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Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future Casebook

The current, editable version of this book is available in Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection, at,_Present,_and_Future_Casebook

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Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)

ADS-B System Communication

This casebook is a case study on Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) by Vinny Gaskin and Ian Bednarek as part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-003 (Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government) / CEIE 499-002 (Special Topics in Civil Engineering) Spring 2023 course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering. Modeled after the Shinkansen High Speed Rail Casebook. Under the instruction of Professor Jonathan Gifford.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is an advanced piece of technology that combines an aircraft's positioning source, aircraft avionics, and a ground infrastructure to create an accurate surveillance interface between the aircraft and air traffic control (ATC).[1] ADS-B allows for air-to-air and air-to-ground communication, which enables a one-way contact between pilots and ATC, as well as pilot to pilot.[2] ADS-B is a performance-based surveillance technology that is more precise than radar and consists of two different services: ADS-B Out and ADS-B In.[1] ADS-B Out allows for aircrafts to relay information such as their identification, current altitude, positioning, and velocity, to other vehicles and air traffic control centers. ADS-B In provides aircraft with the ability to receive this information.

ADS-B is 'automatic' because it doesn't require input from any pilot or other external interrogation. It is 'dependent' because it relies on the accuracy of an aircraft's navigation system with factors of positioning and velocity data. The 'surveillance' of ADS-B is aircraft position, altitude, velocity, and other data that is provided to the facilities that require this data. Lastly, the 'broadcast' part of the name refers to the information being broadcasted, every half-second at 1090MHz, to be monitored appropriately by the designated ATC ground stations and other aircraft.[3]

As of April 2023, ADS-B is required when flying in Class B and C airspaces in the United States. There are five different classes of airspaces in aviation, these classes are separated by their elevation and proximity to prominent airports. Class A airspaces refer to anywhere between 18,000 and 60,000 feet above sea level. Class B airspaces go from sea level to 10,000 feet high when in the vicinity of an airport with heavy traffic. Class C airspaces are similar to Class B, but they only extend from sea level to 4,000 feet above the surface when close to a busy airport. Class D airspaces surround less crowded, smaller airports from sea level to 2,500 feet above ground. Class E airspaces are controlled and are around federal airways or other important approach paths. A pilot would need prior permission from Air Traffic Control Towers before operating in Class A and B airspaces. In Class C and D airspaces they would need an established two-way communication with the Air Traffic Control Towers.[4]

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

1990 - The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) embraced "Global Positioning System" (GPS) technology.[5]

March 2003 - A presentation of ADS-B's abilities was delivered to the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) by the AOPA. These demonstrations were done to inspire a possible integration of the technology into CAP activities.

2006 - Sweden began installing its nationwide ADS-B network using 12 ground stations. Finished installations in 2007.

2007 - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) started to implement ADS-B infrastructure and mandatory aircraft equipage.[5]

December 2008 - The FAA administrator granted permission for the installation of the first fully functional ADS-B system in the United States. The installation happened at a location in southern Florida.[6]

2009 - Canada joins other countries in the advancement of aviation technology by commissioning operational use of ADS-B to provide coverage of the areas that formerly lacked it.[7]

May 2010 - The FAA published a rule that by January 1, 2020, all aircraft owners must equip their vehicles with ADS-B Out systems when flying in Class A, B, C airspaces and in Class E airspaces when flying higher than 2500 feet above ground level. This mandate became effective on August 2010.[8]

June 2012 - Chevron Corporation and FreeFlight Systems were awarded a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) by the FAA for equipping a Gulf of Mexico (GOMEX) helicopter with ADS-B. This is special as the Gulf of Mexico is a crowded area with intense traffic as thousands of flights taking place every day.[9]

September/October 2019 - The FAA successfully reached its final milestone in ADS-B implementation. The final two airports, both located in Ohio, received ADS-B and became functional during September 2019. This was monumental as all airports were equipped with ADS-B and it became operation all across the country before the due date of January 1st, 2020 all while staying within budget.[10]

April 2023/Present Day - In the United States, ADS-B is currently required in all aircrafts when flying over the 48 connected states when operating above Flight Level (FL) 100, or 10,000 feet above the ground. When flying at FL 100 or below this altitude ADS-B is still required only when operating in class B or C airspace, or when flying within 12 miles (nautical miles) of the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico while flying over 3000 feet above sea level. These requirements change for Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the other United States territories, as they have their own unique regulations.[11]

Narrative[edit | edit source]

In 2012 a researcher made the claim that ADS-B technology had no defense mechanism against “spoofing” or the sending of faulty messages by identifying , this risk was due to the fact that ADS-B’s data was neither authenticated or encrypted.[12] The lack of encryption throughout the messages delivered by ADS-B makes them able to be read by anybody, which poses a security risk.

The FAA responded to these concerns by stating that they were currently being dealt with but could not disclose the methods of how these issues were being dealt with as the methods they were employing were classified.

Aircraft that are equipped with only a transponder, or with no transponder at all will not appear on the radar of ADS-B. This means that pilots who become overconfident or over-reliant in the capabilities of ADS-B may not be able to identify aircraft that lack the technology to appear on their radars, which is a great safety to both pilots and aircraft involved.

Another system that is frequently used by aircrafts in the United States and other countries across the world is FLARM. FLARM is a combination of the words flight and alarm and is used on most glider aircraft, which poses a problem as FLARM technology is not compatible with ADS-B.

There was also controversy regarding the ADS-B mandate which required implementation of ADS-B on all aircraft by January 1, 2020. Many pilots were outraged as they were forced to equip their vehicles with technology as expensive as ADS-B is. Many pilots anticipated that the FAA would rescind the mandate in hopes that they would not be forced to outfit their own vehicles with ADS-B. This mandate made some pilots claim that ADS-B was an unnecessary addition that drive many casual pilots away from the aviation industry.[13]

Key Organizations and Institutions[edit | edit source]

Key organizations and institutions involved with the development of ADS-B technology include:

Seal of the United States Federal Aviation Administration

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA):

Transportation agency in the United States that became a part of the Department of Transportation in 1967. The FAA regulates U.S. commercial space transportation, and all civil aviation within the United States and surrounding waters to promote safety. The FAA also develop and operate air traffic control and navigation systems for civil and military aircraft.[14]

National Business Aviation Association (NBAA):

Leading organization for companies that rely on general aviation aircraft to help make their businesses more efficient, productive and successful.[15] The NBAA supports efforts to modernize the United States' airspace, such as the equipage of satellite-based ADS-B capabilities for monitoring aircraft in the skies and on the ground.[16]

American Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA):

The American Owners and Pilots Association, incorporated in 1939, is a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to general aviation.[17] The AOPA supports the concept of ADS-B and knows the importance of near-universal participation. However, the AOPA has contributed its input on the FAA's implementation strategy. The AOPA suggested different technical changes that can make the ADS-B systems more affordable, and has also suggested that aircraft should be allowed to remove their transponders due to the transitions from radar and transponders to ADS-B.[5]

Cargo Airline Association (CAA):

The Cargo Airline Association, originally founded as the Air Freight Forwarders Association, is an organization that represents air freight forwarders (indirect air carriers) and five all-cargo airline members of the cargo industry.[18] When word got out that the FAA may delay oceanic Air Traffic Control operations of space-based ADS-B by 6 to 7 years (from 2022 to 2028/2029), the CAA joined the interested aviation stakeholders in a letter to FAA Administrator, Steve Dickson. Contents of this letter presented the stakeholders' urge for the leadership to ensure that every necessary step to implement the space-based ADS-B in the United States oceanic airspace was taken, in order to meet the original start date as close as possible.[19]

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU):

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is the world's largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace. In May of 2003 Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University began using ADS-B on its main two campuses, in Arizona and Florida, as safety reassurance. In 2006 ERAU became the first aircraft to combine ADS-B with a glass cockpit.[20]

University of North Dakota:

The University of North Dakota is one of the most comprehensive aerospace universities in the world. In 2006 an aerospace researcher from the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at UND received a $300,000 grant from the FAA to research ADS-B technology. The university's aircrafts have since been equipped with ADS-B packages.[21]

Funding & Financing[edit | edit source]

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cost on how expensive it is to install ADS-B in the present day, as there are many variables that go into this cost. Some of the variables that determine the price of ADS-B include, type of equipment being installed, the certification process, and the cost of labor that it would take to install it. A group of pilots from a 2019 thread claim that the cost that they paid to install ADS-B into their own aircrafts ranges anywhere from $1000 to $7000.[22]

The lead funding agency for ADS-B is the FAA. ADS-B is purchased either in bulk by organizations such as the FAA or by individual pilots for their own personal usage.

In April 2011, an equipping fund for general aviation aircraft was permitted through US federal legislation via House Bill for FAA reauthorization [23]

A 2016 article claims that to meet the FAA's requirements the minimum cost for ADS-B installation would cost pilots around $4000 to $6000 and more complex systems will be even more pricey.[24]

In 2020, a Texas-based Aerospace company named FreeFlight Systems made the claim that they will deliver ADS-B systems that meet FAA requirements while costing no more than $2,000. [25]

Garmin and other GPS-enabled technology companies currently have ADS-B and transponder systems for sale on their websites. The least expensive system that included both ADS-in and ADS-out came out to be around $2,500. This is a good estimate on how pricey a fully operational ADS-B system would be in today's market.

Institutional Arrangements[edit | edit source]

Exemption 12555: Navigation Accuracy Category for Position and Navigation Integrity Category Exemption

  • "does not exempt the requirement for compliant ADS-B Out equipment to be installed and operational on aircraft flying in ADS-B rule airspace.
  • does allow for the extended use of an older type of GPS navigation receiver already installed in some aircraft. All other ADS-B Out equipment requirements must still be met and operational.
  • was granted because multi-frequency/multi-constellation GPS navigation receivers suitable for transport category aircraft that meet the ADS-B Out Rule requirements were not available for purchase or installation in sufficient quantities until closer to 2020.
  • imposes certain conditions, limitations and additional pre-flight responsibilities on the operators." [26]

ADS-B Support Pilot Program: FAA-proposed program that allows for airports to receive AIP grant money to supplement other FAA funding sources for ADS-B ground equipment.[27]

May 2010 - the FAA issued a final rule prescribing equipage requirements and performance standards for ADS-B Out avionics on aircraft operating in certain airspace after January 1, 2020.[28]

2019 - Operators were required to confirm that a planned route of flight would comply with the ADS-B performance requirements.[28]

An ADS-B receiver

Lessons Learned/Takeaways[edit | edit source]

Ostrom's Infrastructure Performance Criteria:

Efficiency: ADS-B is an incredibly efficient piece of technology that has revolutionized the aviation industry for the better. ADS-B improves the flow of air traffic with more efficient spacing and optimized routing to get pilots to their destinations efficiently, no matter what environmental conditions are thrown their way. This optimized routing leads to shorter flight times which benefits the environment by reducing fuel usage and pollution as well as saving time for the pilots and passengers. ADS-B systems provide air traffic control with updated information on their whereabouts nearly every second, which is far more efficient than the average radar that updates every 5 to 12 seconds. These constant updates allow pilots to identify threats quickly and react accordingly which leads to increased safety during a flight.[29] It is not a perfect system though as a lack of encryption and authentication can make it suspectable to being hacked quite easily by someone with bad intent.

Fiscal Equivalence: Installing ADS-B equipment can cost pilots anywhere from $1000 to $7000 depending on a few variables. There is a lot to consider when deciding if the installation of ADS-B is a fiscally equivalent process or not. It is a one-time purchase that brings great benefit to pilots and gives them access to most airspaces, but it may not be worth it for some pilots that do not fly often or only operate in unclassified airspaces.

Redistribution: ADS-B does not contribute in terms of redistributing wealth as it only affects a specific group of people. ADS-B only directly influences pilots and those who are wealthy enough to take flights frequently. The cost to install ADS-B can be quite a burden on pilots as well, this means casual aircraft fliers may be disadvantaged if they cannot afford to equip the technology required. Rather than taking from the rich and giving back to the poor, ADS-B seems to take from the middle-class citizens and give it back to the rich. In less general terms ADS-B, specifically the 2020 mandate, benefitted the FAA and ATC and it was a detriment to individual pilots.

Accountability: When potential security risks were brought up to the FAA, they responded to these concerns by stating that they were currently being dealt with but could not disclose the methods of how these issues were being dealt with as the methods they were employing were classified. This shows questionable accountability because if the public does not know how you are dealing with these security issues there is no way to know that they are being dealt with at all.

Adaptability: ADS-B is still relatively new, so it is hard to say how adaptable it truly is. The technology has not evolved or had many changes made to it since its inception, it still accomplishes the same goals it did in the early 2000s. Also, there was little substantial news about ADS-B from 2010 to the present day aside from its implementation and the regulations made detailing when ADS-B use is required.

Overall, as the 2020 mandate hit and ADS-B is now required when operating in most airspaces the technology is something that pilots all over the country have to become accustomed to. This new system propelled the United States aviation industry forward to a modern satellite-based system which comes with a multitude of benefits when flying. Optimized routing, improved safety, reduced pollution, and increased airspace capacity to name a few of the benefits. It does not come without its controversies though, such as potential security risks, anger from pilots over the 2020 mandate, and the expensive nature of ADS-B installation for casual pilots. Generally speaking, the pros seem to far outweigh the cons and ADS-B is the technological breakthrough the aviation industry needed to make the transfer over into the modern world. [30]

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

Could you see ADS-B, or technology with similar features and functions, being used in other infrastructure aside from aircrafts in the future?

Do you think ADS-B implementation should be a universal requirement?

Do you agree with the FAA's decision to mandate ADS-B for all aircraft?

What is next for the aviation industry now that ADS-B has been fully implemented?

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b "Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B) | Federal Aviation Administration". Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  2. "How ADS-B has Shaped the Modern Aviation Industry". Spire : Global Data and Analytics. Retrieved 2023-04-14.
  3. "How ADS-B works". Airservices. Retrieved 2023-04-14.
  4. "Airspace Classes 101". Phoenix East Aviation. 2014-07-08. Retrieved 2023-04-16.
  5. a b c "Air Traffic Services Brief -- Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)". 2016-08-15. Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  6. "FAA Officially Launches Radar's Replacement". FLYING Magazine. 2009-03-09. Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  7. "NAV CANADA - NAV CANADA announces the acquisition of new surveillance technology to improve air traffic safety and customer efficiency". 2007-02-18. Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  8. "Federal Register :: Request Access". Retrieved 2023-04-16.
  9. "FreeFlight Receives STC for AW139 ADS-B Installation by FAAAeroExpo". Retrieved 2023-04-16.
  10. "FAA Successfully Completes Final ADS-B Milestone | Federal Aviation Administration". Retrieved 2023-04-16.
  11. Davidson, Jason (2023-04-10). "ADS-B UPDATE 2023 – WHERE ARE WE NOW?". Universal® Operational Insight Blog. Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  12. Prince, Brian (2012-07-27). "Air Traffic Control Systems Vulnerabilities Could Make for Unfriendly Skies [Black Hat]". SecurityWeek. Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  13. Pope, Stephen (2014-11-19). "Six Big Myths About the ADS-B Mandate". FLYING Magazine. Retrieved 2023-04-16.
  14. "What we do | Federal Aviation Administration". Retrieved 2023-04-11.
  15. "About NBAA". NBAA - National Business Aviation Association. Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  16. "Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)". NBAA - National Business Aviation Association. Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  17. "History of AOPA". 2016-03-16. Retrieved 2023-04-14.
  18. "About". CAA: Cargo Airline Association. Retrieved 2023-04-14.
  19. Rose, Yvette (2021-07-28). "CAA Supports Space Based ADS-B in Joint Letter to FAA Administrator". CAA: Cargo Airline Association. Retrieved 2023-04-14.
  20. "Embry-Riddle to Use Revolutionary ADS-B System". 2008-01-12. Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  22. "ADS-B install cost - what did you pay?". Pilots of America. Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  24. Smith, Dale (2017-06-08). "The Cost of ADS-B Compliance: You're Looking at it Wrong". FLYING Magazine. Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  25. "FreeFlight launches ADS-B Out solution under $2,000". 2015-03-17. Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  26. "Exemption 12555 | Federal Aviation Administration". Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  27. "Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization: An Overview of Selected Provisions in Proposed Legislation Considered by the 110th Congress". Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  28. a b "Federal Register :: Request Access". Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  29. "Benefits | Federal Aviation Administration". Retrieved 2023-04-15.
  30. Staff, Air Facts (2013-04-18). "The Great Debate: is ADS-B good or bad?". Air Facts Journal. Retrieved 2023-04-17.

GPS: Global Positioning System

This casebook is a case study on Global Positioning Systems (GPS) by Andrew Shibley and Sean Thiltgen as part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: CEIE 499-002 Spring 2023 course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering. Modeled after the Transportation Systems Casebook. Under the instruction of Prof. Jonathan Gifford.

GPS Satellite

Summary[edit | edit source]

Global Positioning Systems, better known as GPS, is a United States owned utility and technology that has changed infrastructure as we know it. Overall, GPS provides users with positioning, navigating, and timing (PNT) services. The system consists of three different segments. These are: the Space Segment, the Control Segment, and the User Segment. The United States Space Force controls and maintains both the Space and Control Segments.[1]

    The Space Segment consists of multiple satellites that transmit data to users. The US space force has been operating 31 satellites for over ten years now. The satellites in the “GPS constellation” as it is called, are arranged into six equally-spaced planes surrounding the Earth. Each plane contains four spaces that are occupied by satellites. This arrangement ensures that users can view at least four satellites from almost any point on the planet. The Space Force normally flies more than 24 GPS satellites whenever the satellites in each plane are repaired or decommissioned. Usually, these extra satellites improve GPS performance.[1]

    The Control Segment consists of a network of facilities around the globe that track the GPS satellites, monitor their transmissions, perform analyses, and send commands to the GPS constellation. The current Operational Control Segment (OCS) is comprised of a master control station, a secondary master control station, eleven antennas used for commands, and sixteen monitoring sites. The locations of these facilities can be seen in the Maps of locations and diagrams section of this casebook.[1]

The User Segment, as the name implies, revolves around the user of GPS. Much like the Internet, railways, or highways, GPS is an essential element of global infrastructure. The innovation of GPS has directly led to the development of hundreds of applications affecting every aspect of life today. GPS technology is now in everything from cell phones to cars, airplanes, and ATM's. GPS is also critical to U.S. national security, and its applications are integrated in almost every aspect of U.S. military operations. Nearly all new military technologies integrate GPS.[1]

Actors and Institutions Involved[edit | edit source]

Public Actors[edit | edit source]

National Executive Committee for Space-Based Position, Navigation, and Timing: Executive Level Advisory Committee that provides guidance to its underlined member agencies and organizations.
Under this Committee the following US government organizations and agencies operate, manage, and/or use US-owned GPS systems. [2]
US Department of Defense - The DoD is the main operating agency for US GPS Systems and acquires, contracts, sustains, and secures its satellites, control segments, and military use equipment.
US Department of Transportation - Operates the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) which provides augmented navigation information for aircraft in the United States. DoT also serves as the lead civilian agency on GPS-related issues.
US Department of State - Coordinates US foreign policy objectives regarding GPS and leads US delegations to international events, organizations, and committees which handle GPS spectrum allocations and discussions.
US Department of the Interior - Uses GPS for a wide variety of government activities, including: surveying; geographical information systems; and land management.
US Department of Agriculture - Conducts research for applications of GPS in agriculture alongside integrating GPS technology in cartography and fire suppression/protection plans.
US Department of Commerce - Manages and operates the Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) network in the United States, as well as co-managing the radio spectrum used by GPS with the FCC.
US Department of Energy - Utilizes GPS systems to synchronize, and manage the US Electric Grid including detecting and managing relay stations and fault protection systems.
US Department of Homeland Security - Reports on and maintains databases covering domestic and international disuse and interference to civil GPS usage. Provides civil GPS support through the Coast Guards Navigational Center (NAVCEN) and the Civil GPS Service Interface Committee (CGSIC).
US Joint Chiefs of Staff - Oversees and validates requirements for the modernization of current and future GPS Systems under the GPS III project.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration - Operates both the Global Differential GPS System and reference stations for the International GNSS Service. NASA also provides research on new technology for space-borne GPS systems and new uses for aging satellites.

Private Actors[edit | edit source]

Lockheed Martin - Since 1997 Lockheed Martin has been the main manufacturer of US GPS Satellites, and continues to be the main private company tasked with the continued production and modernization of the space-borne fleet.
TomTom - A Dutch GPS receiver manufacturing company and one of the first to offer commercial civilian GPS receivers in the form of SatNav.
Raytheon - Raytheon was awarded the Next Generation GPS Operational Control System (OCX) contract , which aims to work in conjunction with Block III modernization in offering better more robust control systems.

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

Early Stages[edit | edit source]

1960’s: The origin of GPS starts in the Sputnik era when scientists were able to track the satellite with shifts in its radio signal. The United States Navy started conducting satellite navigation experiments to track US submarines carrying nuclear missiles. Submarines were able to see the satellite changes and find the submarine's location within minutes.[3]

Post 1960: The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) used the principle from the Sputnik era to develop “Transit”. This was the world's first global satellite navigation system. The first satellite was capable of providing navigation to military as well as commercial users. By 1968 thirty-six satellites were fully operational. Transit is known for improving the accuracy of maps by nearly two orders of magnitude. This helped to increase the acceptance and overall need of satellite navigation.[3]

Early 1970s: Using previous ideas from Navy scientists, the Department of Defense started to use satellites to support their proposed navigation system. They then created this navigation system and launched the first “Navigation System with Timing and Ranging” (NAVSTAR) satellite in 1978. The satellite system would become fully operational in 1993.[3]

1972: Colonel Bradford Parkinson of the Air Force was tasked with overseeing the satellite navigation program. Parkinson led a team in creating a concept that took the best parts of TRANSIT. This system proposal received Defense Department approval in December of 1973 for a 1-way system of 24 satellites.[3]

1974: This approach began when the Air Force started development of the first of a series of Navstar satellites, the ground control system, and various types of military user equipment.[3]

Making Progress[edit | edit source]

1978: The first “Block I developmental Navstar/GPS” satellite launched. Three more were launched at the end of this same year.[3]

1980: Additional GPS Block I demonstration satellites were launched.

1983: Ronald Reagan authorized the use of Navstar, now known as GPS, for commercial airlines in an attempt to improve navigation and safety for air travel.[3]

Road Towards Civilian Use[edit | edit source]

1984-1989:  Authorization was given to provide free access of GPS data to industries that were not the U.S. military. This became the first step towards civilian usage. [3]

By 1989, commercially available handheld GPS devices would hit the market. [3]

Throughout the 90s, GPS technology continued to improve.

Benefon GPS

1999: GPS technology appeared for the first time in a cellphone when Benefon released Benefon Esc!. This was a phone that had GPS that would pave the way for more. During this time, Global Positioning Technology also began to show up in automobiles.[3]

2000: The government approves plans to add three additional GPS signals for non-military use. As a result, GPS signals became 10 times more accurate for civilians. During this time the price for GPS receiver chips dropped from $3,000 to $1.50.[3]

Present Day[edit | edit source]

2005: By this time GPS satellites included five different configurations with different capabilities.

2018: The first GPS III satellite was launched at SpaceX falcon 9.

2019: The second satellite was launched.

2020: The third and fourth satellites were launched.

The remaining six satellites are scheduled to be launched in 2023.

Funding and Financing[edit | edit source]

GPS is owned and operated by the United States government and is primarily funded by the US Department of Defense (DoD).  After the development of GPS began in the 1970s it was initially funded by the US military for use in their operations. However, as the system quickly proved to have multiple civilian applications which included navigation, surveying, mapping, and timing, the US government started to fund the system's expansion for civilian use.

In the early days of GPS, around 1983, President Ronald Reagan issued a directive that made GPS freely available for civilian use. This led to increased demand for GPS devices and services, which, in turn, created revenue for private companies that developed and sold GPS products.

Today, the US government continues to fund the GPS system's maintenance and upgrades. This can be very expensive. In 2019, the DoD budgeted $1.4 billion for GPS operations, including $837 million for satellite procurement and $482 million for ground control.[4] In addition, congress provided about $22 billion to fund the GPS program in the 2022 fiscal year.[5]

According to the official US government GPS webpage, the rest of the money to fund GPS actually comes from taxpayer dollars. The money is then budgeted through the Department of defense. In addition, per section 5 of the Memorandum on Space Policy Directive 7, the Department of Transportation is responsible for funding civil signal performance monitoring and overall any civil capabilities involving GPS. In other words: non-military application. [5]

Apple Inc.

In addition to the government's funding, private companies also invest in GPS technology. These companies typically focus on developing GPS enabled devices and applications. Such devices include: smartphones, fitness trackers, and vehicle navigation devices. Some of the major companies that help finance and develop GPS technology include Garmin, TomTom, and Apple.

The US government also partners with other countries to finance and develop GPS technology. The European Union, using the same technology as the US, has developed its own satellite navigation system, called Galileo, which is designed to be compatible with GPS. In 2004, the US and the EU signed an agreement establishing this cooperation.[6] The European Union has invested over $14 billion in the Galileo program and continues to fund its development and operation.

Overall, the US government primarily funds and operates the GPS system through money earned from taxpayer dollars. However, private companies also contribute to its development and use. The government's investment in GPS technology has generated significant profit for private companies and has led to numerous civilian applications using the system. In addition, partnerships with other countries have helped to expand and improve GPS technology, making it a great tool for navigation, surveying, and mapping.

Institutional Arrangements[edit | edit source]

The Global Positioning System is owned by the United States government and operated by the United States Space Force. The arrangements involved with GPS are quite complicated and involve a number of different entities and institutions.

At the highest level, GPS is governed and overseen by the United States government, specifically the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Executive Committee. The Executive Committee was established by presidential directive and coordinates GPS related matters across multiple federal agencies. The committee is chaired by the Deputy Secretary of Defense and includes representatives from a number of government agencies, including the Department of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, and NASA. The Executive Committee is responsible for setting policy and providing guidance for the GPS program.[7]

Seal of the United States Space Force

As stated before, the regular operation of the GPS system is carried out by the United States Space Force, a branch of the US military responsible for space operations. The Space Force operates a number of different satellite systems, including the GPS constellation, which is made up of more than two dozen satellites in orbit around the Earth. The Space Force is responsible for maintaining and upgrading the GPS system, as well as ensuring its security, stability, and durability.[8]

In addition to the government, there are a number of private companies that provide services related to GPS. These include manufacturers of GPS devices and software, as well as companies that use GPS data to provide location services used in navigation. For example, in 2018, Apple worked with the Department of Defense to test a new GPS signal that would provide more accurate location data for iPhones. These companies are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

One of the most important institutions involved with GPS is the International GNSS Service (IGS). The IGS is an international network of more than two hundred organizations that provide GPS and other Global Navigation data to support scientific research. The IGS collects data from a number of different sources and uses this data to create accurate positioning information that can be used for earthquake monitoring, climate research, and other purposes.[9]

Another important arrangement involving GPS is the Federal Radionavigation Plan (FRP). The FRP is a document that outlines the United States government's policies and plans for radionavigation systems, which include GPS. The FRP is updated regularly when changes happen with technology and policy. The FRP also can be used as a guide for government agencies and private companies involved with GPS.[10]

There are also a few international agreements that oversee the use of GPS. These include agreements between the United States and other countries in regard to the use of GPS for military and civilian purposes. These also include agreements between the United States and international organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The institutional arrangements involved with GPS are complex and involve a number of different government agencies, private companies, and international organizations. These arrangements are designed to make sure GPS is as effective as possible and to promote the use of GPS for research and a wide range of applications.

Maps of Locations and Diagrams[edit | edit source]

GPS Constellation
GPS Constellation

This is an imagining of the GPS constellation.

Map showing GPS ground locations

Policy and Technical Issues[edit | edit source]

Public Availability and Policy[edit | edit source]

Originally, when GPS was first created the main two frequency bands were split between public access and a private government use frequency creating the "Selective Availability" system. As the public began to rely more and more on GPS for everyday navigation and positioning the lower civilian band began to show its limitations. With accuracy ranging from a minimum of 3.5 meters to upwards of 15 the US government recognized the importance of GPS in everyday civilian life. Following this recognition in 1996 GPS was classified as a national asset and important infrastructure, thus giving the public access to both the upper and lower L bands, improving accuracy up to 3.5 meters and providing the public with access to a signal that was non-degraded due to atmospheric interference.

Following the discontinuation of the "Selective Availability" system in 2000, the cost of commercially available receivers dropped considerably, allowing for an even wider public access to GPS positioning. As a consequence current Block I and Block II GPS satellites were unable to meet the demand of users, thus necessitating the Block III modernization project.

Technical Issues[edit | edit source]

GPS systems rely on "line-of-sight" between the receiver and at minimum 4 satellites overhead in orbit. As this line-of-sight decays, due to inclement weather or the receiver being blocked in buildings with high amounts of internal copper wiring. Due to high amounts of interference the accuracy of data being received by the receiver becomes highly inaccurate giving a high margin of error to position data.
During the 1990's this issue was not as prevalent as the modern day, with many modern buildings having more dense and expansive wiring throughout. Some solutions to this issue of inaccuracy position or outright position data not working in buildings is through supplementing satellite based position data with information that can be gathered by Wifi or Cellular signals. This helps to bypass the main constraint of GPS which requires it to be "in view" of the reciever. Companies such as Apple and Google have begun to implement this system to provide greater accuracy when near objects, or in buildings, that could otherwise block the signals coming off of GPS satellites.[11]

Potential Vulnerabilities and Future Issues[edit | edit source]

GPS is uniquely vulnerable for several reasons and has specific systems that are able to be disrupted in both sophisticated and unsophisticated ways which has presented issues in its use. One such vulnerability to the GPS system is the US energy grid’s reliance on GPS timing for use in relays as well as maintaining the phase timing across changing electrical systems. According to the US Department of Energy disruption of these systems has the potential to cause small scale black outs or disruptions to the United States power grid.[12] Disruptions such as this have been minor, although have the potential to increase given wave-length crowding in Low Earth and Medium Earth Orbit.
Several International Conferences have carved out space on the electromagnetic spectrum in the L1, L2 and L5 bands[13], which has allowed for GPS to remain largely noise free since its creation. Since the late 1990s more and more nations have begun to create their own satellite programs, as well as competing GPS systems. GLONASS and BeiDou are examples of both Russian and Chinese satellites systems that directly compete for commercial end-user use on the ground.[14] These efforts alongside the increase in commercial and civilian satellite programs has caused issues of wave-length crowding in low earth and mid earth orbits. Block III and the OCX system is currently attempting to address some of these problems. This is being achieved through providing more error correcting software and new ground stations that can ensure that signals from GPS satellites are accurate and reliable given the greater crowding of radio space in orbit and on the ground.[15]

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

Do you think that GPS should continue to be solely controlled by the US government?

Given GPS's interconnectivity with modern day navigation and day-to-day life is there a need to increase its available bandwidth and security systems?

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c d Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named :1
  2. National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT). "Federal Agencies".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. a b c d e f g h i j k “Brief History of GPS: The Aerospace Corporation.” Aerospace Corporation, March 1, 2023.
  4. Erwin, Sandra. “Pentagon Space Procurement and R&D Budget Is on an Upward Trend. How Long Can This Last?” SpaceNews, January 23, 2023.
  5. a b "Program Funding.” Program Funding. Accessed March 20, 2023.,ending%20September%2030%2C%202022).&text=President%20Biden's%20FY%202023%20budget,billion%20for%20the%20GPS%20program.
  6. “International Cooperation.” International Cooperation. Accessed March 20, 2023.,GPS%20and%20Europe's%20Galileo%20system.
  7. “Charter.” Charter of the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing. Accessed March 22, 2023.
  8. “Space Segment.” Space Segment. Accessed March 22, 2023.
  9. NASA. NASA. Accessed March 27, 2023.
  10. “Radionavigation Systems Planning.” U.S. Department of Transportation. Accessed March 27, 2023.
  11. "Control Access Point Inclusion in Location Services". Google. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  12. "Edge Detection of Grid Anomalies". Darknet.Ornl.Gov U.S. DoE. Retrieved 2 April 2023.
  13. "Time and Frequency, GPS". NIST. Retrieved 3 April 2023.
  14. "Other Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)". Retrieved 2 April 2023.
  15. "GPS Next-Generation Operational Control System". Raytheon Intelligence and Space. Retrieved 30 March 2023.


  1. “The Global Positioning System.” GPS Overview. Accessed March 15, 2023.,segment%2C%20and%20the%20user%20segment.


Oroville Dam

This casebook is a case study on the Oroville Dam Failure by Matthew Glaubke, Davis Kaderli and Ian Gates as part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-003 (Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government) / CEIE 499-002 (Special Topics in Civil Engineering) Spring 2023 course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering. Modeled after the Shinkansen High Speed Rail Casebook. Under the instruction of Professor Jonathan Gifford.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Just 70 miles above Sacramento, this earth fill dam is located where the three forks of the Feather River meet. The dam is the tallest dam in the United States and is also the largest water storage and delivery system that is state-owned. It includes a spillway system for runoff water from connecting bodies of water that connect to it. It is owned by the California Department of Water Resources. It is an important factor for the California State Water project. Water that is stored in the dam flows down the river and goes into the Sacramento river system. The dam creates a reservoir that holds around 3.5 million acre-feet of water. It features a fish barrier dam and pool. [2]

The Oroville Dam also protects the residents who are located downstream from possible flooding of the Feather river. One of the most critical aspects of the dam is its role in helping the California water system combat droughts that occur. Because of these functions, the dam is extremely important for Northern California. [3]

What is an earth fill dam and spillway system?[edit | edit source]

An earth fill dam is made up of compressed earth. Local soil is the main material used for it. Most of these dams contain a middle zone called the core. This zone is made up of low-permeable material. These clayey soils in the core help prevent water from passing through the dam.[4]

They are the most common type of dam that can be built to any height. They are created as a non-overflow section with a separate spillway. They are the most common because of their foundation requirements, which are not as extensive as other dams. Also, high-skilled labor is not required to construct it.[5]

A dam spillway system is a structure that forms part of the dam. Sometimes they are found just beside one. Their purpose is to allow floodwater to safely flow through the dam when a reservoir is full. It is located at a lower height than the rest of the dam. This allows for the water to flow down from the dam onto the spillway.[6]

Institutions and actors involved[edit | edit source]

There were multiple entities that were responsible for the collapse of Oroville Dam. They collectively work together to monitor the dam and provide maintenance and risk information.

