My husband and I are planning a bathroom renovation. We have an idea of what we want and we've started the shopping process - comparing prices and products at our local home improvement stores.
As we expected - the prices are high. I find myself repeatedly reminding my husband that it takes thousands of years to make natural stone and that real wood doesn't come cheap. Some of the things on my "must have" list must be cut so we don't compromise on the quality of the project.
As we work through our bath renovation shopping experience and my husband's comments on the "outrageous" price per square foot of the tile of my choice, I am reminded of comments I hear about transportation projects.
People comment regularly to me on the cost of infrastructure. I am asked why it costs so much to build a road or why it costs so much to improve an airport. Oftentimes, I think, people assume that building or improving a major part of our infrastructure is like building or remodeling a house.
Most people have some knowledge of a home renovation or home construction. They have either gone through the experiences themselves, or they've watched enough HGTV to know that once you have a project in mind, you shop for the best prices on materials, get a couple of estimates from contractors - and then pick what you want and go to work.
While that method seems to work in the residential sector - that's not how it works when it comes to building a new road, increasing the length of a runway, dredging at a riverport, or making repairs on a rail line.
Building infrastructure requires experienced, qualified, skilled professionals that understand the myriad of state and federal regulations associated with the construction process. This includes the consulting engineers that design the projects as well as the contractors and their crews that build the projects. It also requires a million other things - including the actual design of the project, the purchase of right of way, moving utilities, addressing any environmental concerns, complying with federal and state regulations, maintaining the operation of the site while the actual construction occurs, and keeping the crews safe, all in a certain amount of time in a variety of weather conditions.
See, there is no outlet store for asphalt, no clearance center for concrete, nor is there an "As Is" section for aggregate. There aren't "part time" contractors who work a full time job during the week and perform highway construction on the side.
And even if there were, would you want to drive your kids over a bridge every day that was designed by inexperienced engineers, built with less than quality materials by contractors who don't understand construction? Would you want to be on the plane that landed on a runway that wasn't built to FAA standards and can't carry the weight of the plane you are on? Would you want your house near the rail line that wasn't maintained correctly because the wrong product was used on the train tracks?
No - you wouldn't want any of those things.
You want safe, dependable infrastructure that was designed to approved standards, built using tested, quality materials by skilled laborers and experienced contractors who have you - the infrastructure user - in mind as they build the project.
When we talk about the cost of infrastructure, we have to remind people that we're really not just talking about the cost of materials or labor. What we're really talking about is their safety - and how can they put a price on that?