because it’s a Communist country.  Let’s see, we need to build a really long hazardous bridge project, and we have billions of unskilled laborers whom we can force to work on the project with little pay because we don’t respect human rights.  Let’s get cracking.  That’s a lot easier discussion than dealing with Unions, regulations regarding worker safety, project design, etc.

I grow really weary of the comparisons between a Communist dictatorship and the U.S.  Ever since we gave them most-favored nation status so that our corporations could take advantage of their oppressed workforce, our citizenry has become more than willing to forget just what a shitty place China is for the majority of its people, who have no say in their governance. Sure, it may be more expensive to debate options, but that seems like a small price to pay to live in a representative democracy, isn’t it?


Having lived in China for three years in the 'aughts, I'd probably answer your readers' "What's wrong with this picture?" question differently:

– China is building infrastructure where none existed – re-building in the same space is always more expensive than building from scratch – you have to allow for keeping traffic flowing, etc.

– China is still a command economy and political system.  Once they decided to build, they didn't need to file an environmental impact statement, etc.  Now conservatives would think that's fine, but I'd invite them to visit China and see for themselves what an attractive place those policies created.

– As a client once said to me about China, "Thousands of years of history.  One year of statistics".   Be very wary of any dollar figure you get from China.

– Similarly, the "two years" cited is the actual construction time; do you think they just came up with the idea and started building?   This reminds me of the battle over why it took Detroit so long to develop new cars compared to the Japanese – and while there was a difference, it wasn't nearly so dramatic.  The Japanese just cut a lot of upfront planning hours off the figures they promoted to the press.

– Lastly, it took China over 50 years to build the Three Gorges Dam, and the idea (first proposed by Americans) originated before WWII.  Not everything there moves at lightning speed.

Another circles back to the original post:

The Jiaozhou Bay Bridge is only longer than the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in the way that two paper clips are longer than a pencil. You can't drive 26 miles on the Jiaozhou bridge without curling around, backtracking, and taking an alternate exit. If we replaced the Causeway with the Jiaozhu bridge, it would only get you 2/3 of the way across Lake Pontchartrain. The hype about this from Guinness is a reminder that they are in the business of creating records, common sense be damned.