California Department of Water Resources:

The California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) is responsible for the regulation and management of California’s water usage and supply. It manages the water chain of 750,000 acres of California farmland and provides water to California cities and industries. It also helps with flood control, recreational opportunities, hydroelectric power generation, and enhancements that help protect fish and wildlife ecosystems. The DWR’s oversight runs from Northern California to Southern California. In its scope, it oversees 36 storage facilities, 21 dumping plants, 5 hydroelectric plants, and 4 pumping-generation plants.

They have a large number of responsibilities. They oversee the process that updates and develops the California Water Bulletin. They are in charge of regulating dams, providing flood protection, and helping with emergency management. They work to keep California dams safe and up to date. The agency has oversight of the Oroville Dam.[7]

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the federal agency that regulates and oversees electricity, natural gas, and oil. This involves the regulation of wholesale electricity sales and transmission of electricity for interstate commerce. They reinforce mandatory reliability standards for the state power systems.

One of the commission’s main authorities is its oversight of all hydroelectric power projects. One of the main functions of the commission is maintaining dam safety. They conduct security inspections, monitor infrastructure for environmental concerns, and enforce dam safety. They also are in charge of issuing new permits and licensing for new hydropower projects. The commission consults with federal and state natural resources agencies and state water quality agencies before starting new projects. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulates the construction and operational phases of new hydropower projects. The commission reviews and approves the designs, specifications, and plans of powerhouses, dams, and other infrastructure. Staff engineers inspect the projects on a regular basis so that they are kept up to date.[8]

Federal Emergency Management Agency:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) acts as the primary point of contact for disaster recovery preparedness for states. They establish and maintain networks for disaster recovery resources and support systems. They also put in place recovery progress plans and communicate improvements to authorities after a disaster. They work with the National Dam Safety Program to strengthen and develop tools to assist decision-makers.[9]

Division of Safety of Dams:

Aside from the DWR, the California water code also assigns dam safety regulatory power to the Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD). They provide supervision for the design, construction, and maintenance of over 1000 dams in California. The agency reviews and approves dam enlargements, alterations, and repairs to make sure that the structures meet minimum requirements. They inspect dams on a regular basis to confirm that they are safe and functioning.[10]

Friends of the River:

Friends of the River is a California activist organization committed to the environmental preservation of California Rivers and drinking water. It was founded in 1973 and they are now one of California’s leading river conservation organizations. They engage in grass-roots organizing and lobbying to influence policymakers. They have led a variety of successful campaigns that were able to influence dam and river infrastructure.[11]

Funding and Financing[edit | edit source]

The Oroville Dam is publicly funded by the California Department of Water Resources. The DWC funds flood mitigation, management projects, and invests in dam maintenance measures. The DWC worked with Kiewit Corp to form a contract to repair the damages caused by the accident. The dam was originally financed by the DWR.[12] FEMA has a Public Assistance program that reimburses applicants for project disasters. The program covers up to 75% of the possible costs connected with a federally declared disaster. After the Spillway accident, the Department of Water Resources requested $308 million for reconstruction and emergency response funding from the Federal Management Agency. After initially declining, they sent the funds to the DWC that were able to help with reconstruction.[13] 

Timeline of Dam Construction and Failure[edit | edit source]

1957: The facilities relating to the dam begin construction

1961: The construction of the dam begins.

Dec. 8, 2016, to Jan. 31, 2017: Lake Oroville bottoms out Dec. 8 at 725-foot elevation and begins rising, but is 175 feet from full. Jan. 13 when the lake is 50 feet from full, the spillway is opened to release 15,000 cubic feet per second. Before Jan. 31, the lake topped 855 feet and releases fluctuate between 12,500 cfs and 20,000 cfs. (13)

Feb. 3-6: Multiple storms cause the DWR to increase releases up to 50,000 cfs. The lake's elevation is 849 feet. (13)

Feb. 7: The spillway releases increase, with a target of 65,000 cfs. However a large hole breaks open in the spillway floor about noon, about midway down, and the releases are stopped. With inflow in excess of 100,000 cfs, Lake Oroville begins to rise rapidly, topping 862 feet.

Feb. 8: With the lake continuing to rise, the DWR conducts test releases through the damaged spillway of 20,000 cfs to see how much erosion occurs. Lake level nears 875 feet with inflow still in excess of 100,000 cfs. With no other option, DWR begins releasing 35,000 cfs down the spillway, recognizing the bottom may wash away.

Feb. 9-10: The spillway releases increased to 65,000 cfs, then scaled back to 55,000 cfs. DWR says inflow has peaked and is declining, saying 55,000 cfs discharge should be enough to keep the emergency spillway from being used. Regardless, the water agency removes trees, rocks, and debris from the slope below the emergency spillway weir. PG&E removes power lines that are crossing the area that is at risk of being flooded if the water tops the emergency spillway weir. Lake level tops 890 feet, 10 feet from full. On Feb. 10 work continues below the emergency spillway weir and the Hyatt Powerplant is turned off as debris accumulates in Diversion Pool at the base of the spillway.

Feb. 11: At about 8 a.m., lake level tops 901 feet and begins spilling over the emergency spillway weir for the first time since the lake was completed in 1968. Main spillway releases continue at 55,000 cfs.

Feb. 12: The lake reaches 902.59 feet at 3 a.m. and begins to decline, but water is still running down the emergency spillway. At noon, DWR describes the situation as “stable.” However, at 3 p.m. a gash erodes into the hillside below the emergency spillway weir and begins cutting back toward the weir, raising the risk of a catastrophic failure that could release in excess of a quarter-million acre-feet of water down the Feather River. Releases down the main spillway are increased to 100,000 cfs to relieve pressure on the weir. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea orders immediate evacuation, as do sheriffs in Yuba and Sutter counties. All told, in excess of 180,000 people are told to leave their homes.

March 6: Despite repeated requests for information, DWR refuses to say how much has been spent during the emergency. State Assemblyman James Gallagher finally gets an answer: $4.7 million per day, or $100 million during February alone.

April 6: The state Department of Water Resources outlines its plans for repairs and replacement of the Oroville Dam spillway by Nov. 1, with the undamaged top chute as the priority.

April 25: For the first time since the crisis began, members of the state Legislature pepper key water leaders with questions about what happened, what will happen next, and what can be learned from it all. Despite the first legislative grilling, not much new was shared or learned.

April 27: Bill Croyle, the acting DWR director, answers questions and listens during a series of community meetings as residents affected by the spillway debacle step up to a microphone and are heard. A total of seven meetings are completed by May 11.

May 4: The independent board overseeing the repair of the spillway recommends the DWR change its priorities and focus on the damaged bottom chute rather than the top.[14]

April 2, 2019: Water flowed for the first time down the rebuilt spillway. Reconstruction of the main and emergency spillways cost $1.1 billion.[15].

Case Narrative[edit | edit source]

Completed in 1968, the Oroville Dam is the largest earth-fill dam in the United States. It is a vital part of the California State Water Project, which helps supply over 23 million people with water. After a number of storms in the area, a chunk of concrete in the dam’s spillway eroded and broke away. This caused faster erosion to the rest of the spillway, as well as the ground underneath and around it. The spillway flow had to be increased to prevent the risk of flooding on the dam and river, which provoked the evacuation of over 180,000 downstream residents.

In the aftermath of the failure, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission conducted an investigation with the help of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials and the United States Society on Dams. The investigation took nine months to complete and concluded with a 584-page report that outlined not just the physical failures of the dam, but the human errors that led to the failure. The first human error was found in the design of the dam itself. Right after construction was completed, engineers noticed cracks in the slab of concrete underneath the spillway, but it was quickly dismissed as an issue that only needed ongoing repairs. The dam was also mischaracterized in multiple safety analyses as in good quality when the foundation was eroding.

The investigation also resulted in the discovery that the owner of the dam, as well as regulators, didn’t pay sufficient attention to the safety of the dam, and most spending on the safety was reactionary instead of preventative. Documents and data were not organized. Employees and engineers often didn’t receive the information they needed. The failure helped inform the rest of the dam industry about what to be aware of and the correct practices in ensuring dam safety.    

Oroville spillway damage

Policy Issues[edit | edit source]

Following the crisis, then-Governor Jerry Brown had to declare a state of emergency and deploy the National Guard to assist with the evacuation effort. He also activated the State Operations Center to its highest level and requested a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration before announcing new policy proposals to boost dam safety and further protect the state from floods.[16]

One of these announcements was a $437 million investment in “near-term flood control and emergency response actions.” Brown’s second announcement was to begin requiring action plans and flood inundation maps for dams in the state. He then announced an effort to “enhance” California’s dam inspection program before requesting federal action in letters to the US Army Corps of Engineers and Secretaries of Defense, the Interior, and Homeland Security. [17]

FEMA runs the National Dam Safety Program (NDSA) works to promote dam safety nationwide. [18] The High Hazard Potential Dams Program provides $22 million a year to states for dam repairs, including $11 million this year from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. [19]  Two advisory committees currently oversee dam operations in the United States. FEMA-chaired ICODS (the Interagency Committee on Dam Safety) encourages the development of efficient programs to maintain and improve dam safety nationwide. The National Dam Safety Review Board (NDSRB) sets safety goals and examines the effects of federal policy on dams; an analysis of their operations may be necessary to prevent Oroville disasters in the future.[20]

During the dam rebuild, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was suspended but NMFS (the National Marine Fisheries Service) tried to slow down the process citing the Endangered Species Act. NFMS requested that inspections and construction only occur at night but Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) strongly condemned these practices in his letter to then-President Trump regarding the Oroville incident that happened in his district. [21]

In 2019, FEMA approved paying $205 million but not the remaining $306 million needed to rebuild the dam spillway. Since the spillway failed due to poor construction practices, FEMA was not responsible for covering the entire cost. Federal law allows FEMA to reimburse up to 75% of the construction costs but FEMA decided only to cover 40% of the cost. When the State or California announced plans to sue FEMA over this lack of reimbursement, the Trump administration reversed course and covered the additional $300 million [22]

Takeaways[edit | edit source]

Following the spillway failure, there’s been increased discussion about the state of dams in America. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave dams in the US a ‘D’ in 2017 collectively on their annual infrastructure report card. [23] Another major preventable dam failure occurred in Midland, Michigan in 2020 - raising concerns about the state of dams in America once again [24]

An investigation found that the Oroville spillway failure was caused by a faulty construction process. The main spillway was constructed on “poor quality rock” and the spillway designer had never built a spillway before. Multiple cracks had formed over the years, allowing water to break through on February 7, 2017. [25]    

The US Army Corps of Engineers and Independent Forensic Report both came to the same conclusion that design flaws contributed to this dam failure. The spillway that failed was built on unstable bedrock and the spillway’s efficacy had never been tested. [26]

The California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) was also blamed for the failure, as the department was “significantly overconfident and complacent about the integrity of its State Water Project civil infrastructure, including dams.” The dam structure was weak, as the structure depended on thin concrete anchors that were anchored into bedrock and steel. One expert with the National Academy of Engineering suggested that the culture of the CDWR should either be changed or that the department should clean house. Governor Brown chose not to clean house, so it may take a while for this neglectful culture to change at CDWR. [27]

Even in 2020, a report found that despite hundreds of millions of dollars of repairs, there were still vulnerabilities in the dam:

  • Erosion could still flood the Hyatt Powerplant
  • Structural issues could prevent operators from opening the gate
  • The headworks structure could still fail, releasing uncontrolled amounts of water
  • A rare storm could cause a breach
  • Internal erosion could still occur near the top of the dam

Additional investments of up to $2 billion must be made to address all of these vulnerabilities.[28]

An image of the Oroville Dam in 2017 immediately following its failure

Climate change was also cited as contributing to the Oroville crisis as well. Atmospheric rivers - the phenomena that drenched Northern California on the day of the dam failure in 2017 - are expected to become more and more common as the globe warms. Dam planners and operators’ mistakes will be exposed further if action is not taken to ensure that the process of building and inspecting dams is more comprehensive.[29]

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

How can disasters like the Orville dam be prevented in the future?

What regulatory measures can be put in place to prevent human error?

How should proper mechanisms be implemented to allow concerns from organizations like Friends of the River to be taken into account for dam safety?

  1. “Program Funding.” Program Funding. Accessed March 20, 2023.,ending%20September%2030%2C%202022).&text=President%20Biden's%20FY%202023%20budget,billion%20for%20the%20GPS%20program.
  2. Description & Background. ASDSO Lessons Learned. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  3. Oroville dam. Water Education Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  4. Dam engineering | (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from
  5. Types of earthfill dams - applications and advantages. The Constructor. (2018, August 29). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  6. Types of earthfill dams - applications and advantages. The Constructor. (2018, August 29). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  7. California, S. of. (n.d.). About. Department of Water Resources. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  8. Hydropower. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. (2023, January 25). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  9. Local disaster recovery managers responsibilities. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  10. California, S. of. (n.d.). Division of safety of dams. Department of Water Resources. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  11. Friends of the river – about us: Friends of the river. Friends of the River | The Voice of California's Rivers since 1973. (2022, March 25). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  12. Los Angeles Times. (2018, September 6). Oroville dam repair costs soar past $1 Billion. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  13. California, S. of. (2021, February 1). FEMA releases additional reimbursement funds for Oroville spillways repairs and Reconstruction. Department of Water Resources. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  14. Dan Reidel, C. E.-R. (2017, May 18). Oroville dam timeline: 100 Days of Drama. East Bay Times. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from
  15. Oroville Dam Spillway used for first time since evacuation crisis | the ... (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from
  16. California, S. of. (n.d.). Governor brown issues emergency order to help response to situation at Oroville dam. Governor Edmund G Brown Jr. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  17. California, S. of. (n.d.). Governor Brown takes action to bolster dam safety and Repair Transportation and water infrastructure. Governor Edmund G Brown Jr. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  18. Dam safety. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  19. High hazard potential dams grant awards. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  20. Advisory committees. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  21. Lamalfa urges president Trump to help facilitate Oroville dam spillway repair. Congressman Doug LaMalfa. (2017, March 14). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  22. FEMA tells California it will pay for Oroville dam repairs | the ... (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from
  23. Policy statements. ASCE American Society of Civil Engineers. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  24. Jeltema, B. R. (2022, October 4). Final report says Edenville Dam failure was preventable, casts broad blame. ABC12 WJRT-TV. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from
  25. Rogers, P. (2019, March 9). Oroville dam: Trump Administration denies California Repair Funds. The Mercury News. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  26. Guidelines for dam safety. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from
  27. Los Angeles Times. (2018, January 6). Human error played a role in Oroville dam spillway failure, report finds. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  28. Herbaugh, A. (2020, November 10). Report: Oroville Dam Safe, but still vulnerable. KRCR. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
  29. Monroe, R. (2022, March 2). Climate change identified as contributor to Oroville Dam Spillway Incident. Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from

Finnish Underground

This casebook is a case study on The Finnish Underground by Francisco Ortiz, Ben Geary, and Mahid Sheikh as part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-003 (Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government) / CEIE 499-002 (Special Topics in Civil Engineering) Spring 2023 course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering. Modeled after the Shinkansen High Speed Rail case study. Under the instruction of Professor Jonathan Gifford.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Finnish Underground refers to the many underground infrastructure projects that Finland has focused on since the late 1960's. These projects began as civil defense shelters to protect citizens from Finland's neighbor Russia but, have expanded to public utilities, public transport, and many cultural hot spots. This case study focuses mainly on the underground of Helsinki, as it is the most developed and the most interconnected system of underground projects in Finland. Construction of the vast underground network began in the 1980s and continues to this day. Helsinki now has almost 10 million square meters (33 million square feet) of underground spaces and tunnels that conceal a subterranean art museum, church, swimming hall, shops and even a karting track inside a civil defense shelter []. To connect these places, there are underground metro lines, bus routes, and pedestrian paths, all of which are equipped to serve as bomb shelters should the need arise.

The majority (around 85%) of civil defense shelters are privately owned.[1] This is due to the Civil Defense Act of 1958 and the later Rescue Act of 2011 that made building owners responsible for creating civil defense shelters. The construction of civil defense shelters in Finland is allocated to the largest buildings based on a risk assessment. Under the Rescue Act, a civil defense shelter must be built when the floor area of the building exceeds 1,200 square meters and the building is used as a permanent dwelling or workplace or is otherwise permanently occupied. In industrial buildings and those used for manufacturing, storage and meetings, the floor area limit is 1,500 square meters.[2] Building owners must also keep regular maintenance on there shelters, have their equipment and shelter inspected at least every 10 years, and be able to fully convert it from whatever secondary use it is being used for to a civil defense shelter. The Finnish government allows civil defense shelters to be used for storage and other uses, as long as they can be made fully operational as shelters within 72 hours.[2]

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

  • End of the Russo-Finnish War and Signing of the Treaty of Moscow 1939-1940
  • The Ministry of Interior, under the Civil Defense Act of 1958, is responsible for the construction and maintenance of civil defense shelters 1958
  • Temppeliaukio "Rock" Church is constructed as one of the first landmark underground projects in Finland 1969
  • The Helsinki City Council approves a set of planning principles for an Underground Master Plan 4
  • The Rescue Act is put in place to further legislate the responsibility to develop private civil defense shelters, along with many other provisions 2011
  • First Underground Master Plan (UMP) for Helsinki is put into place 2011
  • Most recent revision to the UMP is put in place 2021

Narrative[edit | edit source]

Following World War Two, specifically the Russo-Finnish War (also known as the Winter War) from 1939 to 1940, Finland was in a worrying position in terms of their national security. The Soviets took about 6% of Finnish land in the Treaty of Moscow and, moving into the Cold War, continued to threaten Finland. In an effort to maintain their security, Finland declared that they would not join NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization). This left them as the border between the Soviet Union and NATO until the Soviet Union fell and the Cold War ended. During this time, Finland began its program of civil defense shelters. The underground shelters were built all around the country. Civil defense shelters provide protection for the population particularly against a military threat in areas where people normally move, live and go to work. Civil defense shelters protect against the effects of explosions and splinters, collapse of buildings, blasts, radiation and substances hazardous to health.[1] The Finnish government built many of these shelters near large public areas where people may not be able to find shelter otherwise and made their metro stations able to serve as civil defense shelters[3]. In 2022, Finland had 50,500 civil defense shelters with space for a total of 4.8 million people. The majority of the shelters (approximately 85%) are private, reinforced concrete shelters in individual buildings.[1]

As the threat of war became less and less of a concern, the Finnish government still wanted to use the vast amount of underground space they had built up for defense. Private shelters were mainly used for storage, while public shelters were used as sports halls, metro stations, and parking space.[1] Helsinki, the capital of Finland, took this push underground in stride. Believed to be one of the only cities with an underground master plan, Helsinki has developed underground infrastructure that is uncommon in other cities. This includes underground power stations, cold water reservoirs, utility tunnels, heat pumps, etc. all of which are interconnected through a series of tunnels that go throughout the city [Development for Urban Underground Space in Helsinki]. In addition to infrastructure, there are also many recreational, cultural sites, and public utilities, including but not limited to[4]:

  • Amos Rex - This underground annex of the Amos Anderson Art Museum is famous for its weaving of an above ground plaza and underground art museum. It opened in 2018 and is one of Helsinki's most popular attractions.
  • Temppeliaukio "Rock" Church - An underground church that was built in 1969 and represents one of Helsinki's earliest underground constructions. It hosts regular services and serves as a concert venue due to the unique acoustics of its bedrock walls.
  • The Ring Rail Line - This metro line connects Helsinki Airport and the adjacent Aviapolis commercial district to the Helsinki commuter rail network. The Ring Rail Line was inaugurated in 2015 and stretches 18 kilometers.
  • Kamppi Shopping Centre - This shopping center in downtown Helsinki also serves as a hub for an underground bus route that serves as another form of public transport. There are also underground pedestrian paths that connect to other shopping centers.
  • Itäkeskus Swimming Hall - This civil defense shelter serves as both a gym and swimming hall for around a 1000 visitors at a time and around 400,000 people a year. It can also be converted to a shelter that can support up to 3800 people.

Key Actors and Institutions[edit | edit source]

Ministry of Interior

  • Since 1958, the Finnish Ministry of Interior has been responsible for the construction, inspection, and regulation of civil defense shelters. They provide detailed information for shelter requirements, including necessary provisions, and a detailed map of closest shelters to make sure as many people have access as possible[2]
  • Under the Rescue Act of 2011, the Ministry of Interior also made building owners responsible for creating private civil defense shelters if their building was large enough. These private shelters are able to be used for storage, recreation, and other uses during peace time. Under the 72 hour provision, these private shelters, as well as the larger public shelters, must be able to fully convert back to civil defense shelters within 72 hours of an alert (such as a natural disaster or armed conflict).[2]

Helsinki City Council

  • The Helsinki City Council is responsible for the Underground Master Plan (UMP), as well as planning how the city as a whole will develop. The new underground master plan promotes a more diverse use of the underground facilities, more systematic utilization of facilities constructed in the bedrock and better coordination between different types of operations.[5]

Helsinki Real Estate Department

  • The Real Estate Department’s Geotechnical Division qualified the areas and elevation levels in Helsinki that are suitable for the construction of large, hall-like spaces. They been the main designer responsible for the preliminary and construction-phase planning required for the rock construction of the utility tunnels, the underground wastewater treatment plant and the treated wastewater discharge tunnel. The facilities designed by the Geotechnical Division include tunnel lines, halls, vertical shafts and the necessary access tunnels.[6]

Funding and Financing[edit | edit source]

While much of the financing information is not available for much of the Finnish Underground network, there are a few publicly available measures of its costs. The average price per cubic meter of tunnels and underground spaces in Finland is EUR 100/m3 (including excavation, rock reinforcement, grouting and underdrainage). The reason for the low cost of tunneling in Finland is due to the practice of not using cast concrete lining in hard rock conditions, effective D&B technology and extensive experience of working in urban areas.[7] Additional expenses are saved since multiple users are using the same spaces and public facilities. Temperatures of underground can be regulated easier than in the surface.

The raw water for the Helsinki region comes from Lake Päijänne (to the north of Helsinki) via a rock tunnel measuring more than 100 km. Its main investor and designer was the metropolitan area Water Company PSV. Tunnel construction started in 1972 and was completed in 1982 at a cost of some EUR 200 million (adjusted for inflation in 2011).[6]

The Viikinmäki wastewater treatment plant is the central plant for treating wastewater from six towns and cities. It is less than 10 km from the center of Helsinki. The plant treats 280,000 m3 of wastewater from about 750,000 inhabitants daily. The plant was completed with a cost of approximately EUR 180 million and began operating in 1994. This wastewater plant replaced 10 smaller, above-ground wastewater treatment plants, freeing up land for other uses.[6] To reduce costs and to make maintenance easier, extensive planning was implemented in the construction of the underground bunkers. Rather than having pipes and lines being buried underground/beneath facilities, they are instead built in pre-made tunnels. These same tunnels serve as passageways to make commute times shorter for both civilians and crew members. The tunnels are also built to last for at least 1 decade, needing minimal maintenance.[8]

Other cities in Finland have also began to build underground bunkers or facilities. Their costs aren’t known, but in the city of Tampere, a parking cave for almost 1000 cars began construction in 2009 and ended in 2012. The cost to build the parking cave was 75 million euros.[8] The Capital of northern Finland, Oulu, has also began underground construction, but costs aren't publicly available.

Lessons/ Takeaways[edit | edit source]

The Finnish Underground is a case study about the benefits of underground development. Using its natural resources, and its flat topography, Finland has moved much of its infrastructure underground. This has allowed for development on the land that would otherwise be used by water treatment and power plants. Public transport, including metro, bus, and pedestrian paths, are also underground, which allows for green spaces and smaller roads. The UMP allows for further development of underground car parks and other infrastructure, which further frees up space. The push of utilities underground not only serves to free up space, it also allows for better interconnectedness of utilities through maintenance tunnels that are separate from general traffic.

These underground projects, as well as the adoption of an UMP, would be a benefit to cities around the world. This push underground could reduce urban sprawl by pulling utilities from the urban extent to under the city. Many cities have some forms of infrastructure underground, but it is an untapped field that could be developed even more. With the increase in severity of natural disasters and weather events in general, putting utilities underground may also protect them from damage and protect the network from disruption.

However, these same underground projects also neglect a portion of the population who don't live in or near cities. Rural people, and to some extent, suburban people have inadequate access to these shelters. About 14% of the Finnish population (which is about 800,000 people) do not have proper access to the underground shelters.[9]

Future Impact[edit | edit source]

The future impact of the Finnish Underground seems bright. The Helsinki UMP has rock-resources to develop further underground projects and has plans for an ambitious tunnel project between Helsinki and Tallinn, Estonia. The planned tunnel linking Helsinki and Tallinn would cost some 16 billion euros to build, according to a report published in Tallinn. The tunnel would be 215 meters below sea level at its deepest. Each day the report envisages the Helsinki-Tallinn link would have capacity for some 40 passenger trains, 11 car trains, 17 lorry transporters and 3 freight trains. The proposed tunnel’s track, tunnel and stations would cost between 13.8 billion and 20 billion euros to build and is proposed to start construction in 2025.[10]

In terms of border security and the need for civil defense shelters, Finland is in a less favorable position. As of April 4th 2023, Finland has officially joined NATO. This breaks the long standing neutrality that Finland has held to appease its neighbor Russia. After the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Finnish citizens' support for joining NATO increased dramatically.[11] Finland's network of civil defense shelters may need to be put to the test if Russia continues its outward aggression towards its neighbors.

Finnish Underground Sustainable[edit | edit source]

The Helsinki underground bunkers can house the entire population of the city at 630,000 in the event of an emergency. Estimates put that the shelter can occupy a maximum of 850,000 to 900,000 people. Every bunker has enough food and water for up to 2 weeks. In the event of an attack, the bunkers can withstand a nuclear bomb (up to 6 bars of pressure). A 2nd door also protects against chemical attacks. Bombs can be dropped above, all while children play happily below ground.[12]

A region where some of the Finnish Underground is being built is called the Greater Helsinki area. In Helsinki there is a population of 1.3 million people. The land is flat, and the bedrock in Helsinki is ideal for building underground, also only 6.4% of the land area of Helsinki is unnamed rock reservations without a purpose. This means that there is a lot of room for an underground network. There is also a plan to expand the Finnish Underground system quite a bit according to the picture.

Finnish Underground

In order to have a sustainable underground area, we need to get perspectives from “stakeholders, communities, geoscientists, engineers, urban planners”(Loretta von der Tann et al, 2021). All of these groups' perspectives are vital to the success of underground projects. When building an underground space, we have to clear it out first to make it usable.

Geotechnical engineers and geoscientists need to be more upfront on talking about challenges that come with the geology of the area to help better inform people working on the project. Because of this issue some buildings are not cost efficient and require more maintenance and are not as sustainable as they could potentially be. Also, we need to keep in mind that  underground space is a non-renewable resource and must be used wisely.

Maps & Diagrams[edit | edit source]

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

  • Will this influence other countries or cities to build their own underground cities?
  • What utilities could you see moving underground in the future?
  • Do you think that investing into large-scale underground projects is worth it?
  • Are large underground bunkers really feasible against conventional invasions?

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c d "Civil defence shelters - Ministry of the Interior". Sisäministeriö. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  2. a b c d "Civil defence | Rescue services". Finnish Rescue Services. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  3. "Civil defence shelters -". Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  4. "Underground Helsinki". My Helsinki. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  5. "Underground Master Plan". Helsingin kaupunki. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  6. a b c Vahaaho, Ilkka (2013). "0-LAND USE: UNDERGROUND RESOURCES AND MASTER PLAN IN HELSINKI" (PDF). The Society for Rock Mechanics & Engineering Geology (Singapore): 29–42. {{cite journal}}: line feed character in |title= at position 38 (help)
  7. Vähäaho, Ilkka (2016-05). "An introduction to the development for urban underground space in Helsinki". Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology. 55: 324–328. doi:10.1016/j.tust.2015.10.001. ISSN 0886-7798. {{cite journal}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. a b Vähäaho, Ilkka (2014-10-01). "Underground space planning in Helsinki". Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering. 6 (5): 387–398. doi:10.1016/j.jrmge.2014.05.005. ISSN 1674-7755.
  9. "Rural population (% of total population) - Finland | Data". Retrieved 2023-04-12.
  10. "Report: Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel would cost 16 billion euros, journey time 30 minutes, tickets 18 euros each way". News. 2018-02-07. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  11. "Finland Officially Joins NATO. Here's What You Need to Know". Time. 2023-04-04. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  12. Keane, Daniel (2022-05-26). "Finland reveals underground bunkers which can 'withstand nuclear bomb'". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2023-04-12.


Shinkansen High Speed Rail

Shinkansen High Speed Rail


This casebook is a case study on the Shinkansen by Alani Hall, Thomas Cross, Dorothy Raymond, and Tyler Mooney as part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-004 (Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government) / CEIE 499-001 (Special Topics in Civil Engineering) Fall 2021 course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering. Modeled after the Transportation Systems Casebook. Under the instruction of Prof. Jonathan Gifford.


Summary[edit | edit source]

The Shinkansen is a Japanese high-speed train system. It is operated by four companies: East Japan Railway Company (JR East), West Japan Railway Company (JR West), Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central), and Japan Railways Group (JR East) (Sato et al., 1). The Tokaido Shinkansen route between Tokyo and Osaka was the first Shinkansen line to open in 1964 (Sato et al., 1). The Shinkansen is well-known for its dependability, timeliness, and efficiency. The system is so reliable that bullet train delays of more than five minutes are uncommon. Furthermore, Shinkansen has had a tremendous environmental impact by reducing traffic congestion and pollution. The Shinkansen runs on dedicated tracks and can achieve speeds of up to 320 km/h (200 mph), making it one of the world's fastest train systems (Nonaka et al., 4). There are 22 Shinkansen lines in service as of March 2015, with intentions to build more in the future. The Shinkansen has been an enormous success, transporting over 10 billion people since its inception and becoming an integral part of Japanese culture and society (Smil, par 25).

The high-speed rail system has aided in connecting various sections of the country, making travel and commuting more accessible and faster for individuals. The Shinkansen has also received accolades for its safety record, with no fatal accidents happening in its more than 50 years of service. The Shinkansen's achievement has prompted other countries to consider developing their high-speed rail lines. China has just begun running its high-speed rail lines, and other nations, such as South Korea and Taiwan, are preparing to build their own. The Shinkansen is still an essential aspect of Japanese culture and civilization, and it will undoubtedly play a crucial role in the country's transportation system for many years (Yee et al., 6).

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

Pre Construction[edit | edit source]

1872, October 14th- Japan’s first railway opens linking Tokyo’s Shimbashi District and the port city of Yokohama. [2]

1906: The government of Imperial Japan enacts the Railway Nationalization Act of 1906. All railways are nationalized and consolidated under the Railway Board of the state Ministry of Transport over the course of the year.[2]

1949, June 1st: Under Allied occupation and General Douglas MacArthur recommendations Japan’s government reorganizes all state owned railways into the Japanese National Railways (JNR) public corporation. The company remained semi-autonomous under the government of Japan.[2]

Development & Construction of The First Shinkansen Line[edit | edit source]

1957, May: The first proposals of the Shinkansen are revealed at a public lecture hosted by the JNR-owned Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI). [2]

1958, December: The government of Japan approves the proposal of the first Shinkansen line, The Tokaido, linking Tokyo and Osako. The project is headed by Shinji Sogo, president of JNR and Hideo Shima, chief engineer. [2]

1959, April 20th: Work begins on the Tokaido Line, with the deadline set to open in 5 years time. [2]

1963: Due to cost overruns both Shinji Sogo and Hideo Shima resign from their respective positions. [2]

1964, October 1st: The Shinkansen Tokaido line is opened, marking the first line of the Shinkansen railway network. [2]

Expansions & Operations To Current Day[edit | edit source]

1969: Japan’s Government Cabinet approves the 1969 Second Comprehensive National Development Plan to expand the Shinkansen network by 7,200 km. [3]

1970 May: Nationwide Shinkansen Railway Development Law passed by The Cabinet of Japan.[3]

1972, March: San'yo Shinkansen (Shin-Osaka-Okayama line) opens to the public.[3]

1973: Five additional Shinkansen lines and expansions are approved the Tohoku (Morioka–Shin-Aomori line), Hokkaido, Hokuriku, Kyushu (Kagoshima route), and Kyushu (Nagasaki route) lines. [3]

1975, March: San'yo Shinkansen (Okayama-Hakata line) opens to the public.[3]

1982, June: Tohoku Shinkan (Omiya-Morioka line) opens to the public.[3]

1982, July: The Ad Hoc Commission on Administrative Reform recommends suspending construction of new Shinkansen lines due to JNR’s worsening financial situation.[3]

1982, September: The Cabinet of Japan suspends Shinkansen development based on the Commission's findings. [3]

1982, November: Joetsu Shinkansen (Omiya-Niigata line) opens to the public.[3]

1985, March: Tohoku Shinkansen (Ueno-Omiya line) opens to the public.[3]

1987, January: Cabinet of Japan lifts freeze on building new rail lines due to support of the public for Shinkansen development. [3]

1987, April: Due to rising issues of mismanagement and debt, JNR is divided into 6 separate entities. JR Central, JR East and JR West, JR Kyushu, JR Shikoku and JR Hokkaido. [3]

1988, March: Tsugara-Kaikyo Line opens to the public. [3]

1988, April: Seto Ohasi Bridge opens, connecting Honshu to Shikoku, linking all four main Japanese islands by rail. [3]

1991, June: Tohoku Shinkansen (Tokyo-Ueno line) opens to the public. [3]

1997, October: Hokuriku Shinkansen (Tokyo-Nagano line) opens to the public. [3]

2002, December: Tohoku Shinkansen (Morioka-Hachinohe line) opens to the public. [3]

2004, March: Kyushu Shinkansen (Shin-Yatsushiro-Kagoshima-Chuo line) opens to the public. [3]

2010, December: Tohoku Shinkansen (Tokyo-Shin-Aomori line) opens to the public. [4]

2015, March: Hokuriku Shinkansen (Takasaki-Kanazawa line) opens to the public. [5]

2016, March: Hokkaido Shinkansen (Shin-Aomori to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto line) opens to the public. [6]

2022, September: Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen (Takeo Onsen/Nagasaki line) opens to the public. [7]

Narrative[edit | edit source]

The Beginnings of Railroad Development In Japan[edit | edit source]

During the Meiji Period (1868-1912) Imperial Japan began the process of rapid industrialization to face the competition of its western rivals. As part of this process the need for a comprehensive transportation system to link the country was realized. However Japan's geography made this difficult. Composed of the four main islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku Japan stretches 2,000 km of primarily mountainous (73%) terrain with interspaced heavy forest. [3] The first railway in Japan opened on the 14th of October 1872, connecting the cities of Tokyo and Yokohama.[3] To deal with the tight restraints of the mountainous terrain Japanese railways adopted the narrow gauge (3'/6" width) rail track that was better adapted to tighter turns than comparatively wider gauges. [3]

The First Shinkansen[edit | edit source]

Post World War II Japan was faced with the issues of upgrading old infrastructure as well as rebuilding after the destruction of Allied bombings. In 1957 the Government of Japan began hearings to decide the course of Japanese infrastructure development on the aging Tokiado line, which formed the backbone of Japanese transportation. [2] [3]

There was a growing thought in Japan among transportation engineers and politicians that rail transportation was outdated and would soon be replaced by air and highway transportation technologies favored by western countries. [2] However the president of JNR, Shinji Sogo, and Hideo Shima, chief engineer of JNR, believed that rail technology could be improved upon and be a viable competitor.[2] The Railway Transpiration Research Institute (A think tank of JNR) published a proposal in 1957 that they could create a new type of rail transportation, using innovative technologies such as computer controlled cabins, new types of electrified tracks, and aerodynamically designed trains. This proposal stated that this new train could make the 550km trip from Tokyo and Osaka in under three hours by a fully electric train.[2]

In 1958 the Government of Japan accepted the plans of the JNR to construct this first Shinkansen line they proposed. Work was scheduled to take 5 years with a budget of 200 million yen, less than half of the final cost. [2] The budget was intentionally underbid to persuade the government to accept the plan, and in 1963 both Shinji Sogo and Hideo Shima resigned from their positions in the JNR once the budget shortfalls were discovered.[2] In 1964 the Tokaido Shinkansen opened, cutting down transit time from Tokyo to Osaka from 6 hours to 3 as promised by the 1957 proposal. [3]The train line was 515 km long and ran with an initial top speed of 210 km/hr.[8] The track was a fully electrified standard gauge rail (4'/8.5" width) with a catenary wire system supplying power of 25,000 V.[3] To increase power efficiently each train car of the Shinkansen is electrified instead of having a single engine pulling the length of cars. [3]

The line was initially scheduled for 60 departures a day, with 2 Series 0 trains running concurrently; one train stopped at only major stations while stopped at every station . [8] The line proved to be extremely popular and served its 100 millionth passenger only 2 years after its initial opening. [2] This growing popularity spurred the JNR and Japanese Government to increase the frequency of departures by adding new train engines as well as commissioning the creation of new rail lines to link other cities into the system.

