Why Do Government Projects Cost More Than Forecast? Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 13 2011 @ 8:34pm


by Chris Bodenner

Here's a timely story to toss in the thread: The city of Los Angeles is closing I-405 this weekend for a $1 billion development project to add one HOV lane. Unsurprisingly, "Carmageddon" is causing widespread anxiety, so city officials are setting high stakes for the contractors: they'll be fined $6,000 for every 10 minutes they go over the 53-hour time limit – a great experiment in creating better incentives for public works.

Christopher Hawthorne argues that while the shutdown will inflict temporary pain by forcing commuters to imagine L.A. without cars (and in doing so instill some “civic value”), the project is ultimately short-sighted:

Is widening the 405 (to add one solitary carpool lane on the freeway's northbound side) really something that we should be spending $1 billion on? Will it actually make traffic through the pass better? And if so, for how long?

After all, study after study has shown the ineffectiveness of this approach. As soon as you open up new lanes, drivers adjust: A few more decide to take the newly widened route each day, and before long the congestion is just as bad as before. In this case, because an HOV lane is being added, some of the change in behavior will be virtuous, turning drivers into passengers. It's still tough to think of a less cost-efficient way to spend a billion dollars of public money.

On the other hand, Alissa Walker and her colleagues at GOOD are psyched for L.A.’s "greatest new holiday" and offer suggestions on how to celebrate. After recommending that Carmageddon be held every year, Walker posts an update:

It may be an annual event already! This NBC Los Angeles article says the freeway will have to be closed again to demo the other side of the bridge… in about 11 months.

(Photo from Matt Logue's series "Empty L.A.")