Saturday, August 13, 2005

World's Most Expensive and Useless Drawbridge Erected

Construction crews have put into place a piece of giant drawbridge -- a 466-ton, 155-foot span -- that forms a critical element of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac River. The Washington Post describes it as "one of the largest draw bridges in the world." It also may be one of the most expensive: The drawbridge is adding $186 million to the cost of the multi-billion bridge project.

Furthermore, I would argue, The Woodrow Wilson drawbridge may be one of the most useless in the world. The Post, which breathlessly describes the erection of the span, never inquires why it is needed in the first place, noting only, "The new bridge will open about 60 times a year instead of the 250 times that the old bridge opens because, at 78 feet in the air rather than 50, more boats will be able to pass beneath it."

Sixty times a year? Taxpayers are spending $186 million so vessels can pass underneath the bridge at the rate of once every six days?

And what ships be those 60? There is little commercial shipping traffic along this stretch of the Potomac -- the Washington Post printing plant gets its paper delivered upstream from the bridge, but there's not much else -- and no Navy traffic. A handful of coast guard vessels may ply the waterways around Washington, D.C., but otherwise most of the maritime traffic consists of yachts and other pleasure craft. I would love to know the identity of those 60 vessels that are costing taxpayers $186 million. If they belong to private citizens, then the drawbridge would rank as one of the greatest boondoggles of in the world.


At 6:11 PM, Blogger subpatre said...

Sec. 117.255 Potomac River shows a verrrry strong bias toward commuter traffic. The bridge tender states the draw records aren't open, but that all ships, "every last one of them", are commercial vessels.

Ships must give advance notice 12 and 4 hours in advance. Commercial vessels' allowed hours are M-F 10AM - 2PM; 8PM - 5AM. SS and holidays 7PM - 2PM. Recreational vessels M-F 12MN - 5AM; SS and holidays 12MN - 7AM; or may accompany a commercial ship provided it adds no extra time.

What's the price of not spending $186 million? Part of the high price is building the bridge & draw higher than they were; reducing draws needed to 60 per year. What's the road impact of 190 cargo or tanker ships?

At 7:38 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Once again, Subpatre, nice going. T would never have thought of it that way. Even more, once that bridge is built you are committed to whatever restrictions it causes for a very long time.

Who know when we might need some guided missile frigates or some such to protect the city? who knows if those 190 cargo ships will be 400 cargo ships 20 years from now.

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

Subpatre, I accept your characterization of the traffic requiring the raising of the Woodrow Wilson drawbridge as primarily commercial. Here's a follow-up question: Why not charge the vessels a toll? Recoup some of that $186 million! We could even set different rates, adjusting for the time of day and traffic congestion caused!

At 11:25 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Sure, and the cost of the tolls will get added to the cost of the goods we buy, plus we get to pay for the administration of the tolls. Following subpatre's argument, if we set the tolls high enough, the ships will stop coming and all those goods will move by truck.

There's a good plan.

Since the cost of building the bridge higher and putting a draw span in it is entirely in favor of the boat traffic, we could charge impact fees to, that way we can get somebody else to pay for infrastructure we all benefit from.

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At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real reason is Homeland Security.
In a disaster/emergency or large scale attack the Navy will need to sail a frigate, Aegis platform or even hospital ship up to DC.


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