Future Developments[edit | edit source]

In 1969 the Second Comprehensive National Development Plan was created, tasking the JNR to expand its network across Japan with a combined track length of 7,200 km. [3] Work progressed over the next 2 decades though the JNR begins to face issues with growing debt and the inability to fulfill the requirements of the National Development Plan. [3] In 1987 JNR was fully privatized and divided into the sperate companies of JR Central, JR East and JR West, JR Kyushu, JR Shikoku and JR Hokkaido. [3] Since this time these companies have expanded the railways, created new models of railcar, and improved the reliability and safety records of the Shinkansen. Currently there are eight separate rail lines crossing Japan, with more being built every year to meet the increased demand of Japan's economy and people. These routes are the Tokaido, San'yo, Tohoku, Joestu, Hokuriku, Kyushu, Nishi Kyushu, and Hokkaido. [5][3][6][1]

Key Actors and Institutions[edit | edit source]

Public Sector Actors and Institutions[edit | edit source]

- Japan National Railways [18]

Private Sector Actors and Institutions[edit | edit source]

- East Japan Railway Company [17]

- Central Japan Railway Company [17]

- West Japan Railway Company [17]

- Japan Railways Group (Sato et al., 1)

Funding & Financing[edit | edit source]

The Shinkansen was initially built and operated by Japanese National Railways (JNR), a state-owned railway company. JNR was privatized in 1987, and the Shinkansen network was divided among the new private railway companies. The government continues to invest in the Shinkansen, with the MLIT providing funding for new lines and stations. However, the private sector also plays a significant role in financing the Shinkansen, with the different railway companies investing their resources into the network.

The Shinkansen is operated by Japan Railways Group (JR Group), a private company created in 1987 when the Japanese National Railways were privatized (Tomikawa et al., par 1). The Japanese government owns the JR Group and private investors. The government owns approximately 50% of the company, with private institutional and individual investors owning the remaining shares. The Japan Railways Group (JR Group) includes Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central), East Japan Railway Company (JR East), West Japan Railway Company (JR West), and South West Japan Railway Company (JR-West) (Sato et al., 1). The government also owns a majority stake in JR Central and JR East, which operate the Tokaido and Tohoku Shinkansen lines (Ali and Eliasson, 9). The remaining Shinkansen operators are privately owned. The Shinkansen is a profitable venture.

The Shinkansen is financed mostly through government investment and subsidies. Fare revenue only covers a small portion of the operating costs, with the rest coming from other sources such as advertising and leasing office space in Shinkansen stations. For instance, an advertiser may pay to have their product featured on Shinkansen's website or in its app. In exchange for this exposure, the advertiser agrees to pay a certain amount of money to Shinkansen. Shinkansen is also financed through sponsorships whereby a company may agree to sponsor Shinkansen in exchange for having their logo displayed on the website or app or in other marketing materials. The Shinkansen is a for-profit enterprise, with operating costs such as staff salaries, maintenance, and energy consumption offset by fare revenue. In the 2018 fiscal year, the four Shinkansen operators generated a combined operating profit of ¥206.8 billion (US$1.9 billion). This was up from ¥138.1 billion (US$1.3 billion) in the previous fiscal year. Ridership on the Shinkansen has been steadily increasing, reaching a record high of 151 million passengers in the 2018 fiscal year (Sato et al., 2). Fares have also been rising, resulting in increased revenue for the operators.

However, the Japanese government provides significant financial support for the construction and operation of the Shinkansen through subsidies and low-interest loans. The rail service subsidies amounted to over ¥700 billion (US$6.6 billion) in 2019 (Baruya 23). This subsidy covers a portion of the operating and maintenance costs, allowing the Shinkansen to function as a for-profit venture. Ticket prices are set to cover the remaining costs, with fares generally ranging from ¥10,000 (US$92) to ¥20,000 (US$184) for a one-way trip (Chou et al. 1). For instance, the government subsidizes JR East to the tune of ¥80 billion (around US$760 million) annually. This subsidy covers around a third of JR East's operating costs and allows the company to keep fares low. In addition, the government has invested billions of yen in constructing new Shinkansen lines, such as the Hokkaido Shinkansen and the Kyushu Shinkansen. The cost of building the new maglev line between Tokyo and Nagoya is estimated to be 9 trillion yen (around 80 billion USD). The Japanese government provides about 5 trillion yen (approximately 45 billion USD) of this funding, with the private sector raising the remaining 4 trillion yen (around 35 billion USD) (Chou et al. 1).

Institutional Arrangements[edit | edit source]

As the 1940s were coming to an end, development of transportation was at the forefront in the national agenda. Japan National Railways was the initial, government-led institution to tackle transportation in the region, during this era. However, an initiative to improve management, operation, and financing arose as these areas lacked in performance under this administration. These issues along with the additional need for global innovation kickstarted the privatization of the railway business in Japan in 1987. Japan National Railways was soon dissolved as private companies took on the reforms that called for progression. [18]

When railway transportation went from the public sector to the private sector in 1987, the Joetsu Shinkansen line, Tohoku Shinkansen line, Tokaido Shinkansen line, and Sanyo Shinkansen line were affected. [14] The East Japan Railway Company acquired the Joetsu and Tohoku lines. The Central Japan Railway Company acquired the Tokaido line. The West Japan Railway Company acquired the Sanyo line. [17]

Eleven private companies took on the responsibility to reform railway transportation in Japan; however, the initial four private entities have significant influence. Notably, the Central Japan Railway Company operates and maintains the Tokaido Shinkansen that travels through the capital city, Tokyo. [18]

The Central Japan Railway Company was among the private companies to partake in railway business reform in 1987. It is noted the April 1, 1987, marked its official creation. The company is keen on ensuring safety and reliability is maintained on the Tokaido Shinkansen and the Chuo Shinkansen. Note, the Tokaido Shinkansen and the Chuo Shinkansen in the areas of Osaka, Nagoya, and Tokyo—transportation hubs. The ESG management style is how the Central Japan Railway Company seeks to maintain and progress travel in these important areas. This approach incorporates economic activities that facilitate profit and encourages growth in society. Safety, improved services, efficiency, environmental consideration, and investment allows for better infrastructure, modernization, and support for local businesses. [18]

Lessons Learned/Takeaways[edit | edit source]

Key Technological Advancements[edit | edit source]

Automatic Train Control was an innovation that prevent collision. The third edition Automatic Train Control system consists of a brake control system. It is also known as the ATC-NS. The system can apply the appropriate amount of brake stoppage. Tokaido Shinkansen was the first line to experience the Automatic Train Control system. Since the 1960s, the advancement in this system grew. The 1980s brought additional capabilities with a monitoring system. The monitoring system was crucial in strengthening the communications between the train and system. [7]

The superconducting maglev system supports how the Shinkansen moves along. Its humble beginnings in 1990 would push this technology into its current use and existence. This system uses magnetic force to hover the train above the track. The coils on the track and the superconducting magnet on the train create this affect. The affects of using this system go further. The affects extend to the Shinkansen's ability to handle high speeds, natural disasters, and provide safe service. Also, the future superconducting maglev system is evident as the new Series L0 version is being tested. These tests suggest it could extend to commercial use. [18]

Speed[edit | edit source]

The Shinkansen's high-speed trains, or bullet trains, are able to achieve a top speed of 320km/hr.

The Shinkansen's SC Maglev exceeded two previous records for rail vehicles in 2015, achieving a top speed of 603km/hr.

Reliability & Safety[edit | edit source]

The Shinkansen is well known for holding an impressive safety record, in the 58 years since the debut of its Tōkaidō line there has been not a single reported on board passenger fatality caused by train derailment or collision, even during occurrences of train derailment caused by frequent earthquakes and other natural disasters, a record that the government and JRC boasts.[1][8]

Despite this record, there have been numerous casualties involving the Shinkansen trains in the nearly six decades of operations, just not caused by train derailment or collision. Shinkansen passenger accidents have occurred occasionally in its years of operations such as injuries from closing doors and fatalities, reported by police authorities as suicides, with a recent September 2022 accident of an individual who broke on to the tracks at Toyohashi Station of the Tokaido Shinkansen line who was killed by the passing Nozomi No. 229 train, normal operations continued later that day following a temporary suspension.[9][10][11]

Despite the very rare freak accidents and the slightly more common derailments due to an earthquake and blizzard conditions, the Shinkansen remains a remarkably safe for passengers and is a popular mode of transportation with a ridership that has now reached 1 million passengers per day.[8] The Shinkansen is so reliable that the average delay time is 0.9 minutes, this number includes delays caused by natural disasters.[1] The Shinkansen is able to be so punctial, despite Japan's frequent earthquakes and typhoons, because of its earthquake warning systems that allows trains to stop safely; the trains are also supported with many specially designed high-speed rail tracks, automatic train control (ATC), and automated train schedule management, that ensure that the Shinkansen trains always run on time.[12]

Impacts[edit | edit source]

Economic[edit | edit source]

Prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic in 2019, the entire Shinkansen network saw a total passenger ridership of 574 million passengers during 2018. That same year, the Shinkansen accumulated approximately ¥2,861.4 trillion in combined operating and transport revenues.[13] Revenues and ridership began to dip during 2020 and would decrease sharply the following year as a result of Japan's COVID-19 policies limiting the public's travel. Despite this, the Shinkansen is projected to make ¥2,097.0 trillion in combined operating and transport revenues.[13]

Prior to the privatization and brake-up of the Japanese National Railways (JNR) in 1987, the Shinkansen had four operating lines: the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, the San'yō Shinkansen, the Tōhoku Shinkansen and the Jōetsu Shinkansen. Japan's progress in industrializing and infrastructure development is reflected in the four early lines and in the prefectures these lines operated in; their municipal finances, for those cities with a shinkansen station saw an increase of about 155% between 1980 and 1993, compared to the national average of about 110% and 75% increases for those cities near the Tohoku Shinkansen without a shinkansen.[14] This period is important as the effects of Japan's industrialization, and in particular the Shinkansen's development, become clearer and show an apparent gap that begins to grow between cities with shinkansen stations and cities without. Japan's second largest city, Yokohama, was even affected greatly just from the fastest train on the line, Nozomi, not stopping here. Just by missing out on having a stop on an existing line it hindered further investment in the city and discouraged more people from moving to Yokohama; the remedy this the Prefectural Governor suggested introducing a ¥100 tax on non-stopping services that would have raised an estimated ¥3.1 billion a year for the area.[14]

After the privatization and brake-up of the Japanese National Railways (JNR), the Nationwide Shinkansen Development Law was developed to expand the Shinkansen network to 7,000km across Japan. The 7,000km network was not achievable at the time due to Oil Crisis of the 1970s, requiring plans for expansion to be dialed down to 3,500km.[14] The economic issues regarding cities with shinkansen stations and those without was also present during the network's further expansions continuing into the 2000s. The city of Komoro, which lost out to the city of Saku for a Shinkansen location, saw a rapid decrease in economic activity in the city where the occupancy rate of shops in the city was once 85% in 1992 had collapsed to just 46% by 2003.[14] Tourist and visitor numbers dropped by over 500,000 per year, causing Komoro's tourism industry shift to an emphasis on day-trips to the city rather than longer stays; this continued decline in economic activity due to being deprived of access concerned city officials that one day Komoro will effectively soon cease to exist.[14] For Komoro, like many other cities and prefectures, conventional train service would eventually terminate and be replaced by bus services and increased road transport, a problem for a nation where its railway system carries billions of passengers a year and limited space for road infrastructure.[14]

In contrast, the Shinkansen provides a great economic boost for cities and prefectures that its network connects to. Presently, cities with the Shinkansen's high-speed rail stations have 22% higher growth than cities without a high-speed rail. [15] The Shinkansen provides for connectivity between urban and suburban areas allowing for increases in population, employment, and other economic activity for places with Shinkansen stations. The presence of the high-speed rail is also linked to the increase in school enrollment, as well as education quality.[15] Cities with Shinkansen high-speed rail stations have seen a 16-34% higher growth in employment compared to cities without; the high-speed rail network has noticeably increased job opportunities for women as well.[15]

Environment[edit | edit source]

Transportation by rail is the most environment-friendly mode of transportation as trains produce one-ninth of the CO2 emissions made by automobiles and one-sixth of the CO2 emissions produced by airplanes.[16]

The Shinkansen also connects to several airports or have express trains where people can transfer over to the Shinkansen, these rail connections to the Shinkansen network are important to cutting pollution at airports as a large portion of pollution at airports is in fact created by cars traveling to and from the airport rather than by the airplanes.[14]

Social[edit | edit source]

Although economic expansionism was a strong motivator behind the development of the Shinkansen, political and social factors where also important drivers behind the Shinkansen’s development and expansion. These political and social motivators is visually represented when comparing the Shinkansen’s rail map to Japan’s other conventional lines; these conventional lines have the noticeable characteristic of being ‘zigzagged from one town to another or looped in a huge half-circle through several towns' instead of more logically connecting Japan’s urban areas.[14] This was caused by the expansion of the 1922 Railway Construction Law that further facilitated the political process by which politicians sought out favoritism or other means that would bring railways to particular constituencies, this indirectly sparked a practice of dispersion by railways that would follow into the development of the Shinkansen network.[14]

High Speed Rail Projects Across The Globe[edit | edit source]

The Shinkansen’s high-speed rail, or bullet train, technology have already successfully contracted, exported, developed, and established in several countries outside of Japan. These countries that have gained and established high-speed rail systems based upon the Shinkansen are Taiwan, China, and the United Kingdom.

Two more counties are in the process of their respective infrastructure development projects to import the Shinkansen’s technology to establish their own respective high-speed rail system for the first time; these two counties being India and the United States.

India is in the process of developing the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor that has seen a longstanding impasse due to costs of acquiring certain critical components from Japan, despite the Japan International Cooperation Agency covering 80% of the costs with a soft loan to India. [17]

The project in the United States, located in Texas to construct a Dallas-Houston bullet train developed by the Texas Central High-Speed Railway company, has also suffered from longstanding delays, yet due to persistent leadership abandonment and slow land acquisition.[18]

Maps & Diagrams[edit | edit source]

Map of current Shinkansen lines divided by governing authority. The design is structured around the Capital Tokyo with long branches connecting the north and south routing through the central station.
Examples of different models of trains used by the Shinkansen lines since the 1960's. Note the changes in aerodynamic profile.
Interior of a Shinkansen train car.

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

1. The Shinkansen line has been in continuous development since the 1960's with significant expenditure of both economic and political capital. Do you think it’s possible for America to create a similar high speed rail in this current political and economic climate?

2. Shinji Sogō pushed back against his contemporaries who thought that highways and airlines would soon make railways obsolete. What are your thoughts on this? Does a country need to pick a path between highways and railways? Or can they exist together?

3. Currently there is a political debate over which direction America should take its next stage of infrastructure development. If trains and railed transportation are adopted what are some potential issues you could imagine arising as the US transitions away from airlines and highways.

References[edit | edit source]

Ait Ali, Abderrahman, and Jonas Eliasson. "European railway deregulation: an overview of the market organization and capacity allocation." Transportmetrica A: Transport Science 18.3 (2022): 594-618.

Chou, Jui-Sheng, et al. "Pricing policy of floating ticket fare for riding high-speed rail based on time-space compression." Transport Policy 69 (2018): 179-192.

Lawrence, Martha, Richard Bullock, and Ziming Liu. China's high-speed rail development. World Bank Publications, 2019.

Nonaka, Nobuhide, et al. "28 GHz-Band experimental trial at 283 km/h using the Shinkansen for 5G evolution." 2020 IEEE 91st Vehicular Technology Conference (VTC2020-Spring). IEEE, 2020.

Sato, Kenji, Hirokazu Kato, and Takafumi Fukushima. "Development of SiC applied traction system for Shinkansen high-speed train." 2018 International Power Electronics Conference (IPEC-Niigata 2018-ECCE Asia). IEEE, 2018.

Smile, Vaclav. "5. Dealing with Risk and Uncertainty." Global Catastrophes and Trends. PubPub, 2020.

Tomikawa, Tadaaki, and Mika Goto. "Efficiency assessment of Japanese National Railways before and after privatization and divestiture using data envelopment analysis." Transport Policy 118 (2022): 44-55.

Yavuz, Mehmet Nedim, and Zübeyde Öztürk. "Comparison of conventional high-speed railway, maglev and hyperloop transportation systems." International Advanced Researches and Engineering Journal 5.1 (2021): 113-122.

Yee, Lau Sim, et al. "Globalization and Education: Drawing Lessons from Japan for China, Malaysia, and Other Emerging Economies." Journal of Economic Studies 27.1 (2019).

  1. a b c d About the Shinkansen | Central Japan Railway Company. Central Japan Railway Company,
  2. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Smith, R. A. (2003). The Japanese Shinkansen: Catalyst for the Renaissance of Rail. The Journal of Transport History, 24(2), 222–237.
  3. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Takatsu, T. (2007). The history and future of high-speed railways in Japan. Japan Railway & Transport Review, 48, 6-21.[1]
  4. Shimomae, T. (n.d.). Birth of the Shinkansen. SpringerLink. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from [2]
  5. a b Hokuriku Shinkansen Guide: Routes, trains, seating, and Fares. (2020, May 30). Retrieved October 11, 2022, from[3]
  6. a b Hokkaidō Shinkansen Guide: Routes, trains, Fares, and sights. (2020, May 30). Retrieved October 11, 2022, from[4]
  7. 2022-09-26T13:19:00. (2022, September 26). Isolated Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen extends Japan's High Speed Network to Nagasaki. Railway Gazette International. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from
  8. a b c d Suyama, Y. (2014). 50 Years of Tokaido Shinkansen History. Japan Railway & Transport Review, (64).[5] Invalid <ref> tag; name ":2" defined multiple times with different content
  9. “Person Dies after Being Hit by Tokaido Shinkansen Train.” The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, 21 Sept. 2022, 17:59 JST,
  10. “疑民眾闖軌道區 日本東海道新幹線釀死亡意外.” Yahoo! News, Yahoo, The Central News Agency 中央通訊社, 21 Sept. 2022,
  11. “疑民眾闖軌道區 日本東海道新幹線釀死亡意外.” 聯合新聞網, 聯合新聞網, 21 Sept. 2022, 16:09,
  12. “The Shinkansen, Japan’s High-Speed Rail, Is Full of Miracles.” JapanGov, The Government of Japan,
  13. a b “Financial and Managerial Data.” Fact Sheets | Central Japan Railway Company, Central Japan Railway Company, 31 Mar. 22AD,
  14. a b c d e f g h i HOOD, Christopher P. “The Shinkansen’s Local Impact.” Social Science Japan Journal, vol. 13, no. 2, 2010, pp. 211–25. JSTOR,
  15. a b c Rungskunroch, Panrawee, et al. “Socioeconomic Benefits of the Shinkansen Network.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 30 Apr. 2021,
  16. Hagiwara, Yoshiyasu. “Environmentally-Friendly Aspects and Innovative Lightweight Traction System Technologies of the Shinkansen High-Speed EMUs.” Wiley InterScience, Wiley InterScience, TRANSACTIONS ON ELECTRICAL AND ELECTRONIC ENGINEERING, 2008,
  17. Dastidar, Avishek G. “Float Tenders for Bullet Train Systems Without Delay: India to Japan.” The Indian Express, 25 Sept. 2022,
  18. Melhado, William. “After a Decade of Hype, Dallas-Houston Bullet Train Developer Faces a Leadership Exodus as Land Acquisition Slows.” The Texas Tribune, 30 Aug. 2022,

17. Mamoru, Taniguchi. "High Speed Rail in Japan: A Review and Evaluation of the Shinkansen Train." UC Berkeley: University of California Transportation Center, 01 Apr. 1992,

18. Central Japan Railway Company. "Central Japan Railway Company Integrated Annual Report 2021." 2021,

Port of Newport News

This casebook is a case study on the Port of Newport News by Andrew Kearney, Trevaughn O'Neil, Walker Brock, and Jean Montanez as part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-004 Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government / CEIE 499-001 Special Topics in Civil Engineering Fall 2022 course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government, and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering. Modeled after the Transportation Systems Casebook Under the direction of Dr. Jonathan Gifford.

Summary[edit | edit source]

The Port of Newport News, known as the Newport News Marine Terminal (NNMT) is one of six terminals of the Port of Virginia owned by the Virginia Port Authority (VPA), an agency under the Commonwealth of Virginia under the auspices of the Virginia Secretary of Transportation and operated by the VPA's private subsidiary, Virginia International Terminals LLC (VIT). Located in Newport News, Virginia, NNMT covers around 57 hectares, 165 acres on the north bank of the James River[1], and specializes in services such as warehousing, heavy-lift cranes, breakbulk, and roll-on/roll-off capabilities[2][3]. These services provided by NNMT help make the Port of Virginia the third largest port on the East Coast[4] and help attract other industries to the Virginia Commonwealth and Newport News region such as distribution and manufacturing. The NNMT is the VPA’s main terminal for break-bulk and roll-on/roll-off services. Boasting world class services and operations, the port is the fastest growing in the United States[5], and is a driver for commerce and economic growth in the region because of its large employment of ten percent of Virgina's workforce[4], and access to major roadways such as Interstate 664, Interstate 64, US Route 17 and US Route 60[1] and over 36,000 feet of rail lines[6] connecting to the Midwest. Through its specialized services, NNMT helps support Naval Station Norfolk, the world's largest naval base with shipbuilding and repairs as well[7] as serving as a focal point of cooperation and support for numerous federal customer such as the Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Customs and Border Protection[4].

Virginia Port Authority is the Agency that owns the Port of Virginia and NNMT

History[edit | edit source]

Origins of “Newport News”

The city of Newport News was officially founded in 1896 but the area and harbor had a longer history reaching back to the 1600s[8][9]. Originally an area of land claimed by the Virginia Company (a British trading company focusing on the colonization of eastern North America), the name supposedly comes from Captain Christopher Newport who would voyage several times to Newport and could give news of supplies[9]. Around 1881 Newport News began a large amount of industrialization with the help of two large companies, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad which extended into Newport News in 1881, and the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company which began around 1886[9]. Both companies were owned by Collis P. Huntington, an American Industrialist, who led the Peninsula Extension which expanded the railroad into Newport[8][9][10]. This expansion eventually leads to the founding of the City of Newport News in 1896.

Newport News Navy Shipbuilding, and World War I and II

The Newport News Shipbuilding company quickly began making ships for the US military. By 1897 they had made 3 Gunboats for the Navy, the Nashville, the Wilmington, and the Helena[11]. By 1906 they had built 5 Battleships, the Kearsarge, the Kentucky, the Illinois, the Missouri, and the Virginia[11]. The US entered World War 1 in 1917 after the sinking of the Lusitania, and production of ships skyrocketed, with Newport News making at least 25 Battleships for the Navy[11]. During this time there was also a shortage of housing for dock workers which led to the creation of Hilton Village, and it was financed by the government, which made it one of the first planned communities in the US[8][9][12]. New highways were built in the area to connect the port to military camps[8]. After the war they began creating Aircraft Carriers with the first being the USS Ranger which launched in 1933[11][13]. In World War 2, Newport served a similar purpose and between 1938 and 1941 they built three more carriers, the Yorktown, the Enterprise, and the Hornet[11][13]. These carriers also helped win the Battle of Midway, which was a major turning point of the war[13]. The Enterprise would also go on to become the most decorated warship in the US Navy[13]. Over the course of the war, the shipbuilding yards workforce more than doubled to keep up with its needs, this also led to a massive 77% increase in the town's population[8].

Post-War Consolidation

As the population increased a large number of people moved into the surrounding areas (mostly the Warwick area), which eventually led to issues with providing services to this large influx of people as taxes couldn’t keep up[8]. There were a series of issues in trying to consolidate the surrounding areas between 1950 and 1955, but in 1957 the area of Warwick consolidated with Newport News becoming one city[8].

Shipbuilding for the Navy (Post World War II - Present)

Newport Shipbuilding continued to build more ships for the Navy, and in 1955 built the first “super-carrier” the USS Forrestal[11][13]. In 1960, Newport finished their first nuclear power submarine, the Shark[13]. In 1961, they built the Enterprise, which was the first nuclear-powered carrier. In the mid-60s Newport finished building two new carriers, the America and the Kennedy, and began working on a set of 9 nuclear power submarines[11][13]. Between the early 70s to the late 2000s the shipyard mainly focused on 10 nuclear power carriers that were all designed and built in Newport. During this time, they also build 29 Los Angeles Class Submarines between ’76 and ‘96[13] Since 2008 they have been working the first of the new class of carriers, the Gerald R. Ford, and have been working on Virginia Class submarines[13].

Newport News Marine Terminal as an Infrastructure Component[edit | edit source]

Cargo going through the Port of Virginia.

Newport News Marine Terminal[14] is an expansive port that offers 60 acres of outside storage with at least 968,000 square feet of covered storage space. The port also contains two piers that each harbor four vessel berths for expected water vessels. The pier has 3480 feet of berth space that consist of a 40 foot draft depth to accommodate approximate water vessel lengths of 850 feet. With such a large amount of space, the facility also contains 18,990 feet of Class 1 rail provided by CSX[14] Transportation (a leading provider in rail & rail-to-truck services.) Along with the Class 1 railway the port also provides multiple passageways to places around the country, The Landside Access provided by NNMT includes roads that lead to Interstate 664 (I-664) to provide goods and services to different states, roads to US route 60 to access different cities within the Virginia Area, and access to 25th Street which is a direct road into the city of Newport News. The Waterside Access[15] for NNMT consists of two parts. The first part of the Waterside access would be its connection to the James River. From this river water vessels are able to service the Port of Chesapeake, Hopewell, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond which are all located locally in Virginia. The James River then feeds into the Chesapeake Bay which is the second part of NNMT's Waterside Access. The Chesapeake Bay is a system of Rivers that connect NNMT to other ports in the DMV area including - the Washington Navy Yard located in the District of Columbia, the Port of Annapolis and Baltimore located in Maryland, and the Port of Alexandria and Cape Charles which are located further up in Virginia. Along with the Waterside Access of the Newport News Marine Terminal is the Newport Shipyard which offers on-site refit and repair services for ocean vessels. [16]

Infrastructure Performance[edit | edit source]

The Newport News Marine Terminal has continued to remain an efficient and dependable port throughout the years. During a time with tariff-driven trade wars, economic ruin and the Covid-19 crisis, Newport News Marine Terminal has been on top of the manufacturing and redistribution of goods. A major consequence from the pandemic was its impediment on manufacturing mostly being the production and supply of goods. Although many critical businesses remained operable the supply for goods was either halted or slowly decreased while the demand for products continued to grow. The port had to adjust to accommodate their customers who were heavily affected by the pandemic. The Marine Terminal's persistence and determination during the pandemic led to its most productive year on record.[17][18] NNMT recorded "more than 3.5 million TEUs" (Twenty-foot equivalent units) starting in the year 2021. (The fiscal year started in June 2021 and ended this year in May). Stephen A. Edward[19] the CEO and executive director acknowledged the port's success to "the entire port of Virginia team along with its supporting partners[20] in delivering best-in-class performance." The port has also delivered exceptional ship repair to yachts, recreational boats, and commercial vessels. The Newport Shipyard has serviced a multitude of maritime vessels for customers and armed forces alike and has not had any trouble doing any carpentry, metal work, mechanical or electrical repairs to get each vessel in its best working conditions. In conclusion, NNMT has remained a vital infrastructure component that benefits the citizens of Virginia but also the Marines and Navy forces that are serviced by the port.[21]

Funding[edit | edit source]

The Newport News terminal, like its sibling facilities nearby, is sustained mainly by the revenues it produces from its port activities. The terminal has the capacity to handle break-bulk, roll-on / roll-off cargo, shipbuilding, and large storage facilities including 60 acres of outside storage and 968,000sq ft of covered storage[22][23]. According to the VPA’s 2022 Annual Comprehensive Financial report, for the international terminals the total amount of operating revenue is $873,707, while the total of operating expenses is $876,048[24]. Additionally, the facilities also receive funds from state grants for specific new constructions or maintenance. Huntington Ingalls Industry (HII), the largest military shipbuilding company in the country has a facility in the port that focuses on building U.S. Navy nuclear aircraft carriers, submarines, refueling, complex overhaul, and carrier inactivation[25]. Aside from its transportation connections via water, the Newport News terminal also is connected to rail transportation provided by CSX Corporation[23]. The terminal is just off from Interstate 664 to downtown Newport News and has easy access to Interstate 64, US Route 17, and US Route 60[22], all of these allow for easy movements of goods from the terminal to its national and international partners. According to the VPA annual financial report, the top 5 trading partners when it comes to exports are China, Brazil, India, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom[24]. Meanwhile, the top 5 import partners are: China, India, Germany, Italy, and Brazil[24].

Future Development[edit | edit source]

Dredging in the Thimble Shoal to accommodate larger ships and volumes of Cargo.

With the volume of cargo coming through NNMT steadily and consistently increasing, plans have been made for the expansion of the port to accommodate the increase in traffic through the port. The Port of Newport News is one of the fastest growing ports in the United States and helps support the world’s largest naval base. NNMT is expected to invest $1.5 Billion into its infrastructure improvements between 2015 and 2025[26]. This has led to the implementation of the FY2022-2065 2065 Master Plan, a commitment of over more than forty years to expand the port to meet the growing needs of its customers including the U.S. armed forces, civilian customers, and the growing population in the region. The main emphasis of the Master Plan involves steady investment leading to consistent growth and connectivity with other parts of the world including South America, Asia, and Africa; and investing in increasing current capabilities[5]. A $350M investment will be made to deepen the thimble shoal channel by 55 feet[27][5], to remove sediment build up in the water accommodate more traffic coming through the Chesapeake Bay into Norfolk Harbor and the James River and is set to be done by 2024 and become the deepest port on the East Coast[2]. By the end of the Master Plan the NNMT will increase its status as the port best suited for warehousing, rolling cargo and breakbulk cargo. Logistical investments will also be made to update and replace old equipment at the end of their service life[2] to accommodate the traffic and cargo volume increases. The investments for the expansion of the port will be funded by the VPA’s Capital Investment Plan (CIP), a combination of federal and state funds, and port revenue[3] and will use a tiered approach to allocate funds towards the most in demand infrastructure projects including dredging, updating and increasing the efficiency of existing facilities, and constructing new ones. The CIP is forecasted and calculated to provide unconstrained growth through 2065 while making positive cash flow annually[3]. The need and desire to expand the port and its infrastructure is a result of increased volume coming through the port which causes logistical issues such as congestion, delays, and increased emissions of Greenhouse Gasses such as Carbon Dioxide (Co2)[5]. The surge in volume and resulting congestion from larger ships carrying greater amounts of cargo helps increase the risk of supply chain shortages and crises, prompting a proactive effort by the VPA to increase the capacity of each port under its authority. The forty-three yearlong Master Plan encompasses not just improved infrastructure for increased port capacity and expansion of services, but also environmentally safe operations.

Extensive rail connectivity from the Port of Virginia

Environmental Impact[edit | edit source]

Another foremost aspect of the VPA Master Plan is the commitment to operate all ports, including Newport News on 100 percent clean energy by 2032 and net zero carbon emissions by 2040[5], operating in an eco-friendlier manner and being more energy efficient. The high degree of industrial activities in the port brings up concerns of increased pollution of air emissions and toxic chemicals leading to negative health effects such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes[28]. This leads to the commitment of the port to operate in a manner of cutting emissions to as close to zero as possible and balancing emissions by removing an equal amount of carbon from the atmosphere as released into it. Aside from NNMT’s efforts to operate at net zero carbon emissions by 2040, the VPA has made efforts as early as 2008 to utilize operations and systems to promote sustainability and environmentally friendly operations as part of the Environmental Management System (EMS). The EMS is designed to identify environmental risks relating to port operations and begin efforts to improve efficiency. Examples of this include identifying ways to reduce air emissions, and managing waste generated from port operations, and embracing recycling practices[29]. The EMS program is certified by the International Standards Organization, making it the first of its kind to operate on the East Coast[29].  

