Materials' Cost Increases Account for Spike in Proposed Bridge Rebuilding: BLS

Concrete, reinforced concrete, structural steel, granite, and asphalt paving material all have appreciated in price by at least 2,518 percent since the bridge was built, while labor costs for cement masons and other workers have risen by anywhere from 1,187 percent to 2,165 percent during the same time, the BLS analysis shows.

Rebuilding the Arlington Memorial Bridge across the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., is expected to cost at least $230 million, and possibly as much as $280 million -- and even the lower estimate is more than 31 times the cost of building the current one, $12,208,581, as of June 20, 1933, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis posted this week. Not surprisingly during the Great Depression, the $12.2 million figure was more than $2 million below the $14,750,000 budget of the original appropriation for the bridge's construction in 1925.

But the BLS analysis shows that increases in the costs of construction materials are much more of a factor in the higher cost of rebuilding the bridge than costs of the construction workers' labor.

Concrete, reinforced concrete, structural steel, granite, and asphalt paving material all have appreciated in price by at least 2,518 percent since the bridge was built, while labor costs for cement masons and concrete finishers, carpenters, construction laborers, operating engineers, and structural ironworkers have all risen by anywhere from 1,187 percent to 2,165 percent during the same time, the BLS analysis shows.

"The costs of infrastructure projects have grown much faster than the general inflation rate over the decades since the Arlington Memorial Bridge was first constructed. The case examined here suggests that this is driven, in large part, by especially rapid growth in the cost of essential construction materials," author Bradley Akin writes.

This account says the bridge also has undergone major repairs seven times since it opened on Jan. 18, 1932.

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