The Empire State Building took one year and 45 days from construction state to opening, beginning March 17, 1930, and having its official open May 1, 1931. We used to build things in this country. In many parts of the world, they still do.
While the concept of the D.C. metro’s “Silver line” which reaches Washington Dulles began in the 1960s, it wasn’t until 2002 that a funding agreement was approved. However it took 7 years for construction to begin, and Metro to Dulles didn’t actually start until November 2022 – two full decades later.
Beijing Capital airport took four years to build. The airport’s terminal 3 expansion took four years, opening prior to the 2008 Olympics. Meanwhile the new Beijing Daxing airport took five years to build. Here in the U.S., though?
- Adding just three gates to the existing main terminal at Austin’s airport is a four year project.
- When we really fast-track something, we get New York LaGuardia’s renovations. Then-Vice President Biden kickstarted the project with comments about the existing facility being “third world” in February 2014. A year and a half later there were plans to renovate, and it became a legacy project for then-Governor Andrew Cuomo. Delta’s renovated terminal opened in June 2022.
The project was supposed to include an Airtran, connecting Manhattan to the airport, but no current plans are in place to do that. One of the criticisms of a previous plan for this was that environmental review took only two years and therefore it necessarily had to have been improper.
I’m not suggesting China is the model by any means! The Paris metro gets extended far faster and less expensively than comparable projects in the United States.
A perfect encapsulation of why we can’t have nice things is the new $8.8 billion redevelopment plan for Union Station in Washington, D.C.
They’ve revised the plan to reduce parking because opponents felt they had too much, even though exactly what you want is for people to be able to show up at the station and take the train instead of drive. But mostly there’s this, the project isn’t even expected to be complete until 2040 and of course expect that to get pushed off.
Although plans call for station upgrades to be finished in about 18 years, much of the timetable is unclear. The federal environmental review of the project, which began in 2015, is at least three years behind schedule. Once the federal approval process is complete, a design phase is likely to take several years, project officials said, possibly followed by 13 years of construction.
Ironically, supporting this project which will take into the 2040s, D.C.’s Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton says “We cannot delay the project indefinitely and ensure the station continues to function.”
As is likely clear, renovating Union Station in D.C. is far from alone in suffering from too much citizen participation and too much delay.
California high speed rail is a 20-year, $100 billion boondoggle that will probably never be built as-intended. There are just too many veto points along the way, most of them created by the well-meaning National Environmental Policy Act.
Environmental review created too much ‘citizen participation’. Large-scale projects drag on for years and cost far more than their counterparts in Europe. Federal agencies signing off on projects add too many costs, too (so do local governments extracting concessions from developers, which limits how much housing gets built and raises the cost of housing).
You have Environmental Impact Statements, Public Review and Comment Periods (followed by supplemental Environmental Impact Statements), and then Legal Challenges. An insufficient National Environmental Policy Act analysis alone is reason for courts to start the process over. And multiple agencies must coordinate and work through disagreements and communication issues.