Key Figures[edit | edit source]

VA Secretary of Transportation - Ensures the state of Virginia has access to outside markets by overseeing and maintaining transportation networks and services. [30]

Virginia Port Authority - State agency and owner of the Port of Virginia, including Newport News, reports to Secretary[31]

Virginia International Terminals LLC - Private subsidiary of VPA who has operated the port since 1981.[26]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b Newport News Marine Terminal (NNMT). Port of Virginia. Retrieved October 15, 2022 from:
  2. a b c FY2022 - 2065 2065 Master Plan Executive Summary FY2022 Base. Port of Virginia. Retrieved September 20, 222 from:
  3. a b c 2065 Master Plan Executive Summary. Port of Virginia. Retrieved September 20, 2022 from:
  4. a b c (Summer 2016). Waterways, America's Economic Engine. Coast Guard Journal of Safety and Security at Sea, Proceedings of the Marine Safety and Security Council. Retrieved October 16, 2022 from:
  5. a b c d e Edwards, S. 2022 State of the Port. The Port of Virginia. Retrieved September 20, 2022 from:
  6. Rail Transit Times. Virginia Port Authority. Retrieved October 16, 2022 from:
  7. Virginia Port Authority. Commonwealth of Virginia. Retrieved October 14, 2022 from:
  8. a b c d e f g City of Newport News. History of Consolidation. Newport News. Retrieved October 17, 2022 From:
  9. a b c d e Overview and Fun Facts. Newport News in Coastal Virginia. Retrieved October 17,2022 from:
  10. Huntington Ingalls Industries. About Us. Retrieved October 17, 2022 from:
  11. a b c d e f g (2022, January 17). Newport News Shipbuilding. Retrieved October 17, 2022 from:
  12. 121-0009 Hilton Village. Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved October 17, 2022 from:
  13. a b c d e f g h i NNS and American Aircraft Carriers. Huntington Ingalls Industries. Retrieved October 17, 2022 from:
  14. a b
  22. a b Newport News Marine Terminal (NNMT). Port of Virginia. Retreieved from:
  23. a b Port of Newport News. World Port Source. Retrieved from:
  24. a b c Annual Comprehensive Financial Report for the Fiscal Year ended June 22. Virginia Port Authority. Retrieved from:
  25. U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers. Huntington Ingall Industries. Retrieved from:
  26. a b Who Are We. The Port of Virginia. Retrieved October 15, 2022 from:
  27. Virginia Port Authority. Commonwealth of Virginia. Retrieved October 15, 2022 from:
  28. Burke, N Cairns, A. DeStefano, C. Lee K, Martinez, R. Naidu, P. Phen, S. Yandle, M. Mitigating Air Quality Impacts in Newport News, Virginia. University of North Carolina Institue for the Environment. Retrieved October 10, 2022 from:
  29. a b The Port of Virgina's Environmental Management System. Port of Virginia. Retrieved October 10, 2022 from:
  30. Secretary of Transportation. Commonwealth of Virginia. Retrieved October 13, 2022 from:,Sheppard%20Miller%20III
  31. Port of Virginia. Journal of Commerce. Retrieved October 15, 2022 from:

Brightline Rail System

Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future Casebook/Brightline Rail System[edit | edit source]

Brightline Rail System


This casebook is a case study on the Brightline Rail System by Adam Alamin, Zachary Robinson, Fahad Saad, Rodrigo Salas, and Mireen Yabut as part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-004 (Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government) / CEIE 499-001 (Special Topics in Civil Engineering) Fall 2022 course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering. Modeled after the Transportation Systems Casebook. Under the instruction of Prof. Jonathan Gifford.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Brightline Rail is a high-speed train that operated under “All Aboard Florida” in its early development stages. In March 2012, Florida East Coastal Industries officially announced the project launch, which would connect Miami to Orlando. After multiple agreements, foreign investments, and funding efforts, Brightline officially began service in 2018. In 2019, the second phase of construction started in order to connect West Palm Beach to Orlando. Phase 3 is the final planned phase, and it is set to link Tampa to Orlando International Airport.  

Three main challenges during the first two construction phases were faced by the companies involved: the struggle to find funding, easement acquisition resistance, and accidents. When the project was first launched, it was the only entirely privately funded railway system in the nation, but government subsidies were later provided. Brightline is currently estimated to cost $6 billion, as opposed to the original estimate of $3 billion. Current funding is centered around tax-exempt private activity bonds and, while Brightline still receives private funding, the Florida state government and the federal government are heavily involved.  

Annotated List of Actors[edit | edit source]

  • High-Speed Rail Alliance (HSRA)

Ownership and Operation:[edit | edit source]

  • Florida East Coast Industries LLC[1]
  • Fortress Investment Group[2]
  • AAF Holdings LLC[1]
  • AAF Operations Holdings LLC[1]
  • AAF Operations LLC[1]

Financing:[edit | edit source]

  • Florida Development Finance Corporation[1]
  • United States Department of Transportation – for funding approval[1]

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

Origins:[edit | edit source]

  • May 9th, 2007: Florida East Coastal Industries Is purchased by Fortress Investment Group.[2]
  • March 22nd, 2012: FECI announces the launch of the project "All Aboard Florida" (later Brightline), a private rail system linking Miami to Orlando.[2]
  • October 3rd, 2013: The project is approved for the rights to a plot of land along SR 528.[2]
  • August 2014: Siemens USA announces it will build Locomotives and Passenger Cars for the project.[2]

Initial Construction Period:[edit | edit source]

  • October 29th, 2014: Project All Aboard Florida begins construction in Fort Lauderdale.[2]
  • November 10th, 2015: Florida announces a new name for the High-Speed Rail: Brightline.[1]
  • December 14th, 2016: Brightline’s first trainset (BrightBlue) consisting of four passenger cars and two locomotives, arrives in West Palm Beach.[2]

Further Development and Events:[edit | edit source]

  • February 14th, 2017: Japanese company SoftBank Group purchases Fortress Investment Group for $3.3 Billion.[2]
  • March 13th, 2017: The Railway’s second trainset (BrightPink) is brought to Florida.[2]
  • May 11th, 2017: Two more trainsets, BrightGreen and BrightOrange, are brought to West Palm Beach.[2]
  • October 5th, 2017: The final Trainset (BrightRed) is delivered to Florida.[2]
  • January 13th, 2018: The project’s first ride, from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale, officially marks the start of the service.[2]
  • June 2019: The second phase of construction, linking West Palm Beach to Orlando, begins.[3]
  • March 25th, 2020: Brightline suspends all project services due to the dangers of the COVID-19 Pandemic.[4]
  • November 8th, 2021: Service begins again.

Maps[edit | edit source]

Phase 1: Miami - West Palm Beach[edit | edit source]

  • Operation of Phase 1 began in 2018.[5]
  • Shared use line of 65 miles with freight[5]
  • Runs at a speed of approximately 79 mph.[5]
  • Estimates of ridership in 2019 were approximately 885,000 people.[5]

Phase 2: West Palm Beach - Orlando International Airport[edit | edit source]

  • Still under construction, and plans to be operational sometime in 2022.[5]
  • Spans from West Palm Beach to Cocoa up to Orlando International Airport.[5]
  • 120-mile upgraded shared-use line.30
  • Will run at speeds between 110-125 mph.[5]
  • 35-mile new dedicated high-speed line.[5]
  • The Expected annual ridership is around 3+ million.[5]

Phase 3: Orlando International Airport - Tampa[edit | edit source]

  • 85-mile proposed dedicated line in the medians of I-4 and SR 417.[5]
  • Planned to run at 125 mph.[5]
  • Currently still in the planning phase.[5]

This grant, an extension of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program39, is planned to include 33 miles of fencing at hotspot trespassing locations along with other extensive improvements at all 333 crossings along the corridor, which will span from Miami to Orlando.

Part of these funds will also go towards installing an additional 150 warning signs and 170 additional suicide crisis hotline signs to reach out to individuals considering suicide.[6]

Narrative of the Case[edit | edit source]

Project Description[edit | edit source]

In 2012, All Aboard Florida, a wholly owned subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, announced the plan to operate a passenger rail service between Orlando and Miami (Railway Gazette). This new express service offers an alternative mode of transportation for 50 million passengers, who currently travel by air or road between Orlando and South Florida. Being an infrastructure project of such a large scale, the Brightline Railway system has been in the works for the past decade and will not be fully completed for years to come.[2] Nevertheless, the project was broken down into 3 phases. Phase 1 connects Miami with West Palm Beach through Fort Lauderdale. Phase 2 of the Brightline high-speed rail project extends the railway from West Palm Beach to Orlando. Phase 3 will include a rail line between Orlando International Airport and Tampa.[7]

Project Construction[edit | edit source]

Due to the magnitude of the project and its various locations, multiple general contractors were hired at different phases for distinct portions of the work involved.[7]

Suffolk Construction was contracted by All Aboard Miami for the pre-construction and as the general contractor for the nine-acre multimodal station built in downtown Miami. Work on the Miami-West Palm Beach section began in mid-2014 with the laying of new tracks and temporary surface lot closures in Government Center, Downtown Miami.[8] Site clearing and demolition began in late 2014.[9]

Moss & Associates, was the general contractor for the West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale stations. Work on the Fort Lauderdale station also began in late 2014 with the demolition of existing structures on site.[10]

Construction work on Phase 2, between West Palm Beach and Orlando, was officially underway in June of 2019, following a groundbreaking ceremony at Orlando International Airport.[3] Preliminary work on the corridor began in September of 2019 and began path clearing for construction of the Orlando–Cocoa portion in October of the same year.[11]

The contractors involved in phase 2 are Wharton-Smith, The Middlesex Corporation, Hubbard Construction Company, Granite, and HSR Constructors. These five contractors are responsible for the development of 170 miles of new track into the completed state-of-the-art intermodal facility located in the new South Terminal at Orlando International Airport.[7] Herzog is the managing partner for the HSR Constructors joint venture constructing the express intercity passenger rail system expansion project.[12]

Phase 1 launched on January 8th of 2018, currently running 16 daily round trips. Phase 2, after several launch date setbacks, is scheduled for launch in early 2023.[13] While passenger trains are not yet running, Brightline began to test trains in October of 2022 at 110 mph.[14]

In 2014, All Aboard Florida placed a contract for five train sets with Siemens USA. The first train set was delivered in December 2016, while the last was received in December 2017.

Cummins won the contract to supply the QSK95 engines for the locomotives, while the interiors of the train sets were designed by the Rockwell Group. GE Transportation was contracted to provide a signaling system for the high-speed rail service.[7]

Florida Power & Light Company and Brightline partnered for the supply of clean biodiesel to fuel the trains. Florida Power & Light agreed to supply more than two million gallons of biodiesel-blended fuel per year under the two-year contract.[7]

Future Development[edit | edit source]

Brightline proposes to construct a high-speed passenger rail system between Tampa and Orlando, Florida; this project is recognized as phase 3 of the Brightline Railway System. Current passenger mobility is primarily provided by highways, particularly Interstate-4 (FDOT).  The Federal Department of Transportation states that projected transportation demand and travel growth, as prompted by social demand and economic development and compared to existing and future roadway capacity, show a serious deficit in available capacity. In addition, increasing population, employment, and tourism rates continue to elevate travel demand.

New stations along Brightline’s original Phase 1 and 2 routes are also programmed for future expansion under Phase 3. While the Aventura station between Miami and Fort Lauderdale is currently under construction, Brightline intends to connect its railway system 3 new stations: Port Miami on the southeastern archipelago of the Florida peninsula, Boca Raton between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, and the Disney Springs station located on the outskirts of Orlando heading towards Tampa. Phase 3 is programmed to begin construction in 2025 with a completion date slated for July 1st, 2028.

Funding & Financing[edit | edit source]

Funding Structure[edit | edit source]

The Brightline rail system is unique because it was initially America’s only railway system that was completely privately funded. While the government does provide substantial funding to the project, the rail system is still the only privately owned and operated railway in the United States. Florida East Coast Industries, which is a fully owned subsidiary of Fortress Investment Group, owns Brightline and is responsible for its operation.[15] The initial cost for constructing Brightline was estimated at $3 billion but current estimates have the project costing $6 billion.[15]

In its initial construction, Brightline received heavy investment from private entities. One of those was Virgin Group which had announced in 2018 that it would become a minority investor in the project. This deal allowed Virgin Group to rename the railway to Virgin Rail but was forced to pull back due to not upholding its financial promises.[15]

The Brightline rail system still receives private funding, however, both the federal and Florida governments have begun to invest heavily in the project. Florida officials announced in June 2022 that Brightline rail will be receiving a grant award of up to $15,875,000 in federal funding from the U.S. DOT’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Grant Program.[16] The grant’s primary purpose is to fund preliminary engineering activities and environmental approvals. [17]

Financing Structure[edit | edit source]

Brightline’s financial structure revolves around the selling of tax-exempt private activity bonds (PABs).[15] These bonds are issued by Florida Development Finance Group and are valued at $2.15 billion. These bonds are primarily used to help open new routes such as its Miami-Orlando train line, and expand the service to Tampa.[18] Due to the pandemic, ridership and revenue numbers were below projections. It had a ridership of 180,000 and a revenue of just $6 million and had to suspend the service until November 2021.[15] In 2022, ridership has increased by 22% and revenue has increased by 66%.[16]

Budget Allocation[edit | edit source]

In 2017, Fortress Investment Group applied for $600 million in tax-exempt bonds to construct Phase 1 of the Brightline rail. In 2019, with Phase 1 being complete, $1.75 billion tax-exempt bonds were issued to build Phase 2 and Fortress Investment Group injected $150 million equity into the project. In 2020, $950 million in tax-exempt bonds was issued to aid in the construction of Phase 2 which was 35% complete. Finally, in 2021, the project received $400 million in taxable debt to build Phase 2 which was 65% complete.[15]

In short, Phase 1 cost $1.2 billion, and Phase 2 cost 2.1 billion. Other expenses include capacity expansion and inline station at $400 million, land and contributed assets at $800 million, pre-funded interest and debt service reserve at $800 million, and development, ramp-up, and financing costs at $700 million for a total project cost of $6 billion.[15]

Challenges[edit | edit source]

The three main challenges that arose during both the first and second phases of construction were the battle for funding, easement acquisition resistance, and the number of accidents that occurred upon Phase 1’s completion. Easement acquisition resistance is especially apparent in the second phase as the line must now construct a completely new alignment.  

For example, when acquiring funds for the second phase of construction, All Aboard Florida originally applied for $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds by the USDOT but after a lawsuit by Martin County, All Aboard Florida was forced to withdraw.[2] They then lowered their application amount to $600 million. This was preceded by a similar lawsuit from Indian River County.[2]

Unlike Phase 1, where the alignment was based on existing and repurposed freight rail lines, Phase 2 requires a lot of acquisition of new easements through existing counties. As with the example of the lawsuits with Martin County and Indian River County, resistance arises when a noisy interruption to private property is constructed in built in people's backyards.  

There is also the glaring issue of the high rate of accidents linked to the line since its short operation time. Dubbed the “deadliest train in the nation” or “death train” the first phase is linked to more than 60 dead and hundreds of injuries.[19] The theory is that this is a high-speed rail line going through relatively slow-moving residential areas.

Key Takeaways/Lessons Learned[edit | edit source]

Complexity of Planning

Both hard and soft planning for Brightline has proven to be difficult processes. For example, many aspects of planning this project were based on projections that ended up either over-estimating or under-estimating costs such as those pertaining to construction and contracting. This leads to the need to re-organize the funding structure. While originally fully privately funded, Brightline eventually began receiving heavy investment from the federal government and the Florida state government.

While map layouts of Brightline’s railways offer many incentives such as creating a high-speed train with minimum stops with easy accessibility to tourists and travelers, the train also cuts through downtown areas and coastal cities of Florida. Despite these promising plans, it is evident that Brightline has failed to account for the safety aspect such as the number of reckless drivers and individuals such as homeless people seeking shelter near the train tracks.  

With the ongoing construction of Phase 2 and Phase 3, these safety issues must be addressed and kept in mind to prevent more deaths and life-threatening incidents from happening.  

Economic Impacts

Brightline has been a huge economic investment for both private entities and the government who have poured billions into the project. The good news is that Brightline has aided the economy significantly. So far, Brightline has added $3.5 billion to Florida's GDP.[15] The rail line is also responsible for $2.4 billion in labor income and $653 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue.[15] More than 10,000 jobs are created per year through rail-line construction and more than 2,000 jobs are created post-rail-line construction.[15]

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

1) Considering the three phases of Brightline’s railway construction and how only one of them is complete, is this a project worth investing $6 billion in?

2) Dubbed the “deadliest train in the nation” the first phase of the Brightline railway is linked to 60 deaths and hundreds of injuries. What are some plausible solutions to the high rate of accidents linked to the Brightline railway?

3) Considering the current track that the Brightline railway is on, what do you think the future of high-speed rail in Florida will be like? Is there a chance that it will be successful in easing the flow of traffic?

Reference List[edit | edit source]

Central Park

Central Park[edit | edit source]


This casebook is a case study on New York City's Central Park by Audrey Hayes, Hunter Hill, Eryn Undan, and Wilfredo Villatoro and as part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-004 (Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government) / CEIE 499-003 (Special Topics in Civil Engineering) Fall 2022 course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering. Modeled after the Transportation Systems Casebook. Under the instruction of Prof. Jonathan Gifford.

What is Central Park?[edit | edit source]

Central Park is a public park located in the center of Manhattan, New York City. It was the first landscaped public park ever built in the United States, as well as the most frequently visited one with over 40 million guests annually[20]. It is owned by NYC Parks, and operated by the Central Park Conservancy. Central Park spans 843 acres and is home to a plethora of natural landscapes, attractions, and events. Today, Central Park holds events such as concerts and weddings. In addition to this, Central Park is home to several visitor centers and restaurants, along with the Central Park Zoo. As for recreational activities, visitors enjoy taking yoga classes, utilizing bike rentals, as well as picnics and horse and carriage tours within the park. Considering its many points of interest and rich history, Central Park is widely regarded as one of the most famous public parks. In fact, over 200 featured movies include Central Park in their setting, making it the most filmed public park in the world[21]. Building Central Park cost about $14 million dollars in original construction and approximately $1 billion in restoration and maintenance costs up-to-date[22].

Central Park’s construction began in 1858 with the goal of fulfilling the recreational needs of residents in the growing New York City. Government officials held a competition to determine how the park would be built; a total of 33 entries were taken into account, and the


winning design “Greensward Plan” came forward as a product of Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux[23]. Their design featured rural landscapes that would give New York City residents a way to experience more naturesque environments– without the troubles of having to travel far from the city. Olmsted believed that it was important to mold Central Park into a universal space where men, women, and children of all backgrounds were welcome.

History[edit | edit source]

Central Park is located in an area previously known as Seneca Village, which was a predominately African-American neighborhood. Seneca Village's residents were some of the only Black property owners of the early to late 1850s. This is important because of laws at the time that only allowed property owners to be able to vote. It was a safe haven for immigrants and people of color from more built up areas southern of Seneca Village. The demographics of this area were mostly Black, Irish, and some German immigrants. The land was obtained through eminent domain.

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]


  • 1825:Seneca Village is founded when John and Elizabeth Whitehead sell 200 lots of their land between what is now West 82nd to 89th Street of Central Park[24]
  • 1853:New York State Legislature passes a law that said the United States’ first major public park would be built in Manhattan between 5th and 6th Avenues[25]
  • 1857:Remaining residents are forced to vacate Seneca Village; site clearing begins[26]
  • 1858:Design competition is held to determine how Central Park should be constructed
  • 1862:The Central Park design plans by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux are finalized
  • 1863:The city purchases 64 lots from Courtlandt Palmer, a hardware business owner, as part of a plan for park extension[27]

Construction and Opening

  • 1858:Construction begins and the first section of Central Park, “The Lake”, opens to the public after only a few months[28]
  • 1876:Central Park is officially completed
  • 1881:The Obelisk (Cleopatra’s Needle), which was created in Egypt about 3,500 years ago, is first displayed in Central Park[29]
  • 1934:Central Park gets a “revival” when Robert Moses is appointed NYC Parks Commissioner[30]
  • 1960:Robert Moses resigns from his position as Commissioner, without leaving any plans on how to proceed with further maintaining the park
  • 1963:Central Park is officially named a National Historic Landmark
  • 1979:The park’s infrastructure has been suffering for some time now; volunteer groups have been attempting to deal with these issues. Elizabeth Barlow, the director of the Central Park Task Force, is the first to hold the position of Central Park Administrator

Influence of the Central Park Conservancy to Present

  • 1980:Several advocacy groups including the Central Park Task Force come together to form the Central Park Conservancy, a private non-profit group that works under contract with New York City and NYC Parks. From this point on, the Conservancy is in charge of operating and maintaining Central Park
  • 1990:The Central Park Conservancy has now contributed over 50% of Central Park’s budget[31]
  • 2017:Restoration of the Ravine in North Woods was completed, which included the reconstruction of older bridges, paths, and drainage infrastructure[32]
  • 2019: Renovations of the Safari Playground (originally built in 1936) have been completed, with new creative and safe playground elements along with wheelchair accessibility ramps that lead into the space[33]
  • 2022:Construction for the restoration of the Conservatory Garden is currently ongoing; it has not been significantly restored since 1983[34]

Institutions and Involved Actors[edit | edit source]

The initiative to build Central Park was carried out in 1951 by the New York City government under Mayor Ambrose Kingsland. Kingsland proposed to the New York City Common Council to acquire a 750-acre (300 ha) between the 59th and 106th streets and Fifth and Eighth avenues. To ensure the completion of the park, the state legislature passed a bill to authorize the appointment of four Democratic and seven Republican commissioners who had exclusive control over the planning and construction of Central Park. There was a design contest that received 33 entries. The commission selected the Greensward Plan, submitted by Frederick Law Olmsted, a writer and farmer from Connecticut, and Calvert Vaux, a young English architect.

The construction required workers to move nearly 5 million cubic yards of stone, earth, and topsoil, build 36 bridges and arches, and construct 11 overpasses over transverse roads. The park also required the plantation of 500,000 trees, shrubs, and vines. Over 20,000 workers were needed to build Central Park, most of them Irish and German immigrants who were underpaid, overworked, and uninsured.

Upon the park's completion, there was no board to oversee the park's maintenance, which led to contamination and deterioration of the park in the upcoming decades. In the early 1900s, advocacy groups were formed, such as the Parks and Playground Association, the Parks Conservation Association, and the Central Park Association. These associations were merged into the Park Association of New York City in 1928. Despite the presence of the Park Association of New York City, the lack of funding and expansion led to a decaying state of Central Park as New Yorkers shifted their attention to other sites such as Coney Island and Broadway Theaters.

Central Park experienced a revival in 1934 when Mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed Robert Moses as NYC Parks Commissioner. Moses received federal funding to develop massive planning projects citywide, including 19 playgrounds, ballfields, handball courts, and Wollman Rink in Central Park. The estimated funding received from the federal government was 2 million dollars ($43 million today). Moses would remain as NYC Parks Commissioner until 1960.

As usual, the park again started to face contamination, deterioration, and pollution, which was neglected due to the lack of budget to sustain a significant renovation of Central Park. In 1975, the Central Park Task Force was founded to raise capital for the revival of Central Park. In 1980, a 200-million-dollar endowment was given to Central Park under the efforts of the Central Park Conservancy. The Central Park Conservancy continued to fundraise money for renovations which have averaged between 50 to 100 million every decade in addition to the yearly budget. In 1993, the Conservancy and the City signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) recognizing the Conservancy as the entity responsible for the day-to-day maintenance and operation of the park. The agreement was renewed in 2006 and again in 2013, reiterating the City's continued trust in the Conservancy. The current contract will expire in 2013, when a new deal may be settled.

Funding and Financing[edit | edit source]

  • 1851 to 1965: Total cost of park was 14 million U.S Dollars which was 7 million more than the estimated 5 million. The land itself was 7.1 million dollars which was almost the same amount Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867.
  • 1928: The Park Association of New York City is created which allocates a yearly budget to the maintenance of the park.
  • 1934: The federal program New Deal granted Robert Moses with 2 million dollars to renovate the park.
  • 1975: The Central Park Task Force is founded, which led to the creation of the Central Park Conservancy.
  • 1980: A 200-million-dollar endowment was given to Central Park.
  • 1986: The Conservancy’s first capital campaign raised $50 million over a five-year period.
  • 1993: Through overwhelming support of thousands of New Yorkers and many corporations and foundations, the Conservancy raised a total of nearly $77.2 million, which is used to restore the Park’s remaining major landscapes—Summit Rock, Merchant’s Gate, Naturalist’s Walk, Turtle Pond, the Great Lawn, and North Meadow.
  • 2006: The Conservancy launches the Campaign for Central Park, $100 million including $50 million capital for major landscapes remaining to be restored (Lake and Met to Meer), and $50 million for long-term operating support. Campaign is expanded to include additional capital projects, increasing the total campaign to $126 million.
  • 2013: The Conservancy secured a $100 million gift towards restoration and management of the Park. Roughly half is directed toward a 10-year capital program for the park. 60 million dollars are given from the city towards the estimated $170 million capital program.
  • 2022: Negotiations have begun between the Conservancy and New York City, which might reach an unprecedented 300-million-dollar donation from the City.

Economic Benefits and Consequences[edit | edit source]

The current value of the land in Central Park is estimated to be about $528.8 billion. A 2009 study found that the park increased the city’s annual tax revenue by more than $656 million, visitors spent more than $395 million due to the park, in-park businesses such as concessions generated $135.5 million, and the 4,000 hours of annual film shoots and other photography generated $135.6 millions of economic output. In 2013, about 550,000 people lived within a ten-minute walk (about 0.5 miles or 0.80 kilometers) of the park's boundaries, and 1.15 million more people could get to the park within a half-hour subway ride.

In 2014 the Central Park Conservancy directly employed 453 people, with a payroll of nearly $21.4 million; and spent approximately $15 million on purchases of goods and services (including construction) from New York City businesses. Visits to Central Park in 2014 are estimated to have totaled 41.8 million, an average of nearly 115,000 visits per day. Using data obtained from the New York City Department of Finance, we estimate that in fiscal year 2014, proximity to Central Park added more than $26.0 billion to the market value of properties on the blocks closest to the park – from Lexington Avenue on the east to Amsterdam Avenue on the west, and from 53rd Street on the south to 116th Street on the north.

Maps[edit | edit source]

Takeaways[edit | edit source]

  1. Central Park’s initial price seems steep but has ultimately worth it
  2. Parks within cities are one of  the few non-rival non-excludable aspects
  3. Equal accessibility was a key goal by Olmsted “The larger a town becomes simply because of its advantages for commercial purposes, the greater will be the convenience available to those who live in and near”[12]
  4. Central Park not only provides a lot for the community but also increases the value in the property around it significantly.
  5. Thanks to good planning, the park is accessible via the 1,2,3,4,5,6,A,B,C,D,N,E,Q, and M trains either directly on at, or within a short walking distance, not to mention being the heart of Manhattan

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

  • The maintenance of Central Park is above 50+ million per year, which only directly supports less than 1,000 jobs. Is this expensive budget line item justifiable?
  • The presence of Central Park directly increases the cost of land, making it a highly commercial area. Should Central Park be replicated in other cities, given the risk of displacing communities?
  • Is the success of Central Park directly related to its massive 840 acres of land, or would multiple smaller parks have had the same effect?
  • The response time of public safety officials to Central Park is increased significantly due to its size. Should scenery be sacrificed to increase public safety?

References[edit | edit source]

[35] [36] [37] [38] [39] [40] [41] [42] [43] [44] [45] [46] [47] [48]

Venetian Flood Control (MOSE)

This is a case study on the Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (MOSE), Experimental Electromechanical Module, by Julian Klien, Samuel Gray, Lucas Suter, and De'Elian Paul. As part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-004 Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government / CEIE 499-001, Special Topics in Civil Engineering, Fall 2022 capstone course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering. Modeled after the Transportation Systems Casebook under the instruction of Prof. Jonathan Gifford.

Summary[edit | edit source]

The MOSE (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, Experimental Electromechanical Module) project is an attempt to prevent flooding in the city of Venice, and its surrounding villages, through the installation of 78 mobile gates or barriers which will separate the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. It was also made to resist waves up to 3 meters (9.8 ft) above the normal tide levels. The MOSE has the ability to prevent floods during acqua alta (a period of high-water flooding from October-March in the Adriatic Sea). With barriers at 3 different locations ranging from 20-30 meters in length.

Consorzio Venezia Nuova has been entrusted to carry out the project by the Venice Water Authority. The construction work on the project began in 2003, after much delay it is expected to be ready for use in 2023. When completed, it will safeguard Venice and the villages located within the Venetian Lagoon from flooding, and prevent the further rise of the sea level to protect industries such as tourism, trading, and others.

The MOSE is a major infrastructure project, as it has been tasked with protecting Venice, a city that is important to all of society for its abundance of history. In addition, MOSE battles an increasing problem for coastal cities and settlements across the globe in rising sea levels. If successful the project provides itself as a potential blueprint to help coastal settlements. Despite its significance, it has that has been marred by many complications. Deterrents like corruption, extremely long delays, a ballooning budget, and negative environmental impact have overshadowed the potential good it could do for Venice.

History[edit | edit source]

Early Venetian History

Venice was founded in the fifth century as refugees from Lombard conquests settled on the 118 islands that spread across the Venetian lagoon.1 For the first centuries of its history, the city shifted hands between the Byzantine Empire in the East and the various Frankish kingdoms that at different times ruled Italy in the East. The city’s location between two empires gave it increased political importance, and this combined with a period of political stability beginning in the 9th century led to the formalization of the city as an independent state ruled by an elected Doge in 1032. This election led to centuries of Venetian dominance in Mediterranean trade and gave it its status as a crucial port city.2 The level of water in the lagoon has always been a concern, but historically a lack of water has been a greater concern than any flooding.3

MOSE Becomes the Choice for Venice

Following the 1966 flood, solutions to rising water levels in the city were stalled by political fights for seven years. Finally in 1973, a law was passed opening the government to proposals of ways to save the city from the sea. By 1980 six of these proposals had been accepted under the auspices of Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), a government science and technology research commission. They transferred authority over the proposals to the Ministry of Public Works later that year, and by 1981 the ministry proposed the setting up of fixed and mobile barriers at inlets into the lagoon to prevent flooding. From 1982 to 1989 the corporation Consorzio Venezia Nuova went through the process of designing a proposal for the project. In 1994, the Higher Council of Public Works approved the project, and following an environmental impact survey, construction began on MOSE in 2003.5 Between the great flood that inspired the project and the breaking of ground for its construction, 37 years had passed.

Environment and Venetian Lagoon[edit | edit source]

Geography and Location

The city of Venice sits in the Venetian lagoon, with the many islands inside the lagoon itself. This environment was created due to the settlement of sediments along the coast, river and sediment runoff, land subsidence, anthropogenic factors, and with the effect of waves and currents from the Adriatic Sea. The lagoon is separated from the sea by three inlets – the Chioggia, Malamocco and Lido. These inlets are also the routes for water, and ships to enter and leave the lagoon.

Modern Issues with the Lagoon

In the modern era, flooding has been far more of a concern than low water level for Venetians. Since 1923, when records on floods in the floating city first began, its squares and buildings have filled with water a number of times. The two most notable incidents of modern Venetian flooding are the great floods of 1966 (still the highest water has ever risen in Venice with 194 cm above sea level) and 2019 (which came within 7 centimeters of the record). It is this modern flooding, exacerbated by climate change, that cause the city to seek a new technological solution to their problems beginning with the 1966 flood.4 

Environmental Causes for the Floods

Several factors must occur for floods to develop in Venice. There are environmental factors mainly within the Venetian lagoon, the Adriatic Sea, and the meteorological phenomena in the Mediterranean Sea and Southern Europe. First, the sirocco winds, hot air winds, coming from northern Africa mix with the cooler air above the Mediterranean Sea.17 These winds then mix cooler winds from Eastern Europe along the Adriatic Sea until they reach the Venetian Lagoon. Second, after the sirocco winds mixed with the cooler winds reach the lagoon, high tides push even more water into the lagoon and “trap” the water from going back into the Adriatic Sea. Third is the settlement of the land itself, which occurs to soil after a prolonged period due to man-made construction. A century ago, the sea level was 27 centimeters (about 10.63 in) lower in the city and lowering by about 1 mm (about 0.04 in) every year.17

Anthropogenic Causes for the Floods

A representation of how the settlers dug and stuck logs into the ground for soil stabilization.

When the settlers first decided to establish themselves in the lagoon, they had to find ways to do it in what were marshes, mud flats, swamps, and soft soil. To accomplish this, the settlers decided to dig in and shove logs into the mud to create a foundation for the buildings19. This was a genius idea at the time. The logs did not rot due to having no contact with oxygen, and instead hardened over time. However, like with any building, settlement occurs, and the foundations start sinking.

MOSE Characteristics and Functionality[edit | edit source]

Objective and Purpose

MOSE is designed to stop floods from occurring in the city of Venice and it can resist waves up to 3 meters (9.8 ft) above the normal tide levels. MOSE is capable of preventing floods during acqua alta (a period of high-water flooding from October-March in the Adriatic Sea). The deployment of MOSE, is a response to water levels above 110 cm (3 ft 7 inches approximately), which can alter daily activities for citizens, tourists and port activities.

Operational Aspects

MOSE consists of 78 mobile barriers, located underwater when not in operation. The barriers are placed at 3 different entrances into the lagoon. Each barrier is 20-30 meters in length (66-98 ft) and 20 meters wide depending on the necessity, the MOSE barriers can be deployed at different times. However, it takes the barriers 30 minutes to be fully raised and 15 minutes to restore the barriers to its resting position

To elevate the barrier's, a decision is made within the control room from the data presented to the operators. Once the decision to raise the barriers is made, compressed air is sent into the barriers driving out the water that once kept the barriers submerged. This causes the barriers to emerge above the surface within 30 minutes. The average inlet closure into the lagoon, is approximately 3-5 hours. To lower the barriers, water is allowed back into the barriers, releasing the air and causing the barriers to submerge back underwater into its resting position within 15 minutes.

