It took 410 days to build the Empire State Building, four years to erect the Golden Gate Bridge. The Pentagon took a year and a half, the Alaska Highway just nine months. These days it takes longer to build an overpass.
For instance, planning for Boston's "Big Dig" officially began in the early 1980s with a budget of $2.6 billion, but ground wasn't broken until 1991 and the last ramp wasn't opened until 2006. The final estimated cost: $22 billion. According to the Boston Globe, it won't be paid off until 2038.
Meanwhile, the "race" to rebuild the World Trade Center as some kind of remorse theme park approaches its second decade.
And across the harbor from Ground Zero, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has earned scorn for thinking that a proposed underwater rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey might be too pricey. Under discussion for decades, it was originally projected to cost $5 billion. Estimates are now $9 billion and rising.
Christie still might reverse course if he can cut a better deal for his state. But the underlying fact remains the same: This country can't build stuff the way it used to. It's taken President Obama nearly two years and billions of dollars in misspent stimulus money to discover there really is "no such thing as shovel-ready jobs" when it comes to public works.
In fairness, Uncle Sam's sloth and bloat is not all bad news. Americans used to tolerate a much higher level of workplace mortality for such projects.
And to be sure, not all environmental regulations are overkill. One reason we couldn't build a Hoover Dam today is that such projects do incredible violence to the natural environment. (I'm always amused by the stylish environmentalism of many Southern Californians who don't realize that Mother Nature intended for SoCal to be a desert where snakes outnumber hybrid cars.)
The simple reality is that Uncle Sam's arteries are hardened. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush's allegedly tardy response was seen as proof that conservatism itself was inadequate to the demands of responsible government. But it wasn't conservatism that had some volunteer firefighters out of commission because they were in Atlanta for sexual-harassment training and video tutorials about how great FEMA is. Nor does conservatism demand blind obedience to the Davis-Bacon Act, the union-friendly rule originally intended to keep blacks out of the public workforce that is now used to pump up wages on every project.