Government Technology

A Tale of Two Bridges



May 31, 2007 By

On March 15, news outlets here in Sacramento, Calif., interrupted the opening round of the NCAA tournament to report "breaking" news. Now unless it's an announcement that the government finally admitted the existence of UFOs, there's not much news that should interrupt March Madness. Sure enough, it was another fire -- big deal.

The fire turned out to be a big deal after all -- at least to some people. The admittedly spectacular blaze consumed a 1,400-foot railroad trestle, which happened to be part of Union Pacific's (UP) main shipping line connecting the Port of Oakland with the rest of the country. With the bridge destroyed, trains going in and out of Northern California were being rerouted while arrival and departure schedules descended into chaos. 

On April 3, the entire toasted trestle had been replaced by a shiny, new concrete and steel railroad bridge. That's correct: UP demolished the damaged bridge, prepped the site, constructed a new bridge and opened it in three weeks. 

After Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave UP the authority to begin construction without obtaining permits, the company deployed a 135-person team that worked day and night rebuilding the structure, a task that included driving 300 30-foot steel piles into the ground. Total cost? $30 million. 

Now, down Interstate 80, another bridge building project is under way -- the replacement of the eastern half of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. When it was initially proposed, back in 1997, this CalTrans project -- intended to retrofit the span for earthquakes -- involved nothing more than adding supplemental structural support. The cost was estimated at a few hundred million dollars. So far, so good. 

But in 1999, analysts claimed it would be better if the state built an entirely new span. The cost of a new span was an estimated $1 billion, but the structure would have triple the lifespan than the existing retrofitted bridge. 

Just one contractor responded to the state's RFP in 2003, however, and the cost ballooned from $1 billion to $6 billion. Also, the estimated completion date stretched from 2007 to 2012. Additionally to help pay for the project, the toll to cross any bridge in the Bay Area was increased by $2 for each automobile, making the current toll $4. 

What can we take from this tale of two bridges? That bureaucracy is expensive and crippling? That's no surprise. And granted the projects are vastly different in terms of size and scope, so perhaps there's only perspective to be gained. UP, driven by profit, seized the day and pulled off an impressive feat. Government, meanwhile, still seems resigned to cross the bridge when it gets there.


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Comments

   |    Commented June 8, 2007

After a fuel tanker crashed and burned under a section of Oakland, Calif., freeway, it collapsed. Governor Schwarzenegger removed all the bureaucratic roadblocks, and Caltrans' contractor replaced the collapsed section of the I-580 connector in 26 days. Not bad for an "expensive and crippling" bureaucracy. Government is designed to move slowly and carefully but it's learning to move faster when the stakes are high.

   |    Commented June 8, 2007

After a fuel tanker crashed and burned under a section of Oakland, Calif., freeway, it collapsed. Governor Schwarzenegger removed all the bureaucratic roadblocks, and Caltrans' contractor replaced the collapsed section of the I-580 connector in 26 days. Not bad for an "expensive and crippling" bureaucracy. Government is designed to move slowly and carefully but it's learning to move faster when the stakes are high.

   |    Commented June 8, 2007

After a fuel tanker crashed and burned under a section of Oakland, Calif., freeway, it collapsed. Governor Schwarzenegger removed all the bureaucratic roadblocks, and Caltrans' contractor replaced the collapsed section of the I-580 connector in 26 days. Not bad for an "expensive and crippling" bureaucracy. Government is designed to move slowly and carefully but it's learning to move faster when the stakes are high.

   |    Commented June 14, 2007

First of all, you are your govenment. When you bash the government, you bash yourself. Secondarily any efficiency expert will tell you that projects involve triple constraints of time, costs and quality. When you're replacing something with an identical replacement, you don't have to worry about quality as that's already been taken care of the first time and the replacement will, "cost whatever it costs," without any constraints, then you can focus soley time and get the sort of delivery you mention. When you can build one off, custom, computers with unique operating systems that can operate 50-100 years, works well and looks good, than you have my permission to complain about government.