MOSE has a safety increment in place, in order to counter unnecessary deployments. This parameter is put in place because it compensates for potential daily tidal forecast mishaps, in accordance with the sea level within the lagoon. As forecasters place a 10 cm parameter upon their predictions, the MOSE system operators are believed to add an additional 10 cm deviation to add more buffer for potential mistakes

MOSE Failures

Due to inaccurate data, MOSE has been bypassed by high-tides as a result of the system operators being given inaccurate information on the incoming weather/water forecasts. Researchers have a belief that the deployment of MOSE could have a negative effect on the sediment deposit located within the lagoon in the future. As the disruption of the natural events occurs, the lagoons ecosystem would suffer as a repercussion. The more MOSE is being utilized; the harbors activities are hindered because of the barrier's denial of entry

When is MOSE expected to be fully operational?

Expected to be fully operational December 2023 after several delays.

Construction[edit | edit source]

Construction on the project began in 2003 under the control of the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, a subset of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation.1 Funding for the project came from two main sources. First, the Interministerial Committee for Economic Programming disbursed 3.8 billion of the project’s 7 billion Euro price tag in a series of installments beginning in 2002 and ending in 2011. The remaining funds were provided by the Committee for Policy, Coordination, and Control.2 The project was initially set for completion in 2011. However, delays caused mainly by problems with erosion have continued to push back this date, and it now seems the project will be completed in 2023.3 The repeated delays, corruption issues, and cost increases have generated much controversy around its construction, and the arrest of dozens of government officials. Sections of the project were successfully tested in 2020, however, and it does seem like the project will truly be up and running this year.4

Criticism[edit | edit source]

MOSE is not without its critics. The controversies mentioned above have made many in the Italian public view the project as a waste of time and money, as well as an avenue for government corruption. Additionally, when the project is finally completed, there are many who say it will be more trouble than it is worth. The crucial gates that will be raised to keep rising waters out of the lagoon will also keep water inside, creating concerns about sewage buildup that could kill the region’s ecosystem.

Furthermore, the gates are not activated until water rises higher than 110 cm, 20 cm higher than the level necessary to flood such Venetian landmarks as St. Mark’s Basilica. There are concerns that even when the project is completed, it will not be able to stop the perpetual low-level flooding that could become Venice’s reality by 2100.5 Venetians have expressed their opposition to this project in protests like one that occurred in November of 2019. A memorable image of this protest is demonstrators marching through the highest floodwaters the city had seen in decades as they opposed the only plan the government has had to deal with them since 1982.

Economic impact and Public opinion[edit | edit source]


Picture of a tourist standing by a boat

Since the MOSE won’t be fully operational it wouldn’t be possible to tie an exact number to its economic contributions. Yet, once it is functioning it will be indirectly contributing billions of dollars by protecting the future of industries that are reliant of the coastal area’s physical attributes. One industry that will greatly affected is tourism, an industry, that provides around 2 billion euros to the city. Due to its famous Italian architecture and world renown beauty the city attracts over 20 million visitors annually. If the city continues to sink the tourism industry will be negatively impacted as people won’t be able to walk around and sight-see, spend money at local restaurants, shops, hotels, and other places of business placing a large hit on the city’s profits.

Though, the project has been financially taxing as it once was projected to cost 1.8 billion euros skyrocketed to 5.2 billion euros in 2014.23 The price has again increased in recent times as the total price come out to around 7 billion euros. Lastly, there is speculation that there will be a small increase in cost for port activities as the mobile barriers cause delays in entering and exiting the lagoon.

Social impact

The MOSE project has already begun to receive criticism from the public for its delays, costs, and more infamously corruption. Starting in 2013 there were arrest made on charges of embezzlement, laundering, fraud, and corruption.22 The accused group of 35 people included entrepreneurs, politicians, and bureaucrats.23 Investigations revealed that 25 million euros of illicit funds were channeled through the project. In addition that 1 billion euros have been stolen from the project's funds since the start of construction.

In addition, the public is concerned it won’t properly protect against flooding to preserve the architecture that’s made the entire city and its lagoon a UNESCO heritage site. The MOSE’s existence was partially created was to keep the city from major floods, in order to keep its lucrative tourism industry alive, which has become a problem for the locals of Venice. The city of Venice and its citizens have suffered from over tourism it has contributed to overcrowding, increase of cost of living, and environmental degradation. So, the MOSE protects an industry that negatively affects the local's quality of life. Despite that, it is an attempt to protect the tourism and trade industries that thousands of Venetians rely on for jobs.

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

Should the Venetian government abandon funding the MOSE development, as it may bring relief to businesses and protecting the city but could have irreversible damages to the lagoon's ecosystem?​

Should Venice and its citizens start thinking about life after the sea level reaches a height where life is no longer possible in the city?​

Since the entire of city of Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage site, should other countries help fund MOSE to preserve it?​

References[edit | edit source]

1. UNESCO. (n.d.). Venice and its Lagoon. UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

2. Encyclopedia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). History of Venice. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

3. Public Broadcasting Service. (n.d.). Nova | transcripts | Sinking City of Venice. PBS. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

4. BBC. (2019, November 13). Venice floods: Climate change behind highest tide in 50 years, says mayor. BBC News. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

5. Verdict media limited. Water Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

6. Consorzio Venezia Nuova. MOSE Venezia. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

7. Verdict media limited. Water Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

8. Epic floodgates defend Venice from flooding. Atlas of the Future. (2021, December 3). Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

9. BBC. (2020, July 10). Venice test brings up floodgates for First Time. BBC News. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

10. BBC. (n.d.). Italy's plan to save Venice from sinking. BBC Future. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

11. Protests in Venice against Mose and the mayor. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

12. Vergano, L., Umgiesser, G., & Nunes, P. A. L. D. (2010, May 1). An economic assessment of the impacts of the MOSE barriers on Venice Port Activities. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

13. Polomé, P., Marzetti, S., & Veen, A. van der. (2005, October 25). Economic and social demands for coastal protection. Coastal Engineering. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

14. Hardy Paula Guardian News and Media. (2019, April 30). Sinking city: How Venice is managing Europe's worst tourism crisis. The Guardian. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

15. Eaglescliffe, B. (2018, March 16). Venice, Italy is being destroyed by tourism and flooding. WanderWisdom. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

16. Warren, K. (n.d.). Disappointing photos show what Venice looks like in real life, from devastating floods to cruise ship accidents. Business Insider. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

17. Mikhailova, M. (2021). Floods in the Venetian Lagoon and Their Causes. Water Resources, 48(5), 654-665. doi: 10.1134/s0097807821050134

18. Control Room. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2022, from

19. Buckley, Julia (2022). The flood barriers that might save Venice. Retrieved November 4,

20. Venice Holds Back the Adriatic Sea. (2021). Retrieved November 4, 2022, from


22. Olga Chiappinelli, Political corruption in the execution of public contracts, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Volume 179, 2020, Pages 116-140, ISSN 0167-2681, (

23. Porta, D. d., Sberna, S., & Vannucci, A. (2015). Centripetal and Centrifugal Corruption in Post-democratic Italy, Italian Politics, 30(1), 198-217. Retrieved Nov 11, 2022, from

Dutch Dikes

Summary of Dutch Dikes[edit | edit source]

The Ditch Dikes are Netherland's most important invention. Dikes are man-built buildings that protect against natural factors such as water, temperature, and altitude. They are generally composed of local materials. Various degrees and intensities of flooding have occurred in the Netherlands over the ages, from rivers as well as the sea. With the country being below sea level, The area is vulnerable and at a constant threat of experiencing floods. To prevent future floods, the Netherlands created their most important invention, which is the Dikes [1]. A dike is a barrier used to prevent and hold back water from a river, lake, or ocean. This invention provided defense against storm surges from the sea; it helped to solve the most important issue to the vulnerable, densely populated country from flooding. The American Society of Civil Engineers has declared the Dutch Dikes, Netherlands Protection Works, as one of the great wonders of the modern world. [21]

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

8th century[edit | edit source]

For millennia, the Dutch have been building dams, dikes, and other flood defenses. Because of the frequent floods, the early residents of the Netherlands located their villages on hills. The Dutch constructed their first dams, dikes, and dunes in the eighth century. The Netherlands' flood defenses increased as the country became wealthier and more popular. [8]

1918-1975, Zuiderzee Works[edit | edit source]

On 1918 June 14th, The Dutch parliament passed the law establishing the Zuiderzee Works. In Dutch, Zuirderzee means “Southern Sea”. The Dutch's Zuirderzee work refers to Lely’s plan of building dams and dikes to close off the Zuiderzee and turn it into a lake. The goal of this closure was to guard the Southern Sea from flooding. [10]

Using Lely’s plan, In the 1930s, the Netherlands built the Afsluitdijk; connecting between north and west of the Netherlands while closing off the Southen Sea to safeguard and protect the Netherlands' center region from flooding. In 1932 the dike was finished and on September 25th, 1933, the Afsluitdijk was officially opened. [9]

Between 1937- 1942, artificial lands were reclaimed on the Southern Sea to use as agricultural lands to safeguard food for the people of the Netherlands. The first reclaimed land, Wieringermeerpolder was constructed between 1927–1930, followed by Noordoostpolder in 1937–1942, Oostelijk Flevoland in1950–1957, and Zuidelijk Flevoland in 1959–1968. These lands provide nearly ten percent of the total arable lands in the country. [11]

Later between 1963-1975, the Houtribdijk dike with two artificial islands was built to complete the Zuirderzee works and connects between the Enkhuizen and the Flevolands while dividing the IJsselmeer river into northern and southern parts. [12]

1950-1997, Delta Works[edit | edit source]

On the night of 31st January 1953, a disaster flood occurred when the North Sea attacked with a ferocity that dramatically destroyed and deconstructed the country. This caused the Dutch government to implement Van Veen's plan to close the estuaries in the southwestern region of the Netherlands. [6]

Delta works were named after the delta region of the three rivers (Meuse, Scheldt, and Rhyne), in which most of the floods came in. The planned work was focused on the delta region, therefore, they built dikes to connect the three rivers which would result in being flood defenders that would protect the Southwestern part of the Netherlands, also known as Zeeland. There are thirteen delta works that successfully created protection against flooding in the Zeeland region from the North Sea. All of the projects were built between 1954 and 1997, and none of the dikes built have ever failed since they were put into service.

In 1958, Delta's work first flood defender was built-in Hollandsche IJssel. Followed by Zandkreekdam in 1960, Veerse Gatdam in 1961, Grevelingendam in 1965, Volkerakdam in 1969, Haringvlietdam in 1971, Brouwersdam in 1972 Oosterscheldekering in 1986 Bathse Spuisluis, Oesterdam, and Philipsdam in 1987 Maeslantkering and Hartelkering in 1997. [7]

File:Delta Works.png
The Thirteen Delta Works built around the Delta Region in Zeeland (Southwest Netherlands).

Annotated List of Actors[edit | edit source]

-Engineer Cornelis Lely designed the Zuiderzee works plan. With the Netherlands being vulnerable to floods, Lely drew up the basic design plan of building dikes and dams to prevent and hold back the water. The Afsluitdijk was constructed based on Lely’s plan which was first developed in 1892. [13]

- Engineer Johan Van Veen: he is considered the father of the Delta Works for acquiring great urgency for flood defenses after the disaster of 1953 flood. His warning described the risks and included a flood defenses plan in the Southwestern region of the Netherlands (now called the Delta Works plan). [14]

- In 1957, the flood defenses plan of the Delta Works was passed by the Dutch Parliament. A year later the senate and Queen Juliana signed it to begin the work. [15]

Funding and financing[edit | edit source]

Considering the funding and financing of the Dutch dikes system, each dike has its own story as they were not simultaneously built. Talking about the Delta Works system of dikes is a series of construction projects in the southwest of the Netherlands to protect a large area of land around the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta from the sea. Constructed between 1954 and 1997, the works consist of dams, sluices, locks, dykes, levees, and storm surge barriers located in the provinces of South Holland and Zeeland.

The aim of the dams, sluices, and storm surge barriers was to shorten the Dutch coastline, thus reducing the number of dikes that had to be raised. Along with the Zuiderzee Works, the Delta Works have been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The projects of the Delta system are financed with the Delta Fund corporation. In 1958, when the Delta law was accepted under the Delta Works Commission, the total costs were estimated at 3.3 billion guilders. The Delta works were financed by Netherlands’ national budget, with a contribution of the Marshall Plaof n 400 million guilders. In addition, the Dutch natural gas discovery contributed massively to the finance of the project. At completion in 1997, costs were set n 8.2 billion guilders [2]. However, in 2012 the total costs were already set at around $13 billion [3].

Due to climate change and relative sea-level rise, the dikes will eventually have to be made higher and wider. The needed level of flood protection and the resulting costs are a recurring subject of debate and involve a complicated decision-making process. In 1995 it was agreed in the Delta Plan Large Rivers and Room for the River projects that about 500 kilometers of insufficient dyke revetments were reinforced and replaced along the Oosterschelde and Westerschelde between 1995 and 2015. After 2015, under the High-Water Protection Program, additional upgrades are made.

In September 2008, the Delta Commission presided by a politician Cees Veerman advised in a report that the Netherlands would need a massive new building program to strengthen the country's water defenses against the anticipated effects of global warming for the next 190 years. The plans included drawing up worst-case scenarios for evacuations and included more than €100 billion, or $144 billion, in new spending through the year 2100 for measures, such as broadening coastal dunes and strengthening sea and river dikes. The commission said the country must plan for a rise in the North Sea of 1.3 meters by 2100 and 4 meters by 2200 [4].

Zuider Zee Works

Considering the Zuiderzee Works, is a man-made system of dams and dikes, land reclamation, and water drainage work, in total the largest hydraulic engineering project undertaken by the Netherlands during the twentieth century. The project involved the damming of the Zuiderzee, a large, shallow inlet of the North Sea, and the reclamation of land in the newly enclosed water using polders. Its main purposes are to improve flood protection and create additional land for agriculture.

The first step in the plan was to enclose the Zuiderzee by building a 20-mile-long dam across the bay. Something like this had never been done before, so the Dutch engineers made the wise decision to start by building a much shorter dam out to the island of Wieringen which would form the first part of the enclosure of the bay. The experience gained in the exercise was valuable when the longer dam, the Afsluitdijk, was built from the other side of Wieringen across the bay to the village of Zurich in 1927.

The Afsluitdijk project consists of the design, reconstruction, financing, operation, and maintenance of a 32km dyke that runs between Friesland and Den Oever in North Holland.

The existing structure is over 85 years old and is an important Dutch landmark. However, its flood control capacity does not meet modern standards. The Afsluitdijk was first completed in 1932 and closed off the saltwater Zuiderzee, turning it into a freshwater lake known today as IJsselmeer. Total funding for the project amounts to roughly 835 million Euros ($974 million). Lenders will provide around €815 million, guaranteed by the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).

Long-term debt amounts to €660 million, of which the European Investment Bank (EIB) will provide €330 million under a 30-year facility. Additionally, there are two milestone facilities for a total of €100 million, and an equity bridge loan of about €60 million.

The lenders on the deal comprise:

  • Belfius Bank
  • DekaBank
  • EIB
  • KfW IPEX-Bank
  • Landesbank Baden-Württemberg (LBBW)
  • Rabobank

KfW IPEX-Bank will provide about €124 million, with DekaBank and LBBW lending similar amounts. Contributions from Belfius Bank and Rabobank are smaller. Rabobank will not provide long-term debt. Pricing on the debt is partly fixed and partly floating, with the floating-rate portion covered by interest rate swaps. Pricing on the long-term debt for this availability-based scheme is thought to be between 100bp and 110bp over Euribor.

This level was considered too low for many of the banks which have provided debt for Dutch infrastructure PPPs in the past, meaning they did not lend on this deal and are unlikely to be involved in the upcoming transactions, some have said. The tenor on long-term commercial debt is 25 years post-construction, or around 30 years in total. While no institutional investors are lending to the project, a limited sell down of debt is envisaged for after the financial close with German institutional investors expected to take interest. However, this is not expected to amount to a substantial proportion of the overall debt [5].

Institutional arrangements:[edit | edit source]

The barrier, which spanned 32 kilometers and held back the Wadden Sea, was one of the biggest technical accomplishments of its day, and it is credited with sparing huge portions of the nation from catastrophic floods in 1953. However, while the Afsluitdijk has remained stable for over a century, increasing sea levels and heavier storms mean that Dutch authorities are now investing USD $617 million to fortify the structure so that it can resist a one-in-ten-thousand-year storm event. This nation-saving seawall is being supersized by using 75,000 concrete blocks, building additional drainage locks, and utilizing cutting-edge technology. When the building of the Afsluitdijk began in 1927, it was one of the world's greatest ventures of its kind, requiring more than 36 million cubic meters of material to span the 32-kilometer mouth of the Zuiderzee. Ships began dredging material and dropping it straight into the bottom in four sites throughout the length of the dyke until it broke the surface. While numerous modest renovations and enhancements have been done to the dike in recent years, increasing sea levels and an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms have left the dike in desperate need of serious reinforcement - and 2019 witnessed the commencement of a major strengthening project. While extending the height of the Afsluitdijk was explored, this option would need significantly more material and would significantly increase the project's cost.[18]

Dikes Engineers will instead reinforce the dike by placing a layer of concrete reinforcing blocks throughout its length, avoiding erosion and breaches during severe storms. Each of these blocks will be microchipped to make future tracing and maintenance easier. While passive sluice gates were originally placed into the barrier to discharge water from the lake twice daily at low tides, the difference in water level on each side of the dike at low tide is no longer sufficient to provide for adequate drainage to the Wadden Sea. Two of Europe's largest pumping stations will be erected near the sluice gates to prevent the lake from being swamped by the rivers that feed it. The dyke's locks will also be extended to allow for easier boat access, and the A7 causeway will be widened.[19]

Narrative of the Case[edit | edit source]

The evolvement of dikes of carefully stacked clay to pile dikes into high-tech sensor dikes did not happen overnight. Already in Roman times, small dikes and dams were created. A look into the long Dutch tradition of dike building gives us insight on a deeply rooted culture of trial and error in a country where the sea level rises and the ground level is dropping. History shows that either a big flood or a tiny worm, but also national welfare can lead to big consequences and shifts in the flood protection system. Key moments in the ever-evolving dike network are described over different dike periods [1].

The Netherlands witnessed little dike-building activity in the early Middle Ages. With the departure of the Romans began a period of political instability and population decline. From the eighth century, we see renewed, if slow, population growth, after which the population of the Netherlands increased tenfold between 800 and 1250. Once again settlements were formed in the salt marshes, which abounded in fish and in grazing pastures for livestock. On a small scale, streams were dammed and low dikes built, following the contours of the existing differences in elevation.

In the fourteenth century, the combined effects of soil subsidence and rising sea levels meant, in many parts of the Low Countries, that sea level and ground level converged to the same height. This was the period that saw the first large-scale building of dikes. The population was falling in some parts of Europe, as a result of economic recession and a succession of epidemics, but the Netherlands, especially Holland, was doing relatively well.

In the period between 1500 and 1800, the Netherlands became ever more prosperous and witnessed rapid population growth, although the graph displays peaks and troughs. The acme of the Golden Age was in the first half of the seventeenth century. Large-scale hydraulic engineering works such as land reclamation, polders and largescale peat extraction were organized by collectives, with interested parties joining forces for the purpose.

Dike builders had gradually switched to constructions with low-gradient outer slopes. To strengthen dikes, stony materials were added to the dike revetment. Most of the stone was transported from Norway by sea and from Belgium along the major rivers to the Netherlands. In addition, a great many dolmens or hunebedden were demolished to reinforce the coastal defenses. From 1900 onwards, materials such as concrete blocks were developed, mass-produced and transported in large numbers. Advances in knowledge, technology and mobility made large-scale interventions in the water system possible, culminating in the Zuider Zee works.

The Zuider Zee had only just been closed off when the next calamity presented itself, this time in the southwest coastal region. In 1953, a rare combination of spring tide, a north-north-west storm and high water in the rivers caused a national disaster. In Zeeland, the islands of South Holland and West Brabant, there were widespread dike breaches. The North Sea Flood claimed more than 1,800 lives and caused immense damage. An area measuring some 1,650 square kilometers of land was flooded.

The North Sea Flood provided an impetus for a large number of new hydraulic works: the Delta Plan. The Netherlands must be protected from suffering any repeat of the disaster in the future. The sea inlets should be closed off, with the exception of the Nieuwe Waterweg and the Western Scheldt, thus making the coastline much shorter and far easier to defend. Parliament passed the Delta Act in 1958 and the construction commenced. The Act prescribed the criteria to be met by the dikes along the coast and rivers as well as their height. It was the beginning of an era of drastic and large-scale reinforcements of the dikes.

Policy Issues[edit | edit source]

The Netherlands looks to have made the transition from flood defense to flood risk management, in line with the rest of Western Europe. The flood catastrophes around the turn of the Millennium demonstrated the ineffectiveness of institutional and technical arrangements, ushering in flood risk management measures that "create space for the river," according to a compelling and widely propagated tale (K. Krieger 2013, unpublished manuscript). Krieger, on the other hand, demonstrates that for the United Kingdom and Germany, this statement is considerably too simple. History is essential. Krieger contends that organizational variables, specifically sets of norms, processes, and frameworks, can explain the disparities in flood management decisions made in Germany and England, and he advocates for a comparative test in the Netherlands and France, which have different state traditions. These policies make more sense for Netherlands because they are the most venerable to flood. Policys are a changing factor for Netherlands because it’s at a venerable place and situation changes depending on the weather and future climate. But there are some ground rules with stays the same such as:

1. A legally anchored funding scheme to keep the dike rings up to the level of the legally binding flood protection standards. This cost is pooled between the national Treasury and the regional authorities.

2. Responsibilities for flood protection are allocated to dedicated organizations: the national agency of public (water) works and the regional water boards.

3. The Expertise Network for Flood Protection (ENW). This institutionalized network of flood risk management experts, mostly civil engineers, has existed since 1965. ENW gives requested and unrequested advice to the ministry of infrastructure and environment. Their advice is literally always adopted.

4. Legal standards for flood risk and accompanying legal assessment (Wettelijk Tots Instrumentarium) and design guidelines for how to maintain flood defenses (Leidraden) consisting of extensive guidelines and technical reports.

These are some of the rules that has laid by Dutch National Water Plan.[17]

After the publication of the NWP reposts based on the flood data Netherlands government passed an act called the Delta Act. This act follows as:

1. New flood protection standards will be set these will not only be linked to the probability of flooding. but also, to the impact of a flood (risk-based approach). The scope of the impact is the decisive factor in setting the standard.

2. The availability of freshwater for agriculture, industry, and nature will become more predictable.

3. Spatial planning will become more climate-proof and water robust

Also, as I have mentioned above the plan changes due to constant climate change in the world, they have added some more rules over the years, such as:

1. 2011: The publication of a more explorative approach of the first series of pilot locations in the Netherlands that are considered suitable for MLS. The main conclusion of this report is that MLS is approached enthusiastically and energetically and that there is a strong desire of the involved local and regional authorities to explore the opportunities of MLS further.

2. 2012: To calculate the effectiveness of possible MLS measures, a toolkit was developed funded by the knowledge organization of the regional water authorities and the Delta Programme.[20]

Lessons learned / takeaways[edit | edit source]

 The Netherlands played a role model in showing how water and flood can be managed using engineering innovations. This gives inspiration for countries and governments to try to resist nature and fight natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, and many more incidents where it is deadly dangerous. This also must be taken into consideration especially when our familiar world might change due to global warming and climate change that will directly impact our lives.  

Discussion Question[edit | edit source]

1. How would you evaluate the effort of Dutch Dikes?

2. How effective do you think these Dikes will be in future, especially with climate change?

References[edit | edit source]

-“Dutch Dikes.” History. [1]

-Aerts, J.C.J.H. “Adaptation Cost in the Netherlands: Climate Change and Flood Risk Management.” Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Climate Changes Spatial Planning and Knowledge for Climate, 1 Jan. 1970. [2]

-Higgins, Andrew. “Lessons for U.S. from a Flood-Prone Land.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Nov. 2012. [3]

-“Dutch Draw up Drastic Measures to Defend Coast against Rising Seas.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Sept. 2008. [4]

- Author, Beatrice Mavroleon Contact, et al. “Afsluitdijk PPP, the Netherlands.” IJGlobal. [5]

- “Johan Van Veen.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., [6]

- “Delta Works.” Watersnoodmuseum, [7]

- “Why The Netherlands Isn’t Flooding (Anymore).” YouTube, uploaded by History Scop, 1 Feb. 2020. [8]

- “Brouwers Dam.” Watersnoodmuseum. [9]

- “Zuiderzee.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. [10]

- Nijhuis, Steffen. “The Noordoostpolder: A Landscape Planning Perspective on the Preservation and Development of Twentieth-Century Polder Landscapes in the Netherlands.” SpringerLink, Springer International Publishing, 1 Jan. 1970. [11]

-“Sailing the IJsselmeer.” Catharina Van Mijdrecht, 20 Apr. 2015. [12]

- The Afsluitdijk. [13]  

-“Delta Project.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. [14]

- “The Memory.” The Delta Works - The Memory. [15]

- Buuren, Arwin van. Ellen, Gerald Jan., and Jeroen F. Warner. Path-dependency and policy learning in the Dutch delta: toward more resilient flood risk management in the Netherlands? Jstore. [16]

- Mostert, E. 2006. Integrated water resources management in the Netherlands: how concepts function. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education 135(1):19-27. [17]

-2020, Dan Cortese22 July, et al. “The Sea Wall That Saved a Nation.” The B1M, 22 July 2020, [18]

-Rammel, C., S. Stagl, and M. Wilfing, 3007. Managing complex adaptive systems a co-evolutionary perspective on natural resource management. Ecological Economios 63(1):9-21. [19]

-Vogt, Berber "The Afsluitdijk as a Complex System",29 May 2019. [20]

- Jean-Louis Briaud, et al. “Civil Engineers Create Wonders of the World.” ASCE American Society of Civil Engineers, 1 July 2021. [21]

Big Dig

This casebook is a case study on the Big Dig by Shaheer Malik, Evan Price, Maeen Aljaieed, and Gurfateh Singh as part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-004 (Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government) / CEIE 499-001 (Special Topics in Civil Engineering) Spring 2022 course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering.

DISCLAIMER: The information presented in this wikibook is for academic purposes only and has no particular goal beyond presenting what has been learned. Any views presented in this wikibook are the views of their respective writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of our professor, Dr. Gifford, or that of our institution, George Mason University.

Summary[edit | edit source]

The Central Artery/ Tunnel Project, famously known as the “Big Dig”, is located in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States. Originally proposed in the 1970s, the project was supposed to improve traffic flow and congestion and to create large green spaces in Boston. The project included moving the 6-lane elevated I-93 interstate highway, also called the central artery, underground by constructing an underground expressway tunnel, extending the I-90 interstate through South Boston, across the Boston Harbor, to Logan International Airport, and building the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge over the Charles River for I-93. The I-93 tunnel is now called the Thomas P. O’neill Jr. Tunnel and the underwater tunnel extending I-90 to Logan International Airport is now called the Ted Williams Tunnel. The project was awarded to Bechtel Corporation and Parsons Brinckerhoff Joint Venture by the Massachusetts Highway Department to manage the massive project. The ground was broken in 1982 and construction was meant to be completed in 1998 and was estimated to cost around 2.8 billion dollars. The Big Dig pushed the boundaries of innovation and engineering and set foot to take on massive feats that had never been done before. The project, however, ran into many problems and was surrounded by controversy and local pushback. Many parts of the original design proved to be insufficient and had to be redesigned. All the changes led to massive delays and an enormous budget overrun. The project was finally complete in 2007 and ended up costing an astonishing $14.6 billion but with interest owed, it will end up costing a total of $22 billion dollars to be paid by 2038.

Annotated List of Key Actors and Institutions[edit | edit source]

The Big Dig Project was an enormous task and had countless people and organizations that had a stake in it. Due to the massive size of the project, the design and construction was broken into dozens of smaller sub projects awarded to subcontractors. Some of the major stakeholders in the central Artery/ Tunnel Project include:

Private Sector Actors and Institutions[edit | edit source]

Bechtel Corporation and Parsons Brinckerhoff Joint Venture

Joint venture of Bechtel Corporation and Parsons Brinckerhoff, now WPS USA, were hired by the Massachusetts Highway Department in 1985 to manage the design, construction, cost estimates and budget forecasts of the project. [6]

Bechtel Corporation: is an American engineering, procurement, construction, and project management company founded in 1898 and is headquartered in Reston, VA. [7]

Parsons Brinckerhoff: now known as WPS USA, is an engineering and design firm founded in 1885 based in New York, NY. [8]

Frederick P. Salvucci, was the state’s Secretary of Transportation. He advocated for the Big Dig and the need for it to be built for many years. He is considered the “Man behind the Big Dig” and the project wouldn’t have happened if it wasn't for his efforts. [10]

Robert Albee, was the state’s Director of Construction Services. To oversee the design and engineering for the Central Artery Tunnel Project, he left his job as Massachusetts chief engineer in 1985 to take this new position and stayed the director till 1998. [9]

Public Sector Actors and Institutions[edit | edit source]

Massachusetts Highway Department (MDH): Was the owner of the Big Dig Project from inception to 1997. MHD was responsible to oversee the project in its entirety. [14]

Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MassPike): MassPike took over the project from MDH in 1997 and assumed all responsibility for maintaining it into the future. It is the current owner and Operator of the Central Artery/ Tunnel Project. It maintains and repairs the project and is responsible for its operating expenses and repair budgets. [11]

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA): FHWA was the primary funding agency for the Big Dig and was responsible for oversight of the project budget and finance plan. [14]

Massachusetts General Court: At the beginning of the project the General Court was responsible for the required funding remaining after what the funding provided by the FHWA. [11]

The Original Plan[edit | edit source]

Boston’s Big Dig project (also known as the Central Artery/Tunnel Project) began with a series of highway-expansion plans to solve the city’s increasing traffic and economic problems. The city of Boston is a history rich city with a road system that was designed before the automobile. The city contained a highway system opened in 1950 which featured a six-lane two-way highway linking southeast with the north and offered many offramps to access the city. This existing expressway drove right into the middle of downtown Boston with a series of high, above ground ramps in the middle of the city. This expressway was designed to contain 74,000 cars per day but was containing upwards of 200,000 cars per day which led to nightmare traffic congestion.

The project was divided into two major components: moving the 6-lane elevated I-93 highway underground into a state-of-the-art underground expressway (named Thomas P. O’neill Jr. Tunnel) and extending I-90 through an underwater tunnel (named Ted Williams Tunnel) from South Boston to Logan International Airport. Other projects were also completed as part of the Big Dig including the construction of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge over the Charles River and the Rose Kennedy Greenway which is open spaced green parks to replace the old above-ground I-93 expressway. There were also other smaller projects with general improvements to the existing infrastructure in Boston.

In March 1982, Boston was awarded $2 billion in federal funding. The original cost estimate, made in 1985, was $2 billion (costs later soared to $14 billion). The plan was significant since it would be the most extensive urban highway project in the United States since President Eisenhower’s interstate highway program.

The original cost estimate was 2.8 billion to start construction in 1982 and finishing in 1998. However, the project wouldn’t be complete until 2007 with a cost of 14.6 billion but with interest being paid the total cost is 22 billion and won’t be paid until 2038. The Boston Globe reported that a billion dollars of the project’s budget was lost due to design flaws.

Why Do the Big Dig?[edit | edit source]

Because of the city’s congestion, more automobiles were on the road than the roads were designed to handle, resulting in deadly delays and slow travel. All traffic east, west, north, and south used the central artery.  The Central Artery was designed to have 74,000 cars however by the 1990s it had upwards of 190,000 cars per day. This led to a 500-million-dollar loss to traffic jams. Traffic was stuck in the Central Artery upwards of 14 hours per day. Over 5,000 workers were involved in the Big Dig. In building the Big Dig, there was a 62% decrease in vehicle hours of travel on I-90 from 38,000 hours per day to 14,800 hours. Additionally, Carbon monoxide levels have reduced by 12% since its completion in 2007 since cars are not stuck in traffic. With the Big Dig, the greenbelt of 27 acres parks and open space where the old expressway stood was opened up which drastically changed the scene of the city and improved businesses. The tunnel allowed the city of Boston to reunite with the north neighborhoods that were previously separated by the above ground highway system. This separation caused economic harm to the businesses present there. Today, the Shawmut Peninsula is one of the most sought after urban real estate locations in the country.

The project’s original purpose was to improve traffic flow in the central artery and to create large green spaces to decrease pollution. Furthermore, the project’s objectives were to increase local and regional economic activity, improve pedestrian and cycling safety, open up new and under-utilized sections of the region for development, and improve the general quality of life for inhabitants in the surrounding districts (Greiman & Sclar, 2019).

Map[edit | edit source]

Design[edit | edit source]

The Big Dig or the Central Artery/ Tunnel Project is commonly considered as a single project, however, the project included three major individual construction projects in the center of the city of Boston. The Big Dig encompassed countless small projects and tasks, however the three major undertakings included:

Depressing the Central Artery

The original I-93, also known as the central artery, was a 6-lane elevated highway that went through downtown Boston. This highway was depressed underground by constructing the Thomas P O’Neill Tunnel.The tunnel is 1.5 miles long and accommodates 4 lanes of traffic. Before construction could begin, utility relocations and mitigation efforts had to be performed.[12] To allow daily life to continue as is, slurry walls had to be constructed so that the existing elevated artery could still be functioning while the excavation for the tunnel took place. The Big Dig represents the largest use of the slurry wall technique in North America. The slurry walls were eventually incorporated into the permanent structure of the tunnel. Once the construction of the tunnel was complete, the elevated highway was demolished, with many new parks and green spaces built in its place. [14]

Extending I-90 through South Boston, across the Boston Harbor, to Logan International Airport

This endeavor consisted of constructing the Ted Williams Tunnel and the Fort Point Channel Tunnel. The Ted Williams Tunnel connects South Boston to Logan Airport. To build this tunnel, 12 binocular-shaped steel tunnel sections were built in the Bethlehem Shipyard in Maryland. They were each longer than a football field and were delivered using barges or floating vessels. Each section cost $1.5 million dollars. Once they were at the Black Falcon Pier, the sections were equipped with steel-reinforced concrete walls and roadbed. The harbor was drained and then a 0.75 mile trench was dug out. The tubes were then lowered into the trench and connected.[12] At the Fort Point Channel, the tubes could not be barged in due to existing bridges over the channel. This led the engineers to instead build a concrete immersed tube tunnel on-site. A casting basin was constructed using steel cofferdams to be able to cast the tunnel boxes. Once the tunnel boxes were dry, the basin was flooded by removing the cofferdams.[13] This allowed the tunnels to be floated out to be lowered into the trench that was dug out in the channel. The process was repeated to construct and transfer the remaining two tunnel boxes. All the tubes were then connected to form the tunnel under Fort Point Channel.

