When it comes to spending hard-earned taxpayers dollars (of which there is no other kind), why do we fail to appreciate the scale of expenditure when huge numbers are involved? Why, in particular, do we criticize government waste when the numbers are small – hello, Madame Speaker – but often suspend judgment when the numbers are big?
Take the Pattullo Bridge, for instance.
From the Royal City Record:
The City of New Westminster released the 33-page report, A Reasonable Approach: A Perspective on the Pattullo Bridge, on Wednesday. … Jim Lowrie, the city’s director of engineering, said a new tolled four-lane bridge would cost $850 million and a rehabilitated four-lane bridge would cost $250 million. He said that compares to a $1.5 billion estimated cost of a new six-lane bridge.
Surrey Coun. Tom Gill, chair of the city’s transportation and infrastructure committee, told the Surrey NOW that … it should have six lanes. He said rehabilitating of the Pattullo Bridge isn’t viable and is a “poor choice” in utilizing taxpayer’s money. … “I would go as far as to say that we should be concentrating on a six-lane bridge.”
Note that the dispute is over the number of lanes, not the number of dollars. It’s assumed that we will spend whatever we need to get what we want, not what we can afford. The difference in cost between four and six lanes looks to be a relatively minor consideration. The dispute between New West and Surrey is more about downstream impacts than on the efficient use of hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars.
But look at that difference: $650 million – a number that is essentially incomprehensible for the average person.
Here’s a way of thinking about it. A million, most people would agree, is a lot. A million seconds, for instance, works out to be just under the equivalent of 12 days.
And 650 million seconds? Just over 20 years.
Given the huge difference and what we could buy for $650 million – hello, Surrey light rail – shouldn’t the debate be about whether we could get by with a smaller structure if it served our needs, especially if we used market mechanisms to drive out waste? Indeed, why isn’t the first part of the discussion about what would provide the best return for the least cost, rather than the number of lanes?
Of course, the same thing is going on with the Massey Crossing. Just triple the numbers. Read more »