We have heard hopeful pronouncements about WPA-like public works, as the right way to put America back to work. President-elect Barack sounds great when he speaks about infrastructure projects like interstates, bridges, tunnels, you name it. Sounds like a nice dream, right?
Let the Bay Area’s brand of public works provide a cautionary note. Despite our proud heritage of iconic bridges, we’re also known for infrastructure that didn’t quite work during the big quake. Or infrastructure that’s not keeping up with population and traffic demands. Decades pass, and we are needy and trying to rebuild these days.
The latest hiccups in completing the Bay Bridge retrofit or starting the Caldecott fourth bore are front-page news again. While bridge construction is underway, a new longshoremen labor dispute holds the steel hostage – and each day adds another million to the project’s billions. Meanwhile the tunnel boring is mostly financed and may begin sometime next year, after North Hills residents litigate and address some environmental concerns.
If these construction mega-projects serve as prime examples, then we must take a reality check. Who’s responsible? How do projects get financed? How quickly do jobs appear from the ether? There are years filled with planning, reviews, protests, bidding, construction, labor disputes, cost overages, delays – rinse and repeat.
We encounter the fallout every single day, whether commuting or running errands from our Montclair vahalla. The benefits of major infrastructure are worth the tribulations, and we eventually do see the light. Yet the jobs created during construction, while welcome, are hardly an economic panacea.