Building the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge over the Charles River

Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Bridge is the world's widest cable-stayed bridge. [12] The bridge is named after an American colonist and a civil rights activist. It is located in Boston, MA and was built in 2003 at a cost of $100 million [20]. The bridge is owned by Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, designed by Christian Menn, a Swiss engineer, and constructed by Bechtel/Parsons Brinkerhoff. [21] This bridge is 1432 ft long and has 10 lanes. [12] Eight of these lanes pass through the legs of the twin towers, and the other two lanes are cantilevered on the east side. It was built as part of the Big Dig project and replaces the existing deteriorated bridge that crossed the Charles River. The bridge has an average deck width of 183 ft and a structure length of 1407 ft. [20] Additionally, it has the following span length (ft): 112/130/745/250/170 [20] Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Bridge is connected to the Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. Tunnel on one side of the river, and to Route 1 and I-93 on the other side of the river. Furthermore, this bridge holds the distinction of being the “first hybrid cable-stayed bridge in the United States” [12], as the frame of the bridge is made up of steel and concrete.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Year Event
1982 - Work begins on Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report (FEIS/R)
1985 - Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report (FEIS/R) filed; approved early the next year
1986 - Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff begins work as management consultant
1987 - Congress approves funding and scope of project
1988 - Final design process under way
1989 - Preliminary/final design and environmental review continue.
1990 - Congress allocates $755 million to project
1991 - Federal Highway Administration issues Record of Decision, the construction go-ahead

- Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement/Report (FSEIS/R) approved

- Construction contracts advertised and awarded

- Construction begins on Ted Williams Tunnel and South Boston Haul Road

1992 - More than $1 billion in design and construction contracts underway

- Dredging and blasting for the Ted Williams Tunnel are ongoing

- Downtown utility relocation to clear path for Central Artery Tunnel construction begins

- Archaeologists find 17th and 18th-century artifacts at a North End dig

1993 - South Boston Haul Road opens

- All 12 tube sections for Ted William Tunnel placed and connected on harbor floor

1994 - Charled River Crossing revised design and related FSEIS/R approved
1995 - Ted Williams Tunnel opens to commercial traffic
1996 - Downtown slurry work under way for I-93 tunnels
1997 - Utility work 80% completed
1998 - Enter peak construction years

- Construction begins on the Charles River Crossing

1999 - Construction 50% complete
2000 - Close to 5,000 workers employed on the Big Dig
2001 - Construction 70% complete
2002 - Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge completed
2003 - I-93 Northbound opens in March

- I-93 Southbound opens in December

2004 - Dismantling of the elevated Central Artery (I-93)
2005 - Full opening of I-93 South
2006 - Reached majority completion of the Central Artery/Tunnel project in January
2007 - Construction on development parcels continues after Central Artery/Tunnel Project completes

Risk[edit | edit source]

The implementation of adequate project management plans, techniques, and practices is vital for the overall success of the project. The construction of the megaprojects comes with inherent risks and Big Dig being one of the most technically challenging projects in the United States had several risks associated with it. The complexity of the project is evident from the fact that it includes, “the deepest underwater connection, the largest slurry-wall application in North America, unprecedented ground freezing, extensive deep-soil mixing programs to stabilize Boston’s soils, the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge, and the largest tunnel-ventilation system in the world” [3]. Extensive risk assessments and environmental feasibility studies were therefore conducted before the commencement of the project.

Several programs and innovative tools were used to mitigate the overall risk associated with the Central Artery/Tunnel Project. The Safety and Health Awards for Recognized Excellence (SHARE) program integrated risk management practices to reduce and prevent the occurrence of accidents. Additionally, the Community and Business Artery Public Awareness Program had several meetings to address project-related issues [4]. The owner-controlled insurance program (OCIP) was also implemented, which provided coverage for contractors and designers [4]. In addition to the OCIP, an integrated audit program was adopted which identified and mitigated project delays [3]. The project still faced several issues regardless of implementing all of the risk management practices. These issues contributed to the significant increase in the overall cost of the project.

There were tremendous risks associated with the construction of the Big Dig and some of these risks were difficult to identify in a timely manner. These unanticipated risks detrimentally impacted the cost, schedule, and scope of the project. Additionally, the last drawing package was provided to the bidders only five days before the contract was awarded and consisted of plans and drawings which were considerably incomplete [2]. As a result, it became impossible to quantify potential risks during the planning stage of the project and to accurately determine the cost and the schedule.

The Big Dig Project did not achieve project deliverables and goals in a timely manner because the initial “project management plan was based on flawed engineering specifications” [1]. This is evident by the fact, that only aerial photographs and “as-built” drawings were used for the preliminary site assessment instead of surveying the central artery. According to Anthony Lancellotti, an engineering manager at Bechtel, the company undertook a calculated risk by not surveying the site as the available drawing and photographs seemed sufficient for the project [2]. Contract documents show that this undertaken risk resulted in several change orders and claims [3].

The excavation of the site leads to the discovery of uncharted utilities, 150-year-old revolutionary-era sites, and weak soil. To prevent the utilities from getting damaged the Big Dig utility program relocated the utility lines [3]. The risk of damaging the utilities was still high because not all of the utilities were shown on “as-built” drawings. Additionally, a high risk was associated with damaging the infrastructure due to the building’s foundations being in close proximity to the construction site [3]. Any damage to the infrastructure had the potential of closing Boston’s major financial center and detrimentally impacting the region’s economy.

There were significant risks with respect to the construction and the installation of six concrete immersed tube tunnel sections under Fort Point Channel [5]. Virginia Greiman denotes that these sections were floated to their desired locations through the use of GPS [4]. Afterward, they were lowered below the surface of the channel and then supported by 110 steel reinforced caissons. These caissons and tubes were fitted together within 1/16 inch of perfection, therefore it meant there was no room for errors. There was also the risk of the tunnel section dislodging and collapsing on the existing subway, as these sections lie exactly 4 feet above the existing subway system. All of these risks were proactively managed by installing the tunnel section Line during the nonpeak hours and by doubling the insurance coverage. Furthermore, gates were installed to separate the subway line and the main train station, and barges with clay were also available nearby to quickly fill a potential leak in the tunnel wall [4].

Things Gone Wrong[edit | edit source]

The original design of the Charlestown Bridge proposed the use of 30 meters 100 ft highway ramps which was sued by the city of Cambridge for redesign. This forced the planners to come up with an alternative redesign. The redesign completed by Swiss engineer Christian Menn featured the cable-stayed bridge 436 meters and 1432 ft. in length, which is the widest cable-stayed bridge in the country.

The biggest obstacle that the project faced was that it had to be completed without a single disturbance to traffic flowing above the ground, which meant no homes, business, or subway systems would be demolished, rerouted, or stopped.  Local residents were not happy with the ongoing noise of the construction and protests to demand that a mandatory silence period be met. Local support for the project dimmed as time passed. This was compromised with a no construction period between 9PM to 5AM which affected the project’s deadline and caused a major delay for the completion.  

No digging

During the onset of the project, twelve I-90 connector steel sections were shipped out from Baltimore which needed to be matched exactly into the dugout trench in the tight-spaced and dark waters of the Boston Harbor. However, once they arrived the steel sections were three feet nine inches too short and did not completely fit in the floor of the harbor. The planners had to build a steel and concrete extension at the South Boston side to meet the short form steel box.  

Next, the central artery I-93 was to be tunneled underground however, the soft earth mixed with landfills was unstable to drill so planners decided to build a horizontal tunnel to minimize risk. In building the support system, a 37-meter 120 ft deep concrete wall using a slurry technique to support the underground tunnel was built. 2.9  million cubic meters of concrete was used for the wall. However, contractors did not remove gravel and debris before pouring the concrete which caused thousands of leaks later on. This also led to several lawsuits for providing substandard materials for the project which resulted in six employees being arrested and charged with defrauding the US in which a 50-million-dollar settlement was reached.

Additionally, lighting fixtures that were installed in the tunnel were faulty and fell which cost 50 million dollars to replace. Furthermore, “Ginsu Guardrails” were safety rails within the tunnels with squared off edges that allegedly caused eight deaths of ejected victims of crash accidents. These guardrails were removed by the state but only on the curved sections of the path.

During the digging, colonial artifacts were found which led to a pause in the digging to allow the artifacts to be recovered.  This led to significant delays in project deadlines. Environmentalists were concerned that the underground digging would disrupt the rat population underground, forcing them onto the surface.

Perhaps the worst of all was in 2006 when a 24-ton concrete paneling fell onto a passing car immediately killing the passenger and seriously injuring her driving husband. The concrete panel failing was due to the misuse of the epoxy glue which was not intended for long term use. In response, governor Mitt Romney ordered a full safety audit for the tunnel reopening all sections in June the following year.

Five years into the project, the tunnel had to be passed above the red line subway built in 1914 underneath the Fort Point Channel. The team excavated the existing channel until four feet remained to build 110 concrete foundations around the red line such that the tunnel was supported above it. The initial plan was to redirect the railway lines but that plan was quickly changed. In September of 2001, there was a massive leak in the tunnel section in Fort Point Channel causing 70,000 gallons of the Atlantic ocean in every minute. The most immediate threat was towards the tunnel section that was proximate to the red line subway which carried 218,000 commuters every day. The casting basin and tunnel were flooded to equalize the pressure from the leak and prevent the tunnel sections from becoming dislodged.

Political Issues[edit | edit source]

Acquiring Funding[edit | edit source]

Though many might argue that the Big Dig was an engineering solution that should not be politicized, the project was inevitably a highly political issue. Though the designing and logistics of the project were complex, getting enough political support to appropriate funds to the project added another layer of issues to the project.

The project was originally conceived in the 1970s, the brainchild of then Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and Secretary of Transportation Frederick Salvucci, and both knew that Massachusetts would need federal funds to begin the project. The first attempt to gain financing for the project was in 1976, when then House Majority Leader Tip O’Neill inserted initial funding for the project into federal highway legislation. Despite this initial funding, the first ask for major federal funds to actually begin the project did not occur until more than decade later, in 1987. President Ronald Reagan greatly opposed the Big Dig, opposing it on financial grounds, stating that “...I remain firm in my pledge to the American taxpayers to speak out against such budgetary excesses…” [6] and went on to veto highway legislation that included funding for the Big Dig. Despite this, the Senate overrode his veto, and the Big Dig was financed for the first time.

This was not the end of funding issues, however, and the initial funding would not come close to covering all the costs the Big Dig would eventually incur.

Political Opposition[edit | edit source]

The Big Dig was unpopular amongst many outside the project, particularly after the project began and the true cost of the project began to balloon. In the late 1990s, after the estimated cost of the project reached the ten billion mark and “a whopping $1 billion a mile”[7] , opponents to Big Dig, primarily congressional Republicans, asked for a federal spending cap to be put in place.

A leading opponent of federal funding for the Big Dig was Virginia Representative Frank Wolf, who called on the US Department of Transportation to cap off federal Big Dig spending. He stated “...The cap would not be done in a way to hurt Massachusetts…” in 1996, a grave foreshadowing to the extensive debt the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would incur to complete the project.

In the end, federal opponents got their way. The US federal government would, around the turn of the millennium, no longer fund the Big Dig beyond what it had already provided in grants. Though the opposition never stopped the construction of the Big Dig - that was never their goal - the remaining responsibility was on Massachusetts and Boston entirely [8].

Financing and Funding the Project - Cost Overruns[edit | edit source]

The Big Dig was a completely publicly financed project, with a range of funding coming from state, federal and local sources in proportions that varied by year, administration and by the project’s outlook, and in amounts that ended up to never be enough. The project was intended to cost a mere six billion dollars when given final approval in 1990, 90% of that funding was to come from federal grants [49]. An initial 755 million dollars was approved that year to begin the project, though almost immediately the beginning of construction was delayed [50]. In fact, the project was already delayed since being originally proposed in the 80s, but the Reagan Administration delayed funding for the project. This resulted in the original cost estimate of six billion to already be inaccurate by 1990 [51] [52] The price tag only continued to inflate from there. From the original six billion dollar price tag, the total cost (including seven billion dollars in interest to be paid on debt eventually incurred by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) totals to be 22 billion dollars, which is project to be paid off at last in 2038 [53]. The cost overrun came from several areas [54].

Technical issues[edit | edit source]

The Big Dig was extraordinarily complex, requiring new techniques such as freezing the earth to safely tunnel or using slurry to construct the tunnel walls, as well as issues resulting from the construction, such as archeological examinations whenever the project ran into pieces of Boston’s history. There was also the issue of acquiring land for the project, though much of the project was on government owned property, frequently the project would require “staging areas” for large sections of the project, such as creating a casting area to manufacture tunnel sections on site.

Mitigations[edit | edit source]

Despite the benefits the project would eventually bring, the Big Dig was unpopular or heavily critiqued. This would include residents complaining about noise from the 24 hour construction or environmentalists complaining about destroyed wetlands. To mitigate these issues, the project spent nearly three billion dollars relieving various complaints, accommodating locals, or even, as Michael Fein of Johnson and Wales University provides an example of: “When the project destroyed wetlands, project managers agreed to build a park elsewhere.”

Projects like these, or installing soundproof windows, or improving streetscape because of a resident’s needs, cost millions of dollars each. Though a million dollars from a fifteen billion dollar project is almost a rounding error, many small projects began to add up.

Political Issues and Public Project Philosophy[edit | edit source]

Frederick Salvucci, the visionary and de facto leader of the project, credits the delays and ballooning costs to a change in administration and political philosophy in 1991, when Bill Weld became Governor of Massachusetts. Salvucci notes that, after the change in leadership, reconsiderations of the project’s scope and design, privatization of key actors in the project and what Salvucci described as a “...[lack] of capacity to make informed judgements”, led to delays, internal conflicts, and further impact studies that themselves delayed the project and added further costs.

Furthermore, Salvucci notes that once cost issues began to arise, the Weld administration resorted to “creative financing”, and, Salvucci claims, “[t]here was no honest disclosure of problems at the earliest possible moment to search for solutions, problems were hidden for as long as possible to the point in time that no options were available” [55]. These delays, build up of problems, lack of project efficiency and organization due to restructuring and lack of transparency further added to the inflated cost, though an exact dollar estimate is unknown.

Another issue had to do with a change in philosophy of the process of the project. Whereas in the 1960s when the Central Artery was originally constructed, public officials and highway designers had no qualms with tearing down residences and dislocating 20,000 locals for the benefit of the project. This cheap, goal-driven process was not shared by those who sought to replace the Central Artery. They saw the philosophy of the original project as Machiavellian and sought to approach the replacement much more as a “friendly neighbor”. This meant: not disturbing traffic, not destroying private property that would otherwise make the project easier if it was removed, and maintaining the day to day routines of the city. The challenge was made: build a highway as you drive on it.

Redesigns[edit | edit source]

One final issue that led to the cost overruns was the constant redesigns that plagued the project from the start. Rather than settling on one design and committing to it, various actors involved in the project pressured, proposed or demanded minor to significant redesigns of various aspects of the project. One such example was the Federal Highway Administration threatening to cut off federal funds until the central artery was widened for future road demand. Some redesigns were political in nature, others were pragmatic, more were small and resulted from technical challenges, safety necessities or succumbing to resident demand. All in all, redesigns cost an additional three billion dollars.

Debt[edit | edit source]

On the issue of debt, Massachusetts has dug themselves quite a big hole, if you’ll excuse the pun. Particularly in the early years after the completion of the Big Dig, Massachusetts found itself into a precarious financial situation. With 22 billion in debt, the state was forced to take away funding from other projects to service bonds floated for the project. This led to a “kicking the can” situation, where other capital improvements are in desperate need of attention, and initiating those projects will require more debt to be floated. This led the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be in a rather precarious situation, as they found themselves (in 2008) to have the highest debt per capita of any state, and it spends 38% of its highway budget on debt services, compared to a national median of 6% [56] . The issues are troubling, however it does not appear as though the Commonwealth has capitulated under this debt.

Local Concerns and Mitigation[edit | edit source]

Despite the benefits to the environment, to traffic and to the urban fabric of Boston that the Big Dig promised, the project faced layers of opposition. Local residents complained about the noise and other disturbances caused by constant construction, day and night, for years on end. Environmentalists complained about various impacts construction would have on the environment. Businesses in Boston feared that construction or any delays to the highway the Big Dig was replacing would disrupt commercial traffic in the city.

These various groups had, through various mediums, the power to disrupt, delay or terminate the Big Dig as a project, despite the project having already begun. The actors behind the project could not allow this to happen, and with no easy solution to solve every groups complaints, the project had to resort to mitigations and promises. For locals, the Big Dig funded soundproofed windows and even new mattresses that absorbed vibrations from construction. For the environmentalists: green space on top of the highway tunnel, and using excavated soil to make a new harbor park in Boston. For businesses: early on the promise was made that the central artery would not be closed, ever, while construction was ongoing.

These various mitigations may seem preposterous and even crony, yet they worked. Despite the headaches caused by the construction of the project, political opposition and the occasional local adamantly opposing the project, “more than 80 percent of Boston residents and nearly two-thirds of state residents supported the Big Dig” [57], leading to continued support. One striking example of mitigation was nearly one billion dollars spent to rework the planned bridge that was opposed by residents, business owners and the City of Cambridge. Despite the fact that the bridge (likely) was perfectly fine, the project had to maintain popular support, and as a result the bridge was redesigned at great cost.

These various mitigations added up. In addition to the one billion spent on bridge reworking, the overall costs of mitigation added up to be a third of the Big Dig’s overall price tag, roughly five billion dollars.

One striking example of mitigation was nearly one billion dollars spent to rework the planned bridge that was opposed by residents, business owners and the City of Cambridge. Despite the fact that the bridge (likely) was perfectly fine, the project had to maintain popular support, and as a result the bridge was redesigned at great cost. These various mitigations added up. In addition to the one billion spent on bridge reworking, the overall costs of mitigation added up to be a third of the Big Dig’s overall price tag, roughly five billion dollars.

Effects of the Big Dig[edit | edit source]

The Big Dig met (and in some cases exceeded) its goals. Traffic flow was improved 62%, while saving nearly $170 million a year in reduced vehicle operating costs and reduced time spent in traffic. There has also been a marked improvement in air quality, with a 12% reduction in air pollution. This couples with the increased green space, with more than 315 acres of new park space open to the public where the Central Artery once ran.

The Big Dig has also seen improved investment in downtown Boston, particularly in the Back Bay and South Boston Seaport areas that were once cut off by the elevated Central Artery. Over $7 billion in urban investment has been committed to these areas, including 7,700 housing units, millions of square feet of commercial space and an estimated 43,000, compared to the construction of the Central Artery which displaced 20,000 residents during construction. The full benefits to the city are yet to be realized and will continue to unfold as long as the Big Dig is utilized and Boston exists as a city [58].

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

  • Was the Big Dig worth its cost?
  • Would Boston have been better off pursuing some other alternative?
  • What alternatives could have been proposed?
  • What should the Big Dig have done differently?

Additional Readings[edit | edit source]

From YouTube:

This is a short documentary, primarily on the construction of the project. It does not go into detail about certain issues, but it provides a comprehensive overview of the project.

References[edit | edit source]

1) “Project Manager's Handbook.” Edited by David I Cleland and Lewis R Ireland, McGraw Hill, 2008,'s%20Project%20Manager's%20Handbook.pdf#page=254.

2) Lewis , Raphael, and Sean Murph. “Artery Errors Cost More than $1b.”, The Boston Globe, 2003,

3) Greiman, Virginia. “The Big Dig .” NASA, 2020,

4) Greiman, Virginia A. Megaproject Management: Lessons On Risk and Project Management from the Big Dig. Wiley, 2013.

5) Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “The Big Dig: Facts and Figures.”,

















Gotthard Base Tunnel

This casebook is a case study on the Gotthard Base Tunnel by Handan Karaman, Maram Ayasou, Abdulrahman Leila, and Zainab Syed as part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-004 (Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government) / CEIE 499-001 (Special Topics in Civil Engineering) Spring 2022 course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering.

DISCLAIMER: The information presented in this wikibook is for academic purposes only and has no goal beyond presenting what has been learned. Any views presented in this wikibook are the views of their respective writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of our professor, Dr. Gifford, or that of our institution, George Mason University.

Summary of the Gotthard Base Tunnel[edit | edit source]

Gotthard base tunnel (GBT) is the longest and deepest underground railway tunnel in the world. At 57 kilometers long, it runs through the Alps in Switzerland and is connected to the Gotthard railway system which is part of an international railway system connecting northern Europe [2].

The GBT was officially open to public use in 2016, and its main purpose is to shorten the time it takes from southern to northern Switzerland [2].Originally, there was a winding mountain road going over the Alps and the Gotthard tunnel (1882), but due to the road and tunnel reaching their capacity over time, the need for GBT was introduced. The GBT railway can travel up to 250 kilometers per hour, reducing passenger travel time by 1 hour, and can transport up to 3,600 tonnes of cargo, crossing through 16% of the European Union's GDP economic area [18].

Actors[edit | edit source]

  • AlpTransit Gotthard AG was responsible for construction, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Swiss Federal Railways (SSB CFF FFS) [12]
  • The Gotthard tunnel project was funded by Swiss Taxpayers and fees on trucks. [13]
  • Design Engineer was Louis Favre [14]
  • Alfred Escher was the rail tycoon leading the first mountain route [7]
  • Architect was Mario Botta [12]

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

Gotthard Base Tunnel, Switzerland - Railway Technology

  • Construction(drilling) for the base tunnel begins (1999) [7]
  • Geology and surveying done (26 November 2000) [7]
  • The new railway system that was installed is tested (2005) [7]
  • Base tunnel breakthrough: After 4 years of construction the tunnel boring reaches 13.5 km (2006) [7]
  • 115 km of rail tracks were placed (30 October, 2014) [7]
  • Railways safety tests were conducted (30 September 2015) [7]
  • Gotthard Base Tunnel opens to the public. (1 June 2016) [7]
  • Referendum for a second Gotthard tunnel due to demand. Approved by 57% to 43%. (2016) [4]

Benefits[edit | edit source]

Four Herrenknecht Gripper TBMs conquered the mountain using mechanized tunneling technology, shattering speed and length records in the process. The Gotthard Base Tunnel, which is 57 kilometers long, connects Erstfeld with Bodio today. The world's longest railway tunnel opened its doors on June 1, 2016. It connects Switzerland and Europe by forming the center of the New Alpine Transversal (NEAT). [11]

The main breakthrough at the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which occurred on March 23, 2011 in the Western tunnel and on October 15, 2010 in the Eastern tunnel, was the most critical step toward completing the world's longest railway tunnel. Switzerland is connecting northern and southern Europe by train via the Alps with the two-times 57-kilometer long epoch-making project. More than 85 kilometers of the major tubes have been excavated and secured using Herrenknecht Gripper tunnel boring machines. [11]

The first high-speed trains will pass through the Gotthard Base Tunnel at speeds of 200 to 250 kilometers per hour by the end of 2016. The journey time from Zurich to Milan will be reduced by one hour to 2 hours and 40 minutes once the NEAT is fully operational. Swiss Railways expects to reduce freight transit times in particular, marking yet another significant improvement in traffic logistics between Germany and Italy. Trans-Alpine rail travel is entering a new era. Setting out from Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse for a morning of leisurely shopping in Milan's beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and returning the same afternoon with shopping bags brimming with the best Italian designer apparel. This isn't a dream. This dream is coming to fruitionott. [11]

A one-of-a-kind, historic project - the contraction of the new Gotthard Base Tunnel, as well as the Ceneri and Zimmerberg Base Tunnels - will make this rapid trip between the two commercial areas possible. Two single-lane tunnel tubes will cross the Alpine range from valley floor to valley floor, as it were on an almost level track, with a length of 57 kilometers and a maximum altitude of 55 meters above sea level, i.e. truly at the door of the St.Gotthard mountain. This will put an end to fright train travel that was so sluggish that passengers could virtually pick the flowers along the way, and it would eliminate the need for double locomotives to move freight trains up severe gradients. [11]

Risks[edit | edit source]

The visionaries of the GBT were well aware of the massive undertaking they were suggesting. Never before had a railway been dug through such depths of a mountain, and definitely not to the extensive length the railway covers. However, perhaps they didn’t anticipate the variety of risks and consequential setbacks the project would face and which led to the construction of the project being completed almost 50 years after its conception.

Safety: The biggest factor of concern for engineers working on the GBT was safety. Throughout the planning of the railway’s design, special attention was given to the safety of the construction workers, as well as of the future passengers of the railway. With the railway design itself, given that one section of the tunnel would have 2,300 feet of mountain on top of it, structural and geotechnical engineers worked together to ensure safety was not compromised [18]. From a structural engineering standpoint, the accessibility limitations of analyzing how much weight would be contributed from the mountain itself, the living and dead loads on the railway, and the speed the train would travel at were initially difficult to determine. For geotechnical engineers, the type of matter the mountain is made up and determining the tunnel’s material, factoring for erosion and settling, and other necessary components were considered. One technique to mitigate the overall safety risks to construction workers was construction of the tunnel system in smaller phases, with the completion of each phase providing guidelines for refinements to design plans of the following sections [6]. The use of boring machines also eliminated much of the risk for construction workers and engineers as they had to spend less time underneath the tunnel during construction [1].

Cost: The initial budget proposed for the GBT section of the project was $10 billion in 1992 [15]. However, as further advancements in safety features and technology emerged, it was quickly realized that an increase to the budget would be needed to ensure the project remained efficient and sustainable. This led to the need for a vote to approve a new total budget of $15.5 billion in 1998, with official construction of the tunnel beginning in 1999 [17]. Initial opponents of the project tried swaying the election in their favor and discourage public approval of further spending on the GBT, but the budget was approved, and construction and planning for the GBT resumed. Cost continued to be a recurring issue for the tunnel throughout the completion of its construction, as additional issues on who, how, and what would be paid for, considering the extensive network the NRLA would pass through. Eventually, the final cost of the GBT upon its completion in 2016 was an estimated $24 billion, well over the original budget [17]. Though cost was an immense factor in the implementation of the project, given its massive scale, the projected economic, social, and sustainability benefits well justify the costs incurred.

The successful completion of the GBT shows that even with such monumental risks, such engineering feats are possible, and now paves the way for similar projects in other regions to expand their intercontinental and regional railways.

Maintenance[edit | edit source]

Despite the fact that the Gotthard Base Tunnel is designed to endure over a century, the world's largest and most complicated tunnel system requires routine maintenance. Currently, maintenance is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday evenings (closed for eight hours) and Monday nights (closed for six hours).

Cleaning of drainage systems (the tunnel contains 500 kilometers of drainpipes), electro-mechanical installations, tunnel ventilation, cross-passage doors, and railway infrastructure track, contact lines, and safety systems, among other things, are all part of routine maintenance.[8]

308 kilometers of tracks, 153 kilometers of catenary, 7,200 lights, 500 kilometers of drainpipes, and 2,200 electrical cabinets are made up of two 57-kilometer single-track tunnels and 13 kilometers of newly built overground lines. These are only a handful of the figures that show how large and sophisticated the GBT and its facilities are. Maintaining the world's longest railway tunnel is a huge undertaking. There are just two entrances to the 57-kilometer-long subterranean tubes.

Each time maintenance work is performed, a tunnel tube is closed for three nights. Up to eleven workplaces are relocated from the new maintenance and intervention centres (MIC) in Biasca and Erstfeld to the GBT during this time, where they are built up, put into service, then vacated and transferred back. SBB requires tunnel maintenance vehicles, which are made up of several partial trains that split into smaller units after entering the tunnel and are assigned to various workstations.

The first six vehicles are part of a batch of thirteen base maintenance trucks. Each machine can be powered by overhead electricity or a combination of diesel and electricity.

Each 80-tonne vehicle comes with a crane and an air-conditioned people module with a kitchen and a combustion toilet. The base vehicles can be controlled remotely or from the driver's cab. They can be managed from other wagons as well.

Harsco also offers flat wagons that can be joined with an automatic coupler to build maintenance trains that are 300-440 meters long. The wagons include lifting platforms and a "unique moveable sealing gate" that can seal the tunnel to reduce wind turbulence during maintenance work, according to Harsco. The trucks will be stationed in Erstfeld and Biasco, respectively, at new tunnel maintenance centers.

Funding and Financing[edit | edit source]

A new finance model was developed as a result of the extensive discussion, and it was the subject of a popular vote on November 29th, 1998. The Swiss people approved the FinöV Fund for the funding of public transportation infrastructure (with a budget of 30 billion Swiss Francs) with a 63.5 percent "Yes" vote. 3.8 billion Swiss Francs (45 percent of the FinöV, price level 1998) were set aside to cover the NRLA's construction "à fond perdu" (lost money). Only 25% of the investment had to be financed on the private capital market due to the FinöV contribution, which represented well over 75% of the total necessary credit.

As in previous finance models, the future operator, the Swiss Federal Railways, would be responsible for repaying this portion of the investment. In 2005, however, the repayment of this portion was agreed to be waived. [9] Only 25% of the investment had to be financed on the private capital market because the FinöV contribution represented around 75% of the total necessary credit. As in previous financing models, this portion of the investment would be repaid by the future operator—the SBB-CFF-FFS. The project finance strategy enabled a clear and secure financing of the entire project from the start, regardless of the existing state budget or any political changes, preventing potential construction delays or stoppage owing to a lack of financial resources or political consensus. The Gotthard project's success hinged on the availability of reliable finance. As the constructor, ATG was responsible for two control circuits:    

(1) Project and cost management in relation to the project sponsor, the federal government;

(2) Project and cost management in relation to their vendors.

The contract between the Swiss Federal Government and ATG controlled the order placed by the Swiss Federal Government. The cost-management process was set up in general with the goal of achieving the NRLA Controlling Instructions (NCI), which outlined the critical control figures as well as the kind and frequency of reporting (every six months) and how to handle variances.

To guarantee that all project modifications could be handled and recorded in a clear and intelligible manner, a management system for engineering changes had to be updated on a regular basis. The approvals duties were clearly defined so that the essential choices could be taken at the correct time for the proper stage. Variations in performance that impacted costs and timeframes could usually only be applied after the objectives had been adjusted. The Swiss Federal Office of Transportation (FOT) was alerted in an incident report if a performance variation had to be imposed promptly for scheduling considerations.

ATG might seek for a change to the project terms when the Swiss FOT approves a change request. The major issues that led to updates of the cost reference basis were: project upgrading to incorporate new safety measures and state-of-the-art technologies (due to the project's two-decade duration); extra costs related to geology (situations with worse geological and geotechnical conditions than expected were the most impactful here, while other situations had more favorable geological and geotechnical conditions than expected); and cost overruns (due to the project's two-decade duration).

ATG tracked the progress of the likely final costs and any financial hazards on a quarterly basis and reported to the control authority every six months. The rise in credit for the Gotthard Base Tunnel alone—from 6.3 billion CHF to 9.9 billion CHF (half of the above-mentioned 13.8 billion CHF), or 53 percent without inflation—was not predicted, but it was still noteworthy. Variations stemming from orders made by the Swiss FOT, which continually tried to create a tunnel with state-of-the-art safety features and technology, accounted for about half of the additional expenses. Ground dangers, which could not be directly influenced, accounted for just 9% of the entire increase, or a sixth of the whole rise.

Policy[edit | edit source]


  1. NRLA Proposal for a budget of 3.8 billion Swiss Francs(53.4% voted “YES”)
  2. Alps initiative to protect the Alpine environment (51.9% voted“YES”)
  3. Public Transport Funding of 30 billion Swiss Francs (63.5% voted “YES”)
  4. Bilateral EU Agreements / 40-tonne Trucks / Heavy Traffic Fee (67.2% voted ‘YES”)
  5. Referendum for a second Gotthard tunnel due to demand (57% voted “YES”)

Although Switzerland is often coined as a neutral player in the political arena, the country still took great strides in persuading its own public and neighboring nations of the economic, social, and environmental benefits the Gotthard Base Tunnel would bring to the European continent. The Gotthard Committee was originally set up in 1853, named after the Gotthard mountain range and the shared interest in its development. The committee, which is still active today, was instrumental in persuading stakeholders,, such as cities, transportation associations, companies, and cantons, to promote the first mountain route and eventually the New Railway Link through the Alps (NRLA) seen today. [15]

Regional Politics

At the forefront of the Swiss political strategy is its federalism, or its approach to finding compromises to keep all participants in the Gotthard project satisfied. [15] Switzerland is comprised of 26 cantons, or federal states, each of which has its own cultures and political interests, and has full autonomy over its region's education, healthcare, law enforcement, taxes, and social welfare systems. This separation of power from the Swiss Federal Constitution, and Swiss direct democracy in national elections on public policies, often made it almost impossible for policies to be passed due to strong lobbying committees and public influence driving elections. As such, only 13 of the 26 cantons are part of the Gotthard Committee; However, the tunnel still being approved by the public came from its connection to another long Alpine tunnel, the Lotschberg, which was key to speeding up rail traffic from the western end of the country, along with improving connections in the northeast. The approval also came in part by the nationalization of the country’s 5 biggest railway companies, the last of which was the Gotthard Railway Company in 1909. [16] This shows the power of political lobbying in Swiss federalism and transport policy. [17] Ultimately, in 1998, a majority of the cantons approved the Federal Decree on the Construction and Financing of Public Transport Infrastructure Projects, propelling the massive railway project forward for the next 20 years. [15]

Aside from inter-regional politics, Switzerland also had to deal with neighboring countries of Austria, France, Germany, and Italy. As anticipated by the construction of the railway, increase in transportation of people, as well as goods, sparked the attention of Germany, Austria, and Italy specifically, leading to the 1989 congress for European solutions for rail transport across the Alps. [15] The takeaways of this congress, including the emphasis on environmental policy and high potential for economic development across Europe, led to the 1992 meeting of Switzerland and the European Economic Community (EEC), putting Switzerland as a vital point in European transport policy. The approval of the NRLA by the EEC was before even the Swiss public could approve of it, but again showing the social and economic benefits it would bring, aided in its 64% public approval later that year. [16]

Environmental Policies

Railway is a popular mode of transportation primarily for its relatively environmental friendly usage. As environmental issues became bigger concerns for voters, specifically in the 1970s, finding alternative mass transit options aside from cars and road travel became appealing. This came as perfect timing for the Gotthard Tunnel, as the 1971 passage of a new environmental protection article in the Swiss Constitution with 93% voter approval paved the way for the tunnel’s eventual landslide approval in the 1990s. [15] This article focused on the protection of human beings and the natural environment, with realization of the negative impacts of mass motorization and road traffic on ecological health. Gotthard’s later approval stems back to this early campaign among voters for sustainable transportation preservation of the Alpine environment. Later in 1992, a $10 billion construction project, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, was approved by Swiss voters. [17] Then again in 1994, 52% of voters back the Alps Initiative, which called for the Federal Constitution to protect the Alpine region from the negative impact of traffic and stop further road expansions, along with shifting traffic from road to rail. This led to a expedited development of the NRLA and the transport agreement with the EEC in 1999. [16]

Transportation Policies

Public mass transportation, such as high-speed railway, are often overlooked by governments as emphasis shifts towards modernization and optimization of road networks. This was the case for the Gotthard tunnel, as its ridership in 1980 dropped to 10% of passengers, with the remaining travel through the Alps by road instead. Gotthard’s history of being a popular mode of travel for passenger traffic and disproportionate attention to roads instead rose concerns among the Swiss Federal Railway SBB, prompting reevaluation of the federal government’s transport strategy and creating a state rail company. However, it was not all smooth sailing for the NRLA, for in 1992, Swiss voters rejected joining the European Economic Area, with implications on how goods traffic would be shifted from road to rail. The EEC demanded a renegotiation of the transport policy decisions, with a final bilateral agreement being made in 2000. [15]

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

  1. Do you believe that this project was successful/efficient?
  2. Do you believe a second tunnel should be added right next to the GBT?

