Sunday, August 28, 2016

Aesthetics and Cost

I grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin, which sits at a particularly beautiful spot on the Mississippi River.  It is in the middle of an area called the driftless region, because unlike most of the upper Midwest, glacial "drift" did not sheer off topographical features.   The Mississippi thus has dramatic bluffs on both sides of it at La Crosse.

A 50-year old interstate highway bridges crossed the river just north of La Crosse; to say its aesthetics didn't match the surrounding area would be understatement.

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Because the bridge had reached the end of its useful life, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, perhaps not wanting another bridge to fall into the Mississippi, decided to replace it. But the replacement is hardly better.

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When I read that the bridge was going to be replaced, I was hoping for something along the lines of the Stan Musial Bridge just north of St. Louis.

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Here's the problem.  The bridge between Minnesota and Wisconsin cost around $190 million to build.  The Musial Bridge cost slightly under $700 million.  The bridge at La Crosse has traffic about about 26,000 vehicles per day; the bridge at St. Louis has 40,000 per day.  Is it worth more than doubling the price of a project per user to make it pretty instead of pedestrian?  I actually don't know.

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