   |    Commented June 14, 2007

First of all, you are your govenment. When you bash the government, you bash yourself. Secondarily any efficiency expert will tell you that projects involve triple constraints of time, costs and quality. When you're replacing something with an identical replacement, you don't have to worry about quality as that's already been taken care of the first time and the replacement will, "cost whatever it costs," without any constraints, then you can focus soley time and get the sort of delivery you mention. When you can build one off, custom, computers with unique operating systems that can operate 50-100 years, works well and looks good, than you have my permission to complain about government.

   |    Commented June 14, 2007

First of all, you are your govenment. When you bash the government, you bash yourself. Secondarily any efficiency expert will tell you that projects involve triple constraints of time, costs and quality. When you're replacing something with an identical replacement, you don't have to worry about quality as that's already been taken care of the first time and the replacement will, "cost whatever it costs," without any constraints, then you can focus soley time and get the sort of delivery you mention. When you can build one off, custom, computers with unique operating systems that can operate 50-100 years, works well and looks good, than you have my permission to complain about government.

   |    Commented June 14, 2007

1. There are many stories more important than March Madness. Sorry, Chad! 2. The delays associated with the new Bay Bridge caused the increased costs are mainly a result of political fighting between Oakland and SF - especially the two former mayors named Brown. 3. The speed of everything associated with the UP response raises my suspicions: the speed of the fire's spread, the appearance of the needed steel when there's a worldwide shortage, the availablility of all the needed equipment. Take those three and try to be a little less superficial next time!

   |    Commented June 14, 2007

1. There are many stories more important than March Madness. Sorry, Chad! 2. The delays associated with the new Bay Bridge caused the increased costs are mainly a result of political fighting between Oakland and SF - especially the two former mayors named Brown. 3. The speed of everything associated with the UP response raises my suspicions: the speed of the fire's spread, the appearance of the needed steel when there's a worldwide shortage, the availablility of all the needed equipment. Take those three and try to be a little less superficial next time!

   |    Commented June 14, 2007

1. There are many stories more important than March Madness. Sorry, Chad! 2. The delays associated with the new Bay Bridge caused the increased costs are mainly a result of political fighting between Oakland and SF - especially the two former mayors named Brown. 3. The speed of everything associated with the UP response raises my suspicions: the speed of the fire's spread, the appearance of the needed steel when there's a worldwide shortage, the availablility of all the needed equipment. Take those three and try to be a little less superficial next time!

   |    Commented June 14, 2007

Anytime Government spends our tax dollars the stakes are high. One problem with current Government is there are too many agencies overlapping each other. Take for instance, one agency says the vegetation along the levees must be removed (trees, large bushes) so they can monitor them from the air for possible weaknesses. Down come the trees. No sooner do they hit the ground another agency comes along and says "You can't cut those trees down! Don't do another thing until this is investigated". The chopped trees lay rotting. A third agency drops by and tells you if you don't remove those rotting trees we will have to fine you. This is not Government running smoothly or effeciently. This is bureaucracy at it's best!

   |    Commented June 14, 2007

Anytime Government spends our tax dollars the stakes are high. One problem with current Government is there are too many agencies overlapping each other. Take for instance, one agency says the vegetation along the levees must be removed (trees, large bushes) so they can monitor them from the air for possible weaknesses. Down come the trees. No sooner do they hit the ground another agency comes along and says "You can't cut those trees down! Don't do another thing until this is investigated". The chopped trees lay rotting. A third agency drops by and tells you if you don't remove those rotting trees we will have to fine you. This is not Government running smoothly or effeciently. This is bureaucracy at it's best!

   |    Commented June 14, 2007

Anytime Government spends our tax dollars the stakes are high. One problem with current Government is there are too many agencies overlapping each other. Take for instance, one agency says the vegetation along the levees must be removed (trees, large bushes) so they can monitor them from the air for possible weaknesses. Down come the trees. No sooner do they hit the ground another agency comes along and says "You can't cut those trees down! Don't do another thing until this is investigated". The chopped trees lay rotting. A third agency drops by and tells you if you don't remove those rotting trees we will have to fine you. This is not Government running smoothly or effeciently. This is bureaucracy at it's best!


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