Preventing the Next $127.9 Billion Train and Other US Infrastructure Cost Disasters

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Rainwater infiltrates a New York City Subway Station (Hermann, 2023).

The $127.9 billion California high-speed rail project. The $4.45 billion Second Avenue Subway Extension in New York City that is only 1.8 miles long. These projects are shining exemplars of the very worst in disastrous infrastructure cost overruns in the United States. These cost overruns severely hamper the US by making it nearly financially impossible to build all the infrastructure needed to keep the nation economically productive.

In fact, it is estimated that at the current pace of improvement to infrastructure, the US economy will lose over $10 trillion of GDP (translating to $3,300 per household) and over 3.3 million jobs by 2039 (American Society of Civili Engineers, 2021). Commutes will take longer, basic utilities like electricity and water will become more unreliable, infrastructure will not be upgraded for the green energy transition because of climate change, and shipping costs will rise. Even recent infrastructure investments, such as the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will be significantly less effective in producing actual infrastructure because of the astronomical costs of US infrastructure.

Beyond economic impacts, the infrastructure cost crisis has serious personal implications for many Americans. Only 27% of New York City subway stations have elevators or ramps that make them accessible according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and there are plans to get 95% of stations to be ADA accessible only in 2055. However, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (the agency that runs the New York City subway) has broken its promises before, failing to meet its deadline of adding 70 elevators to subway stations before 2024, at a staggering cost of over $74 million a station (Elkeurti and Ley 2023). Many people with disabilities struggle to commute to work or get groceries because of the lack of accessible stations due to high costs and long construction times.

How do US infrastructure costs compare to other developed countries? The cost of the 1.8-mile Second Avenue Subway was 8-12x more expensive than for comparable projects in Sweden, France, or Germany (Woodhouse 2023). This means that Stockholm, Paris, and Berlin can get a staggering 8-12 miles of subway, enough for an entire subway line, for the same cost as 1 mile of subway in New York City.

This phenomenon is getting far worse. Staggeringly, highway construction costs jumped 50% between December 2020 and the Summer of 2022, according to the National Highway Construction Cost Index (Davis, 2023). This means that many critical road safety upgrades and efforts to relieve traffic congestion will not be completed. The US has been completely incapable of containing these exploding infrastructure costs.

Why are US infrastructure costs so high? Culprits include an excessively complicated environmental regulatory review process that takes years, flawed government contracts that give infrastructure contractors far too much power, and the failure to raise more private investment to assume financial risk in infrastructure projects (Vartabedian, 2021).

Solving each and every one of these problems at the federal and state levels would be far too complex. However, one obvious way the federal government could support new infrastructure projects is to end the ability to abuse the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and similar state laws like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

While environmental review laws are important, these laws have been abused by individuals, often disproportionately wealthy, to stall essential projects for reasons completely unrelated to environmental protection. In fact, the average Environmental Impact Statement (required by NEPA), is over 600 pages long and takes about 4.5 years. This process substantially increases the costs and time for critical projects like the California High-Speed Rail Project and the New York Second Avenue Subway Extension. An egregious example of this abuse is the fact that a single individual held up a plan to build 34 miles of bike lanes in San Francisco due to the loss of a parking lot using the CEQA. During that time, over 2,000 bikers were injured in collisions (Demsas, 2021). These environmental laws have even been weaponized to hurt the environment, blocking critical green energy projects, expansions of mass transit, and many other eco-friendly infrastructure projects.

What can be done? Both the Biden and Trump administrations have made new regulations to decrease the amount of time and money it takes to approve new infrastructure projects through NEPA (The White House 2023; Council on Environmental Quality 2020). However, Congress should also step up and reform NEPA to prevent abuse, override sections of state laws like CEQA that allow individuals to block bike lanes because of a parking lot, and require major infrastructure projects to have independent financial oversight to combat non-NEPA-related infrastructure cost issues.


American Society of Civil Engineers. 2021 Report Card For America’s Infrastructure., 3 Mar. 2021, pg. 6,

Elkeurti, Asmaa and Ana Ley. “Elevators at Most Subway Stations? ‘I’ll Believe It When I See It.’” The New York Times, 31 Aug. 2023, Elevators at Most Subway Stations? 'I'll Believe It When I ...The New York Times › 2023/08/31 › nyregion › nyc…

Woodhouse, Skylar. “How NYC’s Second Avenue Subway Became the World’s Most Expensive Line.” Bloomberg, 23 Feb. 2023,

Davis, Jeff. “Highway Construction Costs Have Risen 50% in Two Years.” Eno Center for Transportation, 18 Apr. 2023,

Vartabedian, Ralph. “Years of Delays, Billions in Overruns: The Dismal History of Big Infrastructure.” The New York Times, 28 Nov. 2021,

Demsas, Jerusalem. “Why does it cost so much to build things in America?” Vox, 28 Jun. 2021,

“Biden-⁠Harris Administration Proposes Reforms to Modernize Environmental Reviews, Accelerate America’s Clean Energy Future, and Strengthen Public Input.” The White House, 28 Jul. 2023, Biden-Harris Administration Proposes Reforms to ...The White House (.gov) › ... › Press Releases

“NEPA Modernization.” Council on Environmental Quality, 15 Jul. 2020, NEPA Modernization - Trump White House - National Archives |National Archives | (.gov) › ceq › nepa-mo…


Hermann, Marc A. “127-year-old water main gives way under NYC’s Times Square, flooding streets, subways.” The Associated Press, 29 Aug. 2023,

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Preventing the Next $127.9 Billion Train and Other US Infrastructure Cost Disasters
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