Spend money on infrastructure now

Seattle is getting ready to start work on the replacement for the SR99 viaduct through Seattle.  We're still not sure if it's going to be a bridge, a tunnel, a boulevard, or a wormhole.  As soon as a plan is locked someone decides we need to talk about it some more.  Come on people.  I don't care if it's not the best solution, as long as it's good enough.  Just shut up and dig!

But that's a rant for another day.  Today I want to highlight some good news from the Seattle Times last week.  It concerns the first phase of the construction.

The low bid for the Sodo section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement came in Wednesday morning nearly $40 million lower than the state's estimate.

Skanska USA, of Riverside, Calif., was the apparent low bidder at $114.6 million. The project, from South Holgate Street to South King Street, features a large interchange that connects the two sports stadiums to the planned tunnel, as well as tourist and shipping destinations on Elliott Bay.

The project will create about 600 construction jobs, the state says.

There were six bidders for the work, all of whom were below the state engineers' estimate of $153 million, a reflection of the recession making construction companies hungry for business.


I continue to see calls from various activists to reign in government spending because of the recession.  That is exactly the wrong thing to do.  I made a similar point just over a year ago.

We should spend money on durable infrastructure NOW.  Why now when budgets are strained and people are out of work?

  • Interest rates are low so financing is cheap.
  • Steel and construction materials are less expensive now than in a booming economy.
  • Construction companies want more work are willing to build for less.
  • Labor is readily available.
  • Land acquisition is cheaper.

That's why it's cheaper to build now, and that means better long term savings for the tax payers.  We can get a bargain on stuff that will last us decades.  That's what we see in the first phase of the SR99 replacement and in a few other construction bids that have gone out.

Why else should we do it? 

Well, it's a great way to get people working -- to get money into the economy for the benefit of all of us without increasing the welfare roles.  When construction workers make money, they spend money so those dollars don't just stop at the city/state spending it.  Additionally, we also have to remember that we get a chunk of that pay and construction costs back in tax revenue.

Why shouldn't we just wait until the economy improves and "we can afford it?"

First of all, we'll need the infrastructure once employment and commerce are back to their roaring pace.  If we don't start building until then, the projects will all come on line just in time for the next recession.

Second, it's bad for big business.  When the economy is strong and big business is building its own infrastructure, it makes less sense for government to compete with business for materials and labor.  Trying to do major public infrastructure and major private infrastructure at the same time just drives up the costs for everyone.

Building major public infrastructure in the recession and at the tail end of a recession is good for the city/state, it's good for the unemployed, and it's good for big business.

The economy is improving.  The window on this recession opportunity it closing.

Start digging now.

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