References[edit | edit source]

- "New Bözberg Tunnel: Structural Measures When Tunnelling in Squeezing Rock.” Tunnel, [1]

- “The Gotthard Base Tunnel.” SBB, [2]

- More from this author See All cmsadmin Allez le Tram, et al. “Gotthard Base Tunnel, Switzerland.” Railway Technology, 17 Sept. 2021, [3]

- “Setback for Alps as Swiss Tunnel Referendum Passed.” Transport & Environment, 29 Mar. 2016, [4]

- “View the Construction of the 57 Kilometers Long Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., [5]

- The Gotthard Base Tunnel, [6]

- “Alptransit Portal.” Construction | Alptransit Portal, [7]

- “Science behind the Megastructures: Gotthard Base Tunnel.” Encardio Rite, 27 Jan. 2021, [8]

- Lombardi. [9]

- Risk, Contract Management, and Financing of the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland, [10]

- Gotthard Base Tunnel - Herrenknecht AG, [11]

- “Gotthard Base Tunnel.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Mar. 2022, [12]

- “After 17 Years and $12 Billion, Switzerland Inaugurates World's Longest Rail Tunnel.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 1 June 2016, [13]

- “Gotthard Tunnel.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Feb. 2022, [14]

- Bondolfi, Sibilla. “Democracy Made World's Longest Tunnel Possible.” SWI,, 27 Oct. 2017, [15]

- “Swiss Cantons: A Guide to Switzerland's Regions.” Expatica, 2 June 2021, [16]

- Bondolfi, Sibilla. “Democracy Made World's Longest Tunnel Possible.” SWI,, 27 Oct. 2017, [17]

- "Gotthard Base Tunnel’s construction: an amazing project." We Build Value, We Build Value, 27 Sept 2016, [18]

Air Traffic Control System

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Pacific Ocean (May 5, 2006) - On Abraham Lincoln (Aircraft Carrier)

This WikiBook is a case study on the Air Traffic Control System written by Marshall Petit, Roberto Polverino, and Zach Dietz for the Infrastructure: Past, Present, and Future GOVT 490-007/CEIE 499-001 Spring 2022 course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering.

Before we start it's important to know what Air Traffic Control is and its role in flight transportation. Air traffic control includes equipment and ground-based personnel that monitor and control air traffic in specific areas. There are three sections that air traffic control can be split into including: tower control, approach and departure, and en route control [1].

With the number of air passengers expected to double in the next 20 years, according to the International Air Transportation Association [7], air traffic control will have to continue evolving and adapt to the increasing amount of flight passengers and the changing environment around Air Traffic Control infrastructure. This being infrastructure that may be vulnerable to the different technology and conditions the world is experiencing, much like what is being seen with the 5g rollout and the compatibility issues that may hold.

DISCLAIMER: The information presented in this wikibook is for academic purposes only and has no particular goal beyond presenting what has been learned. Any views presented in this wikibook are the views of their respective writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of our professor, Dr. Gifford, or that of our institution, George Mason University.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Air Traffic Control (ATC) is a critical portion of aerospace infrastructure that manages the logistics and safety of air travel in a nation’s airspace. In the United States, the ATC system is operated by a government agency called the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that works within the Department of Transportation (DOT). The act of improving and managing air travel was a concept that members of the aerospace community knew needed to be addressed as early as World War I. The federal government took responsibility for regulating US airspace in 1926 with the Air Commerce Act and created the first organization to manage ATC in the US, the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA), in 1938.

ATC is most commonly recognized as a safety measure for air travel, but it also organizes the airspace of a nation and allows aircraft to safely travel along established pathways, or routes, across an open environment. The current method of organization, along with the tools and strategies it utilizes, has been a stable part of air transportation for about 80 years. It has, however, offered stability that has given its users the ability to maintain its operation and efficiency without the need to evaluate and/or upgrade major portions of its system often. Technological advancement is an issue the FAA faces on two different accounts. First, growing technology in other industries, such as 5G communications, can affect the technology used in ATC. Second, after many years of relying on the same systems since WWII, the need to update the FAA’s own technology to create a safer and more efficient method of organizing air travel has become a cumbersome and costly task that needs to be carried out quickly, but also carefully to recognize the effects that implementation and the new technology have on American communities and the aerospace industry. There are also critics who push to not only overhaul the current system, but to also take responsibility and management out of the federal government’s hands and privatize ATC.

Actors[edit | edit source]

Public Sector:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): A sub-agency of the United States Department of Transportation; it manages the regulation of US airspace.
  • The Air Traffic Organization (ATO): A branch division of the FAA directly charged with managing the operation of ATC.
  • The US Department of Transportation (DOT): The cabinet department of the federal government that the FAA and ATO operate within.
  • Airport Authorities: The groups, individuals, and organizations charged with maintaining the operation of their respective airports across the country. The executives are usually appointed by local government officials.

Private Sector:

  • Airline Corporations: The primary providers of commercial air transportation across the world. While there are four major companies in the United States (United, Delta, Southwest, and American), there are smaller American businesses as well as international airlines that carry passengers and goods through US Airspace.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Wright Brothers (December 17th, 1903)

The first powered flight from the Wright Brothers proved that airplanes could be made and work, but it would not be until 1927 when planes could be used to carry passengers commercially.

Planes of WW2

World War 1 (1914 – 1918)

Trench Warfare in WW1 made reconnaissance difficult, and aviation was the only means of informing allies of enemy whereabouts and plans beyond their trench lines. The use of reconnaissance aviation in WW1 actually sped the development process of planes and aviation technology. People also started to understand the importance of controlling aircraft and how there was a necessity in directing planes so that crashes could be avoided. Cars are a great comparison to what went on with aviation during this time. When automobile technology was first being used there was no means of trying to control and manage traffic in any way until the use of cars became more common.

Transcontinental airmail service (1920)

The transcontinental airmail service was established in 1920. Mail was being flown across the country which expanded aviation to other practical uses that benefit people’s everyday lives. Flight was not possible during the night at this stage and mail had to be placed on trains that then finished off the mailing route. Nighttime travel was then tested on February 22, 1921 when the U.S. Postal Service attempted an experiment to fly mail out at night using bonfires to guide the planes. This experiment consisted of multiple planes, with one that crashed soon after take off resulting in the death of the pilot. This leads us to our first form of air traffic control infrastructure being rotating beacons that ended up replacing the use of bonfires.

Air Commerce Act of 1926

Federal involvement began with the Air Commerce Act of 1926 due to the recognition of increased air traffic and the need of having standards set in order to make flight safer and more controlled. The Air Commerce Act consisted of regulations that involved aircraft inspections, air traffic rules, aircraft requiring certification, and pilots requiring licenses. Airways and navigation aids also came from the Air Commerce Act of 1926.

Radar Antenna

Civil Aeronautics Authority (1938)

In 1938, Congress created the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA), which centralized regulation and execution of air traffic control. This was responsible for concentrating all regulation coming from the federal government into a single agency.

Radar technology (1952)

Radar technology was a primary tool in most flights involving arrival and departure by this time. This was seen as a revolutionary form of technology for air traffic control. The way it worked was through transmission involving beams of radio waves that are electromagnetic. These beams are sent out and reflected by objects. The receiver accepts the energy from the radio waves that return and the time elapsed since that initial transmission began is measured [3].

Federal Aviation Act (1958)

This created what is today known as the Federal Aviation Administration but back then called the Federal Aviation Agency. This allowed the agency to control and oversee safety in aviation for the industry both on the military and civilian side for the United States.

Contract ATC Towers are Introduced (1982)

In 1981, over 12,000 members of a union called the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) began a nationwide strike in retaliation to the FAA. The two parties had failed to reach a collective bargaining agreement that met PATCO’s demands, such as pay raises and reduced work hours, and acknowledged their concerns about the pressure associated with their work. President Ronald Reagan subsequently fired every member of the ATC union that continued to participate after being ordered to return to work in an effort to show that the federal government would not tolerate a strike [19]. The mass release of the FAA’s workforce left the agency with significantly fewer employees and in need of labor from a new source. In 1982, the FAA began a new program to help alleviate its labor issue. The agency transferred its own employees out of ATC towers that regulated very little airspace activity and began hiring contract workers to manage everyday operations in an effort to allocate resources. This policy continues to be carried out by the FAA Contract Tower Program (FCT) [18].

Workforce (Today)

Controllers are on duty for 24hrs and work at more than 350 locations spread out across the United States. There is no room for mistakes in this job since people's lives are in controllers hands. The strain, both mental and physical, is high and new air traffic controllers being hired cannot be older than 31 and are required to retire by the age 56. The FAA hires these controllers directly and once hired they attend training that lasts multiple years. These controllers learn a wide array of skill sets including: communication, equipment functionality, team work, and weather phenomena [8].

Delivery and Technology[edit | edit source]

The Federal Aviation Administration runs the ATC network through 22 Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC) across the United States that handle their own respective region. They are generally headquartered in major cities that are located near the coast (Los Angeles, Oakland), are the biggest metropolises in their given regions (Houston, Chicago), are major travel hub centers through airports (Albuquerque, Cleveland), and/or are near a major military installation (Ft. Worth, Jacksonville) [21].


The radar dish sends out radio waves, which bounce off of objects back to the radar dish, creating “images” of objects and/or weather phenomena in the air. Different radar dishes operate at different frequencies, or “bands”, allowing them to travel at different distances with different degrees of accuracy; the longer the distance, the lower the accuracy. Ex: E-band is long range, K-band is short range. E-band could be used to detect high-altitude aircraft, while K-band could be used to view the location of aircraft and vehicles near the runway during poor weather conditions. Multiple radar bands are used simultaneously to get a full idea of air traffic conditions.


ATC centers and pilots use two-way radios to contact one another. A two-way radio is a radio that can both send and receive transmissions.

In order to communicate by radio

  1. Both radios must be on the same channel
  2. Both radios must be on the same frequency
  3. Both radios must be on the same of either plain text or cipher text
    • Plain text is unencrypted, meaning the data being transmitted is unchanged
    • Ciphertext is encrypted, meaning the data is scrambled.
      • If using ciphertext, each radio must be loaded with the same encryption key, otherwise they will be unable to unscramble communications.
  4. Line of sight between radios must be achieved. This can either be direct line of sight, where the ATC operator’s and pilot’s radios can directly see one another, or through a “webbed” line of sight, where communications bounce from radio to radio until they reach their destination. The latter could be required during adverse weather conditions, such as when a stormcloud blocks direct line of sight between an ATC tower and a plane.

Most radios will be of the analog variety, or the typical radio you would imagine since World War II. The further the signal goes, the less clear it is, and only one person can communicate on any given frequency at a time. At the same time, these radios are easy to use, reliable, and cheap to manufacture. Newer radios are digital radios, which change your voice into binary (the computer language of 1s and 0s). Binary is simpler than audio data, and as such can be transmitted over further distances more efficiently and with less loss. As such, digital radios tend to have clearer audio. Digital radios are a newer technology, so they are not as widespread. They are also much more expensive than analog radios, and the extra cost is often not worth the increased benefits when analog radios are still capable of doing the job well [20].

Finances of Air Traffic Control[edit | edit source]

As with most divisions of the federal government, the FAA’s annual budget is requested by the Presidency as part of the Department of Transportation’s overall budget and determined and allocated by Congress. The budget process is an intricate and cumbersome procedure that begins with the President sending a detailed budget request to Congress by the first Monday February. Congress then sends the request to budget committees in the House and the Senate, who create a resolution that sets amounts for mandatory and discretionary spending and must be passed with a majority vote by April 15th. Once passed, Congress will send the resolution to be reviewed by each chambers’ appropriation committees, who will each then send the resolution to twelve subcommittees, each overseeing the budget for a particular agency and/or field of government. These subcommittees will debate amongst themselves and consult experts and agency officials to determine how much spending will be allocated to each agency of the government and what it will be used for. The subcommittees then write their decisions into appropriations bills for the chambers to vote on. All appropriations bills must be passed by the start of the federal fiscal year on October 1st or the government will shut down [13].

In the 2021 fiscal year, the FAA has been granted a total budget of nearly $18 billion, about $14.6 billion of which is regarded as discretionary funds, meaning the FAA can choose what to dedicate most of its money towards (DOT, page Budget Summary Tables 2). More than $8.2 billion has been dedicated to operations of the Air Traffic Organization, roughly $5.9 billion covering salaries and expenses while more than $2.3 billion will pay for actual program costs (DOT, page Operations- Air Traffic Organization 1). Roughly $993 million is dedicated towards the implementation of NextGen, with roughly $794 million funding the facilities and equipment costs, such as weather programs, implementation portfolios, and new systems for unmanned aircraft (DOT, page Budget Summary Tables 12) [12].

Lessons[edit | edit source]

Grand Canyon Collision (1956)

A common theme throughout this retrospective look at air traffic control is the evolution of flight technology due to tragic mistakes that resulted from carelessness or inadequate resources. One of these examples was the collision of two planes over the grand canyon in 1956 which resulted in 128 casualties. Policy acts accordingly in response to any outrage or feedback on an event, and sadly it takes a tragic incident in order for progress to be made for many cases. Because of the incident that occurred over the grand canyon, the government responded by implementing the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 which allowed for the Federal Aviation Agency to take full, consolidated responsibility over both the military and civil air and traffic control system. Congress also used roughly $250 million to fund the improvement of radar technology because of that incident. This tragic event that occurred over the grand canyon in many ways initiated the death of flying’s freedom [2]. What is meant by this is that the rise of mid-air collisions paved the way for a more interconnected system that used radar and communication technology to have control over the skies and not just treat it like an open area where anyone can occupy the space. The problem with the old system was that it lacked control and surveillance. The air traffic control system we have today makes sure that the skies are watched and controlled using this interconnected and complex network.

After seeing the change in air traffic control over the U.S, it is important to also recognize that evolving isn't always the correct step forward and sometimes the situation calls for other ways of dealing with a problem. Much like the complicated situation that's being seen with 5G rollout and the issues with the existing equipment.

5G Rollout[edit | edit source]

5G Tower

5G is a standard that is now replacing the familiar 4G for mobile communication and surfing the web. 5G would be the latest and fastest version, but is catching some attention for possible problems it could cause. The Federal Aviation Administration has recently come out and addressed the potential problems 5G could cause for some of the automated features pilots use when either flying the plane or landing [5]. Wireless towers are the source of this problem since any of the towers nearby transmit these 5G signals.

The automated systems in the cockpit are extremely important for plane travel. The prevention of collisions on air and ground as well as landing in hazardous weather conditions are primary uses of this technology. Another piece of technology that is being considered in potential threats from 5G signals are radar altimeters, which are instruments that measure the distance between the ground and the aircraft above.

3.7 - 4.2 GHz is the frequency range of concern. This is optimal for 5G usage. Aviation Equipment functions under a frequency range of 4.2 - 4.4 GHz which makes for an increased chance of interference [5].

The problem with this issue is 5G offers a very substantial speed increase from its 4G predecessor. A delay in 5G affects the competitiveness for America in innovation and advancement. This is especially important for industries that use the high speed communication/internet capabilities and the telecom business that manages these capabilities.

Airlines such as United, are stressing their concerns to the Biden Administration here in the U.S and emphasizing the fact that other countries have taken more time into dealing with 5G rollout and implementing new policies to resolve the issue. In early December both AT & T and Verizon had planned to rollout the 5G but delayed it two different times [4].

So far the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is working with government officials to plan out a solution, one that will allow both of these things to coexist since both are indeed crucial. New statements are posted on the FAA website along with their publication dates with the most recent having been released late February. This statement addressed revisions that are being done to landing requirements for specific Boeing 737 series planes landing at airports where 5G interference could potentially occur [6].

Privatization[edit | edit source]

Privatizing ATC has been an ongoing discussion to deregulate air travel and save money within the federal government. The discussion of privatization has recently been addressed in 2017. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reviewed the 21st Century AIRR Act, written by Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and committee member Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), that would give a private corporate board control, management, and financial responsibilities of ATC in the United States. This would allow the board to charge for service and the decisive power to allocate funds to initiatives and facilities of their choice [9].

If control of ATC was taken away from the FAA, the few American-based airline companies left could have a greater say in destinations and air travel overall by choosing where to fund ATC facilities and which initiatives to support. This could affect the economic outlooks of cities that are not chosen by major companies or the airline corporations to receive funding, putting the tourism industries and accessibility of cities at risk.

The bill was passed out of committee, but privatization of ATC remained as an invigorated topic of discussion within the aerospace community [9]. There are several countries that use a privatized ATC system, most notably Canada, which uses a non-profit corporation created by the government in 1996 called Nav Canada. While the corporation has offered a stable, hands-off alternative to the national government running ATC, it is also a smaller organization that manages airspace for a country not as vigorously traveled as the United States. Nav Canada employs 4,000 workers that operate in 100 facilities and it manages 18 million square kilometers of airspace, or less than 7 million square miles [10]. The FAA’s workforce consists of roughly 14,000 employees working in 350 facilities that collectively regulate about 26,400,000 square miles of airspace [11]. If the federal government decides to put responsibility of ATC in possession of the private sector, it should expect a slow transition and a need to assist in the creation of a more robust organization to handle this vital work for a growing industry in a capacity that would exceed the peak of the FAA's involvement.

Implementation of NextGen[edit | edit source]

Technology, however advanced, durable, and useful, will eventually become outdated and need to be replaced, and the FAA is facing that reality with its ATC technology. ATC is currently managed through a radar system developed during World War II which, while more than serviceable in its roughly 80 years of use, is limited in its ability to create direct air routes safely and efficiently. The FAA intends to overhaul this system by replacing it with its multi-billion dollar NextGen initiative, which utilizes satellite-based navigation. This will not only allow for more direct flights, but will also give the FAA the capacity to monitor more flights at a single time and will help them to mitigate the environmental impact of air travel. [14]

NextGen was first initiated in 2003 when Congress passed the Vision 100- Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act [15]. The FAA, however, has experienced many delays in implementing the new system. New forms of equipment and software are needed on aircraft, in ATC towers, and in airports. The FAA also needs to train and/or hire the employees, pilots, and airport staff that will be part of using this modern program. The agency also needs to reevaluate its facilities, its users, and airports across the country to determine what changes in procedures need to be made to accommodate the new program, such as take-off and landing and in-flight navigation. All aspects of this revaluation may need to be resolved on a case-by-case basis. The deadline to fully implement NextGen was originally set for 2025, but the Coronavirus pandemic forced the agency to temporarily place integration lower on its priorities list, and speculation from within the FAA as early as 2013 stated the project was about ten years behind schedule [16].

While the initiative will allow for a faster, more fuel efficient industry when fully implemented, changing air routes that have been in place for decades will also cause changes in other areas of life. Communities across the country have begun to experience louder noise from flights due to redirected routes. The increase in noise pollution has been called on to be addressed by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure with several of its members claiming the FAA did not seek input from communities that would experience flight rerouting or an environmental review that addressed these changes. The FAA, in response, intends to set up a complaint program online to take in new information to mitigate noise pollution and adjust flight patterns [17].

The ultimate goal of NextGen is not just to create faster, safer, and more efficient air travel, but to restructure the organized environment of airspace and the methods the FAA uses to control it. Unfortunately, airspace is not the only part of the US that will see changes as implementation continues. Just like renovating another capital investment/project, NextGen will noticeably affect surrounding areas as it is implemented and will alter the businesses and quality of life for communities around airports. While it is still necessary to upgrade the ATC system to satellite-based navigation, especially as other nations begin to move toward their own implementation, it will be vital for the FAA to recognize the effects of its work outside of its facilities.

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

  • Is the United States spending the appropriate amount of money on ATC and the FAA at large? If not, how much should be spent and towards what policies/capital/initiatives?
  • How should the FAA approach the issue of 5G rollout and future issues that could emerge from technological advancements in the private sector? Should there be collaboration between the government and communication companies to resolve the current issue? If so, how much?
  • How concerned should the FAA be when communities report increased noise pollution due to new air routes created by satellite navigation? What do you think it can do to help mitigate this and other effects of its changing system?
  • What other issues could arise from the implementation of the NextGen program?
  • Did the FAA and the federal government wait the appropriate amount of time before addressing the need to update its ATC system? If not, when should they have first addressed the issue?
  • Should the responsibility of ATC be taken away from the federal government and privatized? If so, should a non-profit corporation be created to run it or should it be managed by a commission of airline companies? Why do you think?
  • If privatizing ATC is not feasible but the federal government is not offering a satisfactory service, what should be done?
  • What do you believe will be the next issue the federal government and the FAA will face towards the operation of ATC?

References[edit | edit source]

1) What is Air Traffic Control? (2018). Sofia Tokar.

2) Echoes in the Grand Canyon: Public Catastrophes and Technologies of Control in American Aviation. (2007). Taylor & Francis.

3) How Do Radars Work? (2021, October 13). Lockheed Martin.,measures%20the%20time%20elapsed%20since%20the. . .%20More%20

4) Butts, T. (2022, January 18). U.S. Airlines Issue Dire Warning Over This Week’s 5G Rollout. TVTechnology.

5) Tangel, A., & Ryan, T. (2021, Oct 30). FAA Plans Warnings to Pilots, Airlines Over New 5G Rollout. Wall Street Journal

6) Access Denied. (2022). FAA.

7) 2036 Forecast Reveals Air Passengers Will Nearly Double to 7.8 Billion. (2017, October 24). IATA.

8) National Air Traffic Controllers Association. (2022, April 15). Home. NATCA.

Link to pdf going through the history of ATC from same website:

9)The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. (n.d.). Air Traffic Control Privatization. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

10) Nav Canada. (n.d.). About Us. Nav Canada.

11) Federal Aviation Administration. (2022, March 18). Air Traffic by the Numbers. Federal Aviation Administration.

12) US Department of Transportation, BUDGET ESTIMATES FISCAL YEAR 2022 (2022). US Department of Transportation.

Link to pdf going through the budget proposal of the FAA in 2022 from same website:</nowiki>

13) Policy basics: Introduction to the federal budget process. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2020, April 2).

14) This is NextGen. Federal Aviation Administration. (2022, January 5).

15)NextGen. Federal Aviation Administration. (2022, March 8).

16) Jackson, W. (2013, July 22). What's keeping FAA's NextGen Air Traffic Control on the runway? GCN.

17) Aratani, L. (2022, March 17). Lawmakers examine FAA response to aviation noise, say more public outreach is needed. The Washington Post.

18) FAA Contract Tower Program. Federal Aviation Administration. (n.d.).

19) Barera, M. (2021, September 2). The 1981 PATCO Strike. University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.,Administration%20(FAA)%20broke%20down

20) Digital vs. Analog Radios: What you need to know. TwoWayRadioGear. (n.d.).

21) Kern, R. M., By, & -. (2020, January 1). Air Route Traffic Control. AVweb.

All images were used from WikiMedia Commons

New Orleans Levees

Louisiana Levee System Summary[edit | edit source]

A levee system consists is a structure that protects, prevents, and reduces the high risk impact of flooding that could potentially negatively affect a society. A levee reduces the damage of vertical and horizontal infrastructure like when Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana damaged a lot of homes, commercial buildings, hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, etc. The impact of the flooding destroys societal infrastructures as well like how Hurricane Katrina not only did physical damage to the buildings but also led to reconstructing the Levee System overall. The hurricane impacted policies in Louisiana, as well as existing and new institutional structures like the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers and Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority post Hurricane Katrina.

What is a levee/levee system?[edit | edit source]

The National Flooding Insurance Program defines a levee as "a man-made structure, usually an earthen embankment, designed to contain, control, or divert the flow of water in order to reduce the risk of flooding."[1]

The National Flooding Insurance Program defines a levee system as "a flood protection system which consists of a levee, or levees, and associated structures, such as closure and drainage devices." [1]

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

Before 1717 attempts to control the Mississippi River consisted mainly of fortifying the river's natural levees. The French then proceeded to build the first man-made levee system near New Orleans from 1717 to 1727. The levee measured up to 3 feet in most locations it was constructed but failed to contain the river during periods of heavy flooding. The levees were privately maintained by local landowners, who used slaves and prisoners to perform the work. [2]

In 1859 however, a levee rupture close to New Orleans flooded 200 city blocks and displaced thousands of residents. Because of this, Congress passed the Swamp Act and conducted surveys of the lower Mississippi River. This sparked debate as to how the river should be controlled, more levees? Or more man-made outlets and spillways? Soon after, the levee system was greatly damaged during the Civil War. After the war, the State Board of Levee Commissioners, allocated monies to replace the sections that were damaged. Despite this, not much was accomplished by 1870. [2]

This then resulted in Congress replacing the State Board of Levee Commissioners with the Mississippi River Commission. This new commission was created to maintain and control the Mississippi river. [2]

Starting in 1885, under the leadership of Andrew A. Humphreys, the US Army Corps of Engineers started a "levees only" policy. This policy resulted in the US Army Corps of Engineers extending the Louisiana Levee system and other levee systems near the Mississippi River. By 1926, the US Army Corps of Engineers created a levee system that extended from Cairo, Illinois, to New Orleans. [2]

42 years later, one of the most destructive river floods occurred in US history. The Great Flood of 1927 landed in seven states and caused roughly 637,000 people to become homeless. In Louisiana alone, 20 parishes went underwater. One noteworthy event that happened in Louisiana happened on April 29, when politicians ordered the National Guard to destroy the Caernarvon levee to protect New Orleans by redirecting the flood to the less populated region of St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes. Two days before the destruction of the levee, trucks and convoys were sent to evacuate around 10,000 residents whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed. [3]

38 years later, Hurricane Betsy, one of the deadliest and costliest storms in US history landed near New Orleans. On September 9,1965 seventy-six people died, and the storm caused more than $1 billion in damages. It resulted in the establishment of the US Army Corps of Engineers Hurricane Protection Program, which provided the protection for New Orleans that failed disastrously during Hurricane Katrina. [4]

40 years later, Hurricane Katrina and Rita struck New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina was especially deadly, being the largest and 3rd strongest hurricane ever recorded to make landfall in the United States. Around 1,577 Louisiana residents died. Additionally, it is estimated that hurricane Katrina caused up to $81 billion in property damages. However, it is also estimated that the economic impact combined in Louisiana and Mississippi exceeded $150 billion. [5]Due to Hurricane Katrina exposing how fragile the state of Louisiana's levee systems the state along with the aid of Congress completely rebuilt its flood protection system. With the allotment of $14 billion from Congress, The US Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System, or HSDRRS for short. Lastly, the Louisiana legislature created the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority east/west after making the conclusion that the protection of its citizens would be better served by combining its many New Orleans levee districts. [6]

Institutions/Annotated List of Actors[edit | edit source]

There is no single authority responsible for the entire system of levees in Louisiana. Instead it is a combination of multiple institutions that actively work together to deliver risk information, provision, production, maintenance, and coordination.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) works to identify flood hazards and assess flood risk for stakeholders, such as damage to property or businesses, as well as any other financial risks throughout levee-affected areas. They work with federal, state, local, and even tribal partners to help identify and understand each area’s specific risk and how best to alleviate it. They are also responsible for the establishment of various programs such as the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and Flood Risk Products (FRPs). These are up to date compilations of data that is able to assess and communicate these risks within the flood hazard areas, which then leads to policy action. [7]Convincing people of the risks can be a difficult sell because the levee system is created to control floods and reduce the risks, yet the system cannot eliminate it. Levee failures can be caused by various different circumstances such as improper maintenance, inadequate foundations, erosion, seepage, etc. Because of this, FEMA states it is imperative for the local and state governments and its citizens to understand and take proactive measures to reduce the chance of a levee failure.

One of the most critically important aspects of FEMA’s work is their ability to decrease risk to stakeholders in the area, they do this by providing insurance to those who are impacted by flooding. The National Flood Insurance Program was established on August 1, 1968 when Congress passed the National Flood Insurance Act. This act has been modified over the years, but its main goal is to provide federal insurance to homeowners, renters, and business owners. [7]

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is responsible for the construction and maintenance of the system levee’s not just throughout the New Orleans area and Mississippi river valley, but across the entire country. Their Levee Safety Program is meant to ensure the reliability and capability of the levee structure that are able to withstand severe storms and then recommend courses of action. Their recommendations are to make sure the system does not allow for intolerable risk to the public, property, and the environment. [8]

The USACE has also undergone the implementation of a number of vital flood control projects in the New Orleans area. The Bonnet Carrè Spillway, which is located 28 miles above New Orleans, is the southernmost floodway from the Mississippi River system. It is situated in St. Charles Parish on the east bank where it can divert some of the flood water from the river into a nearby lake, which then flows into the Gulf of Mexico, thus allowing high water to bypass New Orleans and other nearby river communities. [9]

Hurricane and Storm Damage and Risk Reduction System:

After the devastation of Katrina the Corps of Engineers was authorized and received federal funding of 14.6 billion dollars to design and build the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS). This is the flood protection system responsible for protecting the coastal regions of southeast Louisiana. This was a project meant to construct new levees, flood walls, flood gates, pumping stations or upgrade existing ones. The goal is to diminish the risk of hurricane and storm damage in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area. The HSDRRS is the single largest civil works project in the history of the USACE. The system is intended to increase public safety and reduce property damage from storm surges in southeast Louisiana. [10]

It comprises a total of 350 mile long perimeter system that consists of two Congressionally authorized risk reduction projects; the Lake Pontchartrain Vicinity located on the east bank of the Mississippi, and the West Bank and Vicinity. It is a combination of barriers, sector gates, floodwalls, floodgates and levees which provides a “wall” around each of the vicinities. It also contains 70 miles of interior risk reduction systems including 73 nonfederal pumping stations, 3 canal closure structures, and 4 gated outlets [11]. The interior risk reduction system includes both the world’s largest surge protector and the world’s largest drainage pump station. The System significantly reduces the risk of flooding for over 1 million residents in the Greater New Orleans area from a 100- year storm; this is a severe storm surge that has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year. [12]After the completion of various projects within the system, the USACE relinquishes operation and maintenance duties and transfers it to the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority.

South East Louisiana Flood Protection Authority:

Another critically important institutional aspect of the levee system is the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority (SLFPA) which was created in 2006. This is an institution that was formed as a direct result of the aftermath and destruction of hurricane Katrina. The state of Louisiana felt that the coordination of levee system projects and plans would be more efficient if the levee districts were regionalized rather than constructed by the USACE and maintained solely by local levee boards as it was before Katrina. [13]

The SLFPA is broken up into two regions, east and west; this due to the fact that the East Bank and the West Bank are separated by the Mississippi River and are located in two different flood basins. The threat of flooding on the East Bank comes from Lake Pontchartrain while the threat of flooding on the West Bank comes from storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico. Because of this, the East and West both have different priorities and areas of focus; hence they are run by separate boards, all of whom are appointed by the governor. The SLFPA works closely with the US Army Corps of Engineers, by providing input on design and construction of the HSDRRS and its components. When the last major project of the levee system was officially completed, the operation responsibilities were transferred from the USACE to the SLFPA. [13]

Risk[edit | edit source]

The New Orleans East and West Bank Levee Systems are classified as high risk due to significant costs associated with the system in combination with the possibility of it being broke in to. Its risks are due to the fact that, if breached, both commercial and residential areas in St. Charles, Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard, and Plaquemines parishes would be flooded with water. Another risk associated with the levee system is a breach prior to overtopping due to the lack of armoring. Armoring for all of the HSDRRS levees with High Performance Turf Reinforcement Mats are being installed to increase the resiliency of the levees. The HSDRRS is also designed to reduce the risk associated with a 100-year storm. The levees are in good condition and expected to perform well under future loads. [14] [16]

Maps/Images[edit | edit source]

Map of Louisiana Levee System
Map of Louisiana Levee System


First Map: [15]; Second Map: [14] ;Third Map: [16]

Funding/Financing[edit | edit source]

Due to the lack of profit motive associated with levee systems, it is something that is completely funded/financed through governments at all levels; federal, state, and local. Levees are a pure public good that everyone benefits from, because they are non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Non-rivalrous by the means of one person’s consumption does not hinder another person’s consumption. Non- excludable meaning everyone in the levee affected area benefits from its use regardless of whether you paid for it or not.

