Posted on in Todd Talks by Todd Johnson

I was recently reading an article from one of my favorite writers (Gregg Easterbrook) and he brought up some stunning examples of how quickly things, rather large and complex things, have been built in the past. He then compared that to how long it takes to make similar, or in some cases, simpler things, today.  
Despite the undeniable advancement of technology, many modern construction projects run much longer when compared to similar projects of the past.  

Among the examples Mr. Easterbook included in his article were: 

“America built the Empire State Building in one year, 45 days. Built the Hoover Dam in five years. During World War II, out-built all Axis nations combined by 8 to 1. Needed only 10 years to build the Panama Canal.” 

“The Long Bridge over the Potomac River near Capitol Hill, an important rail artery, is being replaced. Construction is planned to last seven years. The existing Long Bridge, finished in 1904 with rudimentary equipment, was built in one year.” 

Indolence Blog

“The Kennedy Memorial Bridge that spans the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana in the late 1950s took two years to build, at a cost of $100 million. In 2016, a second span was completed in the same location; it took 9 years to build and cost $2.6 billion.” 

“In 2014 the federal government said it would build a pedestrian tunnel beneath a busy auto pike in Bethesda, Maryland (the road is “the 355” in Los Angeles terms) where the National Institutes of Health sit on one side and the Walter Reed medical complex sits on the other. A fine idea! But it took eight years and $190 million to build a pedestrian tunnel.” 

I was astonished, and a little ashamed as I read this article. How could we go from building amazing, beautiful, noteworthy, and functional things in relatively short periods of time, with comparatively crude equipment, to taking forever and spending many times more monies on things that should be easier and quicker to build? 

The answer was not what I expected. I was thinking about how we must have grown increasingly lazy (indolent) in the years since the industrial revolution. It turns out that most of the issues are delays that are politically rooted. There are more laws, regulations, and public comment periods than in the past. I’m sure that some of this is good, just as I am sure that some of it is questionable at best. Sometimes there are delays caused for no other reason than to delay and finger point. Most of that depends on your own perspective. But the old adage “Time is money” is a fact.  

Not all is lost. Occasionally, we recognize the nature of certain situations and pull together, working as one to quickly solve problems. Recently, there was a fire under an overpass on I-95 just outside Philadelphia, PA. This is an extremely busy area that provides passage for so many trucks hauling freight that the delays caused by the planned lengthy detour and estimated several months of construction to repair the damage was feared to add to shipping delays and economic stress in the country. Instead, many people and agencies worked together to reopen the 6 lanes of traffic just 12 days after the accident!