Jeffrey LewisIraq vs. Alaska: Battle of the Boondoggle Bridges

I can/’t let up on the bridge thing, I suppose, because Bremer compared the Iraqi reconstruction effort to the Marshall plan: “The grants to Iraq the President seeks bespeak grandeur of vision equal to the one which created the free world at the end of World War II.”

The Marshall Plan? Were I an Iraqi, I would aim for the national highway bill: Compare USAID/’s bridge building efforts in Iraq with their counterparts in the national highway bill for Alaska, which the The New York Times details in a little expose:

Even by the standards of Alaska, the land where schemes and dreams come for new life, two bridges approved under the national highway bill passed by the House last week are monuments to the imagination.

One, here in Ketchikan, would be among the biggest in the United States: a mile long, with a top clearance of 200 feet from the water – 80 feet higher than the Brooklyn Bridge and just 20 feet short of the Golden Gate Bridge. It would connect this economically depressed, rain-soaked town of 7,845 people to an island that has about 50 residents and the area/’s airport, which offers six flights a day (a few more in summer). It could cost about $200 million.

The other bridge would span an inlet for nearly two miles to tie Anchorage to a port that has a single regular tenant and almost no homes or businesses. It would cost up to $2 billion.

These “bridges to nowhere,” as critics have dubbed the two costliest of the high-priority projects in the six-year, $275 billion House bill, are one reason Republicans are fighting among themselves in shaping the nation/’s transportation spending.

Now that is the kind of American pork barrel politics that could turn the most hardened Saddam Fedayeen into a Tom Delay supporter. (I see the headlines: “Delay Fedayeen Redistrict Iraq to Ensure Sunni Majority.”)

The bridges demonstrate (anecdotally) the distance between reality and the Administration/’s rhetoric. Scholarly comparisons, such as the one by eminent economist William Nordhaus, suggests that a “Marshall Plan” for Iraq would require $75-100 billion over six years (excluding the cost of ongoing military operations and humanitarian assistance) – which is very close to the World Bank needs assessment of $55-65 billion.

Yet, we are spending only $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds, for an international total of $32-36 billion.

None of the cost estimates, by the way, assume either losses associated with the ongoing inability of the United States to maintain stability or the resulting growth in security costs – which now consume 10-15 percent of all contracts, according to the Coalition Provisional Authority.