A New York Times article reports the opening of a half-mile section of bike path, recently built along the west side of Manhattan at a cost of $16M, or roughly $30 million per mile. That’s about $5700 per linear foot. Kinda sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?
Well, $30 million per mile for about one car-lane mile is a lot, but it’s not out of line compared to other urban highway construction costs. The Doyle Drive project in San Francisco — a freeway to replace the current old and deteriorating freeway approach to the Golden Gate Bridge — is currently under way at $1 billion for 1.6 miles…but hey, it will have six lanes each way, so that isn’t so bad, at $50 million per lane-mile. And there are other components to the project, too, not just building the highway (there will also be bike paths, landscaping, on- and off-ramps, and so on). All in all it seems roughly in line with the New York bike lane project.
Speaking of the Doyle Drive project, one expense was the cost of moving a bush called a “San Francisco Manzanita” out of the way. Maybe I shouldn’t say A San Francisco Manzanita, I should say THE San Francisco Manzanita: this species hadn’t been reported since 1947 and was presumed extinct, but a single bush was found last year, in the path of the Doyle Drive project. It was moved this January at a reported cost of $175,000. If you look at the photos linked to that article, you’ll see that the move involved a heavy crane, a bunch of workers, etc.; and I think it’s understandable that when you are working with possibly the very last example of a species, you hire some consultants to make sure that the place you’re moving it to will actually support it. But still. (I’m a big fan of preserving endangered species, and if this is what it costs then so be it, but…is this really what it costs? Well, maybe it is).
It’s very tempting to be snarky about these high prices, but I’m hardly in a position to criticize, considering that my work time (including overhead and benefits) is charged at about $320,000 per year, which, trust me on this, is far more than my salary.
And of course, anyone who has work done on their house will discover that it costs about 3 times more than you think it should, and that is true even after you have inflated your initial guess by a factor of 3.
And if you’re a cyclist, like me, you know that buying a nice (but by no means top-of-the-line) bicycle can easily cost $1800, and that the local bike shop where you buy it is probably struggling to make ends meet (which might also be true of the manufacturer).
If there’s a point to all of this (which, I must admit, I’m not sure there is), I guess it’s that some things cost much, much more than you think they should, but you’re probably kidding yourself if you think you could do them cheaper yourself.