After Katrina, the federal government authorized funds for 14.6 billion dollars in order to upgrade existing and construct new structures to secure the New Orleans levee system. The federal government completely funded all of the original levee and flood control infrastructure that was destroyed. However, the federal government funded 65% of the additional new projects that strengthen Louisiana’s levee system such as floodgates, pump stations, and surge barriers while the Louisiana government took payment of the rest of the 35% with interest. [17]

Yet Louisiana is struggling to pay the debt back in time. For the first ten years, Louisiana did not have to make any payments on the 35% they owed. But, during those ten years, interest began to accumulate immediately. Currently the US legislatures from Louisiana are working on a deal to allow for the forgiveness of construction interest charges if Louisiana is able to pay off their debt fully by 2023. If they are able to pay off this debt, Louisiana will be able to save at least $1 billion in interest charges. If they are unable to pay it back, the state will have to structure a 30 year repayment plan, with interest; the total cost associated would be close to $3 billion. [18]

The authority has the ability to gain funding through taxes from referendums or can request funds through grants, authorizations, or appropriations from the state or local governments. In order to obtain such funding, the SLFPA must be able to forecast its upcoming financial responsibilities. That being said, it is very difficult to forecast upcoming financial responsibilities because of the various demands and regulations being placed on the authority, which in turn requires more funding to meet these demands. Their 2015 forecast suggested that due to insufficient funds of jurisdictional expenses beyond 2016, the SLFPA-W would be at a 50 million dollar deficit by 2024. To combat this financial insufficiency, the SLFPA-W launched a public education campaign and put tax referendums on the ballot for the West Jefferson Levee District (WJLD) and the Algiers Levee District (ALD). The tax was approved by the ALD but it failed in the WJLD. [19]

Policy Issues[edit | edit source]

Natural Flood Solutions and climate change:

Climate is testing the limits of infrastructure nation-wide.  More specifically, with more extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels, the traditional infrastructure used to build levees are being called into question. Even though the New Orleans levee system, which was rebuilt after hurricane Katrina, is stronger and more effective than it was previously before Katrina, it does nothing to change the reality that New Orleans is currently sinking into the Gulf of Mexico.  Also, the New Orleans levee system is only designed to withstand a hundred year storm, which is concerning given that the occurrence of five hundred year floods is becoming more common.  . Additionally,  other levee systems were also not as fortunate as the New Orleans levee system in combating hurricane Ida.  For example, the town of Lafitte was inundated by the hurricane even though they recently created a seven foot tall levee that had been intended as a long term investment for the small shrimping town. [20]

Levee failures during Ida, such as those in Lafitte, expose the reality that no matter how tall you are able to build a wall, nature at some point will always be able to topple it, especially in the state of climate change we are in right now.  One policy decision that can be derived from this is some sort of coordinated relocation of people living in flood prone areas,  also known as “managed retreat” by climate experts.  As weather events become more severe and sea levels continue to rise, continuing to spend resources on levees seems futile.  And even if the relocation of major cities such as New Orleans is not attainable, doing so in other places, such as the town of Latiffe, is necessary and achievable. [20]

Another course of policy is the adoption of natural flood solutions. Like it sounds, natural flood solutions seek to use the environment of the United States to combat floods, rather than continuing to build levees with concrete and steel.  The realization that climate change is challenging the traditional ways in which the United States has gone about controlling and preventing floods is so obvious, Congress recently passed the 2020 Water Resources Development Act.  The act directs the US Army Engineer of Corps to consider nature-based systems just as much as traditional levee infrastructure. [21]

One example of a natural flood control solution was when the US Army Corps of Engineers built a 5 mile stretch in Missouri river after one of their levees was over toppled.  This opened about 1,000 acres of floodplain that helped reduce future flooding while also providing habitat for species considered rare and declining in population.  This success story is not the norm however, given that the US Army Corps of Engineers prefers to work fast to repair levees, rather than construct pathways for diverting flood water, and need time to acquire land, like they did in the Missouri river.  This is concerning because over the past 5 years weather and climate-related disasters have cost the United States more than $630 in damages. [21]

Another  natural flood control solution is mangrove forest.  On top of providing wildlife habitats, they also provide natural protection against flood waves.  Mangroves can also regrow, providing perpetual protection.  Furthermore, one study in 2016 showed that northeastern states saved more than $625 million during superstorm Sandy, in part because areas that have wetlands averaged 10% less property damage than those without. [21]

The impacts of climate change now and in the future, are currently challenging the traditional ways in which the United States manages and controls floods.  Traditional levee infrastructure may not be enough to combat rising sea levels and more extreme weather patterns.    

Environmental Racism?

Inequities in regards to levees and levee systems are apparent in Louisiana.  Ironton, is a small town in Plaquemines Parish, and 30 miles south of New Orleans.  Ironton is also one of the oldest predominantly black communities in Louisiana, founded by freed slaves in 1800, and currently made up of around 52 black families.  Unlike New Orleans, Ironton did not fare as well against Hurricane Ida.  On top of vehicles, sheds, and other sorts of personal property being damaged, more valuable and sentimental objects such as homes, churches, and coffins were damaged, dislodged, or/and even completely destroyed. [22]

Many residents of Ironton believe that if the government of Louisiana had invested enough resources into creating adequate levees, the extreme damages that occurred because of Hurricane Ida would have been prevented.  According to US Army Corps of Engineers public affairs specialist René Poché, the levees near Ironton and other communities were essentially mounds of dirt and provided little protection from the 150 mph winds that the storm produced. [23] Audrey Trufant, a former Plaquemines Parish councilwoman, sees the destruction in Ironton as primarily a man made disaster saying, “This could have been prevented years ago, but its due to discrimination and the history of this parish that we’re in the predicament that we’re in today”. [22]

Lastly, the lack of resources to create and maintain adequate flood control safety measures have been speculated to be in part influenced by the states desire to let private fossil fuel companies set up shop in resource rich land. [22]

Narrative[edit | edit source]

Louisiana's Levee System is a major portion of Louisiana’s infrastructure. The Levee system is centered around the creation of different policies that institutions like FEMA, USACE, and SLFPA make. FEMA, a federal agency, works with state, local, and tribal representatives to help identify and analyze flood hazards and its financial risk. Some ways that FEMA does this is through the creation of reports such as Flood Insurance Rate Maps and Flood Risk Products.

The SLFPA was created after Hurricane Katrina, to centralize various parishes to help with the coordination of flood control amongst the New Orleans parishes. It is divided into two entities known as the East and West due to their locations along the Mississippi River.

After Hurricane Katrina, the USACE was funded $14.6 billion by the federal government to construct the HSDRRS. Their main goal was to create a system of protection against flooding in the coastal regions of southeast Louisiana. New levees, flood walls, flood gates, and upgraded pumping stations were constructed to lower the risk of damages associated with storms in New Orleans.

Levees are public goods, therefore, Louisiana's levee system is publicly funded because the private sector has no motivation for profit. As stated above, Louisiana was given $14.6 billion, yet they are having trouble paying back their dues with interest. The federal government has funded 65% of the cost but the other 35% must be payed by the state. Louisiana can either pay off their debt in full without interest by 2023, or structure a 30 year payment plan.

Climate change has challenged the way that traditional flood control measures are implemented. Levees will not change the fact that the water levels are rising and the increasing frequency of extreme weather patterns in the region. No matter how much is invested into the levee system, nature will win out eventually. Policy such as relocation and nature based flood protection are being seriously considered due to these circumstances that they face. Lastly, predominantly black parishes outside of New Orleans have face even more dire consequences of climate change the most due to their lack of resources and funding.

Lessons/Takeaways[edit | edit source]

One takeaway is that instead of pouring money into already prosperous and high income areas, it would be ideal fund more poorer areas. Funding high income areas creates bigger wealth gaps between the high and low income communities. It creates a sense of inferiority where there is a distinguished social ladder that is difficult to climb. Areas that are less fortunate, would be able to reallocate their local funding for levees and invest them into improving education quality, healthcare, and basic government services that they have been lacking. This would help create a more stable economy throughout the state by indirectly closing the wealth gap from investments in human capital.

Another takeaway is the inevitability that climate change will render conventional levee systems obsolete. Therefore, governments will have to enact newer policy solutions to address this.

The lack of transparency regarding levee systems throughout Louisiana is troubling as it makes it harder for residents to understand the risk associated with the levees. Is also makes it more difficult to be informed about the conditions of their local levees and who to contact to address this issue. Although New Orleans had plenty of information about their levees, the same cannot be said about other parishes in the state.

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

1.) Should Louisiana be held accountable to paying back their loan to the federal government for the creation of additional levee structures post hurricane katrina? If so, how should Louisiana go about it?

2.) What policy changes, if any, should Louisiana make regarding how climate change challenges traditional flood control measures?

3.) What are your thoughts on predominantly black communities outside of New Orleans not having the adequate resources to create sufficient levee systems that protect them against flooding?

Reference[edit | edit source]

1.) FEMA. “WHAT IS A LEVEE?,” n.d.

2.) The Journal of American History. “New Orlean’s Levee System: Timeline,” December 2007, 693–876.

3.) Jim Bradshaw. “Great Flood of 1927,” n.d.

4.) Kelby Ouchley. “Hurricane Betsy,” n.d.

5.) Do Something .org. “11 FACTS ABOUT HURRICANE KATRINA,” n.d.

6.) Flood Protection Authority West. “History,” n.d.

7.) FEMA. “NFIP and Levees: An Overview,” May 2021.

8.) U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Levee Portfolio Report,” March 2018.

9.)  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Who We Are.” Accessed October 19, 2021.

10.) U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Corps Releases HSDRRS Comprehensive Environmental Document Phase II for Public Comment.” Accessed October 19, 2021.

11.) Bradberry, Johnny. “State of Louisiana,” June 1, 2017.

12.) U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Greater New Orleans Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System Facts and Figures,” September 2014.

13.) Flood Protection Authority. “Flood Protection Authority: Who Are We.” Accessed October 19, 2021.

14.) U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “National Levee Database.” Database. Accessed October 19, 2021.

15.) “Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act,” April 25, 2018.

16.) US Army Corps of Engineers. “National Levee Database/New Orleans West Bank,” December 30, 2020.

17.) Press, Associated. “Analysis: Louisiana Weighs Hefty Borrowing to Pay Levee Debt.” Biz New Orleans, March 7, 2021.

18.) Deslatte, Melinda. “Louisiana Could Make First Levee Debt Payment without Loan.” AP News, May 21, 2021.

19.) Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority. “Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West: Five-Year Strategic Plan,” February 2016.

20.) Bittle, Jackie. “The Levees Worked in New Orleans — This Time,” September 2, 2021.

21.) Loller, Travis. “Corps of Engineers Considers Nature-Based Flood Control,” October 5, 2021.

22.) Dermansky, Julie. “10 Days After Hurricane Ida, Historic Black Louisiana Town Contends With Scattered Coffins As Floodwaters Drain from the Streets,” September 14, 2021.

23.) Williams, David. “Caskets Are Still Scattered around a Louisiana Community as Residents Struggle to Recover from Hurricane Ida,” September 25, 2021.

Additional Readings[edit | edit source]

1.) Barry, John. Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927

and How It Changed America. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1997. P. 13-54

2.) Mississippi River Delta Science and Engineering Special Team.  “Answering 10 Fundmental Questions About The Mississippi

River Delta.” Accessed October 20, 2021.

Transcontinental Railroad

Transcontinental Railroad

Summary[edit | edit source]

Berlin Technikmuseum Holzbahn

The Transcontinental Railroad, commissioned in 1862 and finished May 1869, brought about by the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, was the first railroad to connect the United States from east to west across the mountains. It was contracted by the Union Pacific Railroad Company in the east from Missouri to the Iowa-Nebraska border, and the Central Pacific Railroad company in the west from Sacramento, California, and across the Sierra Nevada. Each company received an initial 6,400 acres of land and $48,000 for every mile of track built. After three initially troublesome years of development, corruption within the companies, and other hardships the laborers faced, the railroad took approximately seven years to complete. The completion of the railroad would not have been possible without the tens of thousands of Chinese laborers who joined in the Sierra Nevada. To complete the railroad, the two companies’ designated tracks met in Promontory Summit in Utah on May 10, 1869, finalizing the railroad by hammering a golden spike to the final tie.

The original 3,000-mile journey across the mountains took months and around $1,000; with the transcontinental railroad, this journey was reduced to under a week and dropped the cost by 85%, down to $150, to traverse the Rocky Mountains. This decrease in the cost of travel led to an increase in the desirability of travel to the west. This led to the railroad bringing in a rather significant profit.

Annotated List of Actors[edit | edit source]

A mountainside in Winter Park, Colorado. January 2022

- Asa Whitney, a merchant from New York and primary supporter of the railroad [13]

- Asa Whitney, a merchant from New York and primary supporter of the railroad [13]

- Theodore Judah, young engineer who chose the Donner Pass as the primary route for the railroad [9]

- Thomas Hart Benton, Democratic U.S. Senator from Missouri (1821-1851) [13]

- Hartwell Carver, a businessperson who proposed a railroad prototype plan in 1849 [13]

- Edwin F. Johnson, a civil engineer who drew an 1853 map of the railroad [4]

- John C. Calhoun, U.S. representative, U.S. Senator, and Vice President of the United States, from South Carolina [13] [10]

- Stephen A. Douglas, a Democratic U.S. Senator from Illinois (1847-1861) [13] [11]

- Robert S. Williamson, a lieutenant who oversaw the connection of the railroad through California, Oregon, and the Washington state [13]

- John W. Gunnison, a captain who originally was set to explore the 47th and 49th parallels but was killed in a battle with Native American tribes during his expedition. [13]

- Edward G. Beckwith, a lieutenant who "continued the survey along the 41st parallel" [13]

- Amiel W. Whipple, an "assistant astronomer of the Mexican Boundary Survey" [13]

- Joseph Christmas Ives, a lieutenant who surveyed the 35th parallel [13]

- John J. Abert, a colonel who helped survey the 35th parallel [13]

- John G. Parke, a lieutenant who surveyed the 32nd parallel [13]

- John Pope, a captain who "mapped the eastern portion of the route from Dona Ana, New Mexico, to the Red River" [13]

- Collins P. Huntington, a Central Pacific executive [8]

- Mark Hopkins, a Central Pacific executive [8]

- Leland Stanford, a Central Pacific executive [8]

- Charles Crocker, a Central Pacific executive [8]

- Grenville M. Dodge, a general who was the chief engineer for the field of operations [8]

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Beginning stages

The Transcontinental Railroad began at the urging of the then-President Abraham Lincoln, which may have suggested such a project because, "... it cost nearly $1,000 to travel across the country." [9]

President Lincoln endorsed the idea of a Transcontinental Railroad on his 1860 campaign proposal, in his attempt to move westward. [26]

Once signed into law by Lincoln around 1862 (Pacific Railroad Act), two companies began to form to construct the project, according to the...

Pacific Railroad Act.

The Central Pacific Railroad Company (CPRC) made tracks from Sacramento, California, heading east to the Sierra Nevada River. The Union Pacific Railroad Company(UPC) was to assemble tracks around the border between Iowa and Nebraska heading west toward the Sierra Nevada River. These two tracks were to meet at an undetermined place (since the Act itself did not specify where they would meet). Both CPRC and UPC would get 6,400 acres of land (soon doubled to 12,800) and $48,000, " government bonds for every mile of track built." Both CPRC and UPC, after working 3 years on the railroad, had not accomplished much; however, it did give way for both companies to become corrupt and exhibit behavior resembling the "Wild West." After these issues occurred, and Charles Crocker (which oversaw the construction of the CPRC potion) had continued issues retaining labor; he began employing Chinese Workers to begin laying tracks. The Chinese Railroad Workers proved to be indispensable workers, and after sometime they consisted of four out of every five railroad workers (on the CPRC potion). According to CBS Sunday Morning, the Chinese workers, "were able to lay down, 'ten miles of rail in one day."

The Meeting Point

After seven long years of work on the railroad track the two companies were able to decide on a place to meet in the middle. The place they decided on was called Promontory Summit, Utah and this was where the final spike was driven into the ground on May 10th, 1869 at 12:47pm.

Different Trains Used

Finally, the train they used back in the beginning of the transcontinental railroad were wildly different than they use today. While they used mainly steam engines, instead we now use diesel engine nowadays.

Map of Locations[edit | edit source]

File:Map of Locations 2.jpg

First Map: [9]; second Map [24]; Third Map: [23]

Risk Allocation[edit | edit source]

The transcontinental railroad was provisioned by the US government under the Railroad Act of 1862, which provided approximately $60 million to the construction of the transcontinental railroad - equivalent to approximately $1.2 billion today. This money was shown to two companies - the Union Pacific Railroad Company and the Central Pacific Railroad Company - in charge of the production of the railroad in the forms of land subsidies, and government bonds and loans (Kiger, 2019). These companies were quickly corrupt at the beginning of the railroad construction, and became non-compliant, refusing to work on the railroad or pay back loans later on (Trains 2019).

This corruption was accompanied by a shortfall in revenues, which in turn led to insufficient land and monetary provision, running a risk of company bankruptcy. Aided by insufficiency in labor, this led to very little being accomplished by the 3-year mark, throwing the railroad production off schedule.

Because of harsh winters and intense summer heat, most of the Union Pacific laborers were miserable. The workers lost to these poor conditions, coupled with the laborers lost to avalanches, and explosion mishaps, whole crews of workers were lost ( Editors, 2009).

The government ran a large technical risk by not deciding a meeting location of eastern and western portions of the railroad until 7 years after the project began. This could have led to hundreds of miles of railroad needing to be built to make up for a diversion in the track a large distance from the meeting point.

In acquiring the land, Native American tribes were forced to relocate. Because they refused to comply due to not wanting to destroy their culture, violence ensued. This violence became so intense the military was forced to get involved in order to subdue the Native Americans (Whitehouse, 2014).

Delivery Process[edit | edit source]

The Transcontinental Railroad was a government contract. Before the delivery for construction began, a process of perceiving the potential layout for the track had to occur. “It was not until 1853, though, that Congress appropriated funds to survey several routes for the transcontinental railroad." [6] After this process, legislation was passed by Congress in order to build this infrastructure. “The Railroad Act of 1862 put government support behind the transcontinental railroad and helped create the Union Pacific Railroad, which subsequently joined with the Central Pacific...” [13] Once this occurred, the rail companies involved started giving out construction contracts. “In December 1862, the Central Pacific Railroad awarded its first construction contract to Charles Crocker & Company. The construction company subcontracted the first 18 miles to firms with hands-on experience...” [15] This entire development, from the legislation enactment, until the conclusion of the project, took a total of seven years. “... The Union Pacific and Central Pacific workers were able to finish the railroad-laying nearly 2,000 miles of track- by 1869, ahead of schedule and under budget.” [6]


Regarding the producing labor force of the Central Pacific Railroad, “[Foreman James Harvey] Strobridge... Agreed to hire 50 Chinese men as wagon-fillers. Their work ethic impressed him, and he hired more Chinese workers for more difficult tasks.” [22] Overtime, Chinese workers began to make up most of the human resources of the Central Pacific Railroad construction. “Chinese workers on CP payrolls began increasing by the shipload. Several thousand Chinese men had signed on by the end of that year; the number rose to a high of 12,000 in 1868, comprising at least 80% of the Central Pacific workforce.” [22] In the Union Pacific Railroad, Chinese workers were not the dominant personnel of this side of the project. Regarding this producing force of the UP, “The end of the Civil War brought... Thousands of demobilized soldiers [who] were eager for work. Additionally, by 1866 the railroad had managed to import Irishmen from the teeming cities of the eastern seaboard.” [22]


The economic inputs were translated into efficient economic outputs. Though at the start of this project, this input was a huge risk. “By one estimate, the project cost roughly $60 million, about $1.2 billion in today’s money...” [7] While the inputted cost was high, the output annually produced efficient prosperous outputs that more than made up for the initial cost. “By 1880, the transcontinental railroad was transporting $50 million worth of freight each year.” [7] This project became so well profitable that “... The railroad also facilitated international trade... [as] The first freight train to travel eastward from California carried a load of Japanese tea.” [7] Through this rise and expansion in trade, “... [It] gave the United States the single largest market in the world, which provided the basis for the rapid expansion of American industry and agriculture to the point where the U.S. by the 1890s had the most powerful economy on the planet.” [7]

Fiscal equivalence

Before the railroad was built, westward travel was primarily done through stagecoaches. “In the 1860s, a sixth-month stagecoach trip across the U.S. cost $1,000 (about $20,000 in today’s dollars).” [7] This significantly changed in the coming years. “... Once the railroad was built, the cost of a coast-to-coast trip became 85 percent less expensive.” [7] As a result, the travelers who used this system paid at a level proportionate with the degree of travel. The equity principle regarding travel costs was heavily prevalent in this aspect of the delivery process.


The railroad system redistributed resources from the rich to the poor mainly in the geographic context. “... The first transcontinental railroad and the other lines that followed made it easy for immigrants to spread across the nation.” [7] The enormous amount of funds allocated to this project allowed for more convenience of travel to those not of significant wealth. Travel was not the only method in which redistribution from rich to poor occurred. “[It also] made it possible to sell products far and wide without a physical storefront, and enabled people all over the country to furnish their homes and keep up with the latest fashion trends.” [7] The accessibility of broader commerce for impoverished people increased. However, redistribution also occurred in the opposite direction as well. The construction of the railroad led to resources being taken from Native Americans for the benefit of those who were funding the project. “... The forced relocation of Native Americans from their lands resulted in widespread destruction of Native American cultures and ways of life.” [21] This redistribution from impoverished Native tribes to wealthy industrialists became so severe that it led to violence. “Many conflicts arose as the railroad project continued westward, and the military was brought in to fight Native American tribes.” [21]


The effects of this system reflected the overall desires of the stakeholders. It reflected the consumers by expanding a unifying culture. “The rails carried more than goods; they provided a conduit for ideas, a pathway for discourse... America gave birth to transcontinental culture.” [12] This transition into a new form of society allowed for people to grow closer as a coherent nation “Here was manifest destiny wrought in iron; here were two coasts united; here was an interior open to settlement. Distances shrank, but identification to land and fellow American grew in inverse proportion.” [12] The effects also reflected the desires of the corporate investors as “It pioneered government-financed capitalism.” [7] This realization of new economic forms of maneuvering was manifested mainly through the individuals of The Central Pacific Railroad. “The Central Pacific’s ‘Big Four’-Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker-figured out how to tap into government coffers to finance a business that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.” [7] This company then took this realization approach into action. The transcontinental railroad “... Was built on land grants, government loans, and government-guaranteed bonds. When their loans came due, they refused to pay and the government had to sue. In effect, they stumbled into a business model where the public takes the risk and those taking the subsidies reap the gain.” [7] This wasn’t the end of this form of business tactic though as “Other entrepreneurs would follow the Big Four’s lead in tapping government help to build their business.” [7]


The construction of the railroad had to adapt to the ever-changing environment of the western United States. “Harsh winters, staggering summer heat, and the lawless, rough-and-tumble conditions of newly settled western towns made conditions for Union Pacific laborers... Miserable.” [6] The Central Pacific railroad had to adapt to the cold climate and treacherous mountains. “The immigrant... Chinese work force of the Central Pacific... Had... Brutal 12-hour workdays laying tracks over the Sierra Nevada Mountains... Whole crews would be lost to avalanches, or mishaps with explosives would leave several dead.” [6] Construction of tunnels through the mountains of the Sierra Nevada was done through explosive mechanisms. “Toil commenced on ...Tunnel No. 6... With men blasting inward from what would become the east and west portals of the passage.” [16] However, this process led to slow progress and even more insubstantial results. “Tunneling would take place on four faces at a time, as two teams worked inward from the eastern and western ends of the tunnel and two more teams worked back-to-back from the middle, moving outward.” [16] Nevertheless, a new compound was introduced into the construction project, that allowed for quicker results. “... Nitroglycerine... Allowed for shallower holes of narrow width, but its blasts achieved a much greater destructive yield... [It] was also much easier to move than the debris of black powder, saving a lot of cumulative time and sweat.” [16] This compound also made the work easier for the laborers as well. “Workers were able to advance up to two feet per day on all four faces, instead of measuring each hard one inch.” [16]

Cost[edit | edit source]

The construction of the railroad was overseen by Union Pacific and Central Pacific. [8] Central Pacific was led by Collins P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker. [8] While these leaders had disagreements over how to implement the railroad, they successfully managed to build their portions of the railroad. Meanwhile, Union Pacific only had one major actor, General Grenville M. Dodge, who oversaw the field of operations. [8] The building of the transcontinental railroad had a significantly high cost for the 19th century. Building the track in the plains cost $16,000 per mile in government bonds, $32,000 per mile for building it in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada mountains, and $48,000 per mile for other mountain regions. [8] The building of the railroad across the Central Pacific region cost between $36 million and $51.5 million, whereas building it through the Union Pacific cost approximately $60 million. [8] When completed in 1869, the project through Union Pacific cost a total of $111 million with $74 million in bonds, which is equivalent to approximately $2,238,853,676.47 in inflation-adjusted dollars for the present day. [8] [25]

Financial Structure[edit | edit source]

A portion of the transcontinental railroad was financed by the United States Government. “Construction of the first transcontinental railroad, financed with large federal subsidies, is an important event in American history.” [3] The biggest aspect that allowed for these loans was the passage of a piece of legislation in 1862. “... The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 provided a construction loan and land grants to two private companies, the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific.” [3] Thus, this component was financially produced through both public and private means. “Usually, a joint venture between a state or local government and private interests, railroads were expected to generate fair returns for public and private investors, but their ultimate goal was to create a transportation infrastructure that enhanced general prosperity.” [14] Even though their initial goal was to unite the country through fast transportation, they were still faced with financial issues through ineffective behavior. “The Union Pacific of the late 19th century was challenged by inept management, serial scandals, two financial panics, two bankruptcies, political pot shots, and the kinds of external events that damage… Strong corporations.” [14] However, these hurdles allowed for a rational solution that led to more coherent and ethical financial actions that permitted consistent results. “... The cleverest scheme UP’s management executed was Credit Mobilier of America, the independent construction company hired to build the Union Pacific… The original idea was to keep everyone honest by separating the management and operation of the railroad from its construction.” [14]

Institutional Structure[edit | edit source]

Some of the institutions involved were the federal government through legislation and private railroad companies through materials, construction, and labor. “These laws granted rights of way and use of building materials along the way... To companies that would build the transcontinental railroad and its feeder lines.” [15] The two biggest corporate institutions involved were the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads, each covering two different geographical areas to construct in. “... The Union Pacific Railroad, [was] to be built from the Platte River Valley in Nebraska to the border between Nevada and California, with two feeder lines from Omaha to Sioux City…” [15] While “... The Central Pacific Railroad, [was] to be built as a feeder line from Sacramento over the Sierra Nevada to meet the Union Pacific eastwards and to San Francisco in the West...” [15] However, these weren’t the only two institutions involved as “... The Leavenworth, Pawnee & Western, later to be known as the Union Pacific Eastern Division... [Existed] to link the 100th meridian Southeast with Kansas City.” [15] In order to prepare a labor force to construct an aspect of this system, “... Charles Crocker (who oversaw construction for the central Pacific) began hiring Chinese laborers… The Chinese laborers proved to be tireless workers, and Crocker hired more… some 14,000 were toiling under brutal working conditions…” [9] When the structure started to reach tougher terrains, such as mountains, different operating measures had to be taken in order to construct the railroad efficiently. “To blast through the mountains, the Central Pacific built huge wooden trestles on the western slopes and used gunpowder and nitroglycerine to blast tunnels through the granite.” [9]

Policy Issues[edit | edit source]

Not only was the Transcontinental Railroad something that concerned hard infrastructure, there were some other policy issues which also went into the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad. Among the most important policy issues for the Transcontinental Railroad was a desire for the westward expansion of the United States.

The project began and was indeed completed, once the last shots of the Civil War were fired. This meant that not only were Presidents Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant, concerned with unifying a badly divided country but they also had to deal with the concerns of connecting the young country from coast or coast at long last. At the time, those who lived in densely populated areas around the United States had a strong desire to spread out, in terms of homeownership, they wanted to create space between themselves and their neighbors. This want of more space and push to go out west eventually brought about unintended conflicts between the Westward settlers, the Transcontinental Railroad workers, and the Native Americans.

The second most important policy issue for the railroad was how economics and the efficiency of the transport of goods and services to and from east to west (and back) went into the creation of the railroad. The creation of the Transcontinental Railroad was thanks to not only President Abraham Lincoln but Asa Whitney and Theodore Judah. Whitney was a New York merchant who did business with the Chinese and believed in an efficient way to transport goods arriving in California from Asia which then needed to be transported to the primary homestead of the American population, the east coast. The New York businessman reasoned that, "...linking the coast would unlock the commercial potential of China while eliminating infernal ocean commutes" and also "...a railway would become the corridor of exchange between Europe and Asia, placing America at the center of the world's attention." [27] However, Whitney forgot an essential part of the plan to make his dream of a railroad connecting the west coast to the rest of America, something a young Theodore Judah would use to steal the show: a route. In the year 1860, a young engineer, by the name of Theodore Judah, came up with a plan to cross the Rocky Mountains, and he gathered investors from all over, the then, America, to make the Central Pacific Railroad Company. The investors, a feasible plan, at least given the circumstance, and a company built for the sole purpose of developing this railroad, Judah managed to convince congressmen and President Abraham Lincoln of his plan. The following year the Railroad Act of 1862 was passed, giving way to the Transcontinental Railroad. The policy issue here was, Whitney didn't have a plan, let alone backing for it, and the route plan was all that stood between him and his railroad.

Narrative[edit | edit source]

The idea for the transcontinental railroad began in the early 19th century when the earliest map was thought to be drafted in 1830 (LOC). It is unknown who originally came up with the idea for this project, but a merchant named Asa Whitney played a significant role in gaining legislative approval for it. Whitney published an idea he called a Project for a Railroad to the Pacific in 1849, which served as his first draft of the railroad. His original plan involved the train tracks being built from Wisconsin to the West coast across the Rocky Mountains.

At first, the United States Congress did not accept this original draft, as the final railroad was not completed until twenty years later, in 1869. Creating this railroad seemed quite difficult, but as the 19th century came to its midway point, there were additional events that made building the tracks much easier. The U.S. government expanded its territory to the West Coast, and the Gold Rush of 1849 brought more tourists to the West. Additionally, the U.S. gained California as an official territory after the Mexican War. All these new developments combined helped create more demand for a railroad that expanded.

The construction ran into many obstacles on the way, of course. In the western territories, there were several Native American tribes that conflicted with the government’s economic interests. As an act of rebellion, there were tribes who disassembled parts of the railroad while it was being built by the American government. Captain John W. Gunnison was killed by Native Americans when surveying the planned sites for the railroad, but the scouting of the routes was continued and finished by other lieutenants and captains of the Union. Despite native efforts to curtail the production of train tracks, the railroad was built through native land, greatly displacing the natives from their land, along with the reduction of their natural resources such as buffalo and other livestock (DPLA).

Additionally, the future President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, supported building the railroad along the 35th parallel to the west of California (LOC).

Lessons Learned/Takeaways[edit | edit source]

After the railroad was completed, the price to travel across the country dropped to one-hundred, fifty dollars. [9]

The effort also cut the three thousand mile journey across the country, from a journey once slightly over a month, to once the project was completed, under a week.

Connecting the country's coasts made the movement of Western goods to Eastern ports (or vice versa) almost seamless.

Abraham Lincoln realized his campaign goal of building the transcontinental railroad (although he was unfortunately unable to see the railroad complete, this also unified the country and moved the country westward to cover the entire country, which was Lincoln’s ultimate goal.

This project, finally, made the expansion of the country further westward almost a known quantity, allowing there to be heightened tensions between westward settlers and indigenous tribes.

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

How would westward expansion have looked if the proposition for the railroad hadn’t made it through congress?

How was trade impacted by the construction of the railroad and what goods would be lost without it?

How were the politics between the US and Asian Countries impacted by this railroad?

References[edit | edit source]

1.) Bowen, Mark. “Rails of Progress.” Policy Review, December 1, 1999, 83.

2.) CBS Sunday Morning. “Building the Transcontinental Railroad.” June 16, 2019. YouTube. Video, Running Time: 6:38 (only used: 2:44).

3.) Duran, Xavier. "The First U.S. Transcontinental Railroad: Expected Profits and Government Intervention." The Journal of Economic History 73, no. 1 (2013): 177-200. Accessed September 8, 2021.

4.) Finlay, Nancy. “Planning the Transcontinental Railroad.” Connecticut Historical Society, October 8, 2013.

5.) Editors. “Chinese Exclusion Act.” Historical Facts. History, August 24, 2018.

6.) Editors. “Transcontinental railroad completed, unifying United States.” History, November 24, 2009.

7.) Kiger, Patrick J. 2019. “10 Ways the Transcontinental Railroad Changed America.” HISTORY. Accessed October 12, 2021.

8.) Klein, Maury. “Financing the Transcontinental Railroad.” The Gilder Institute of American History, 2019.

9.) “Transcontinental Railroad.” Historical Facts. History, April 20, 2010.

10.) United States Senate. “John C. Calhoun,” 2021.

11.) “Stephen A. Douglas: A Featured Biography.” United States Senate, 2021.

12.) “The Impact of the Transcontinental Railroad | American Experience | PBS.” n.d. Accessed October 12, 2021.

13.) “The Transcontinental Railroad.” Library of Congress. Accessed September 8, 2021.

14.) Trains Magazine. 2019. “Transcontinental Railroad history: Importance, workers, challenges, and funding.” February 28, 2019.

15.) “Transcontinental Railroad” Bob Moore Construction, n.d.

16.) “Tunneling in the Sierra Nevada | American Experience | PBS.” n.d. Accessed October 12, 2021.

17.) “Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America | Economic History Services.” Accessed June 15, 2012.

18.) Wendy Simmons Johnson. “Women and the Transcontinental Railroad Through Utah, 1868–1869.” Utah Historical Quarterly 88, no. 4 (2020): 306–320.

20.) White, Richard. Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America. W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

21.) Whitehouse, Jessica. 2014. “Overnight How the Transcontinental Railroad Changed America.” Accessed October 12, 2021.

22.) “Workers of the Central and Union Pacific Railroad | American Experience | PBS.” n.d. Accessed October 12, 2021.

23.) Epperson, Christina. "Impacts to Native Tribes." SPIKE 150, National Park Service, Utah Division of State History. May, 10th 2019. Image,

24.) Epperson, Christina. "'Maps on the Hill' Poster." SPIKE 150, National Park Service, Utah Division of State History. March, 7th 2019. Image,

25.) Webster, Ian. “$111,000,000 in 1869 Is Worth $2,238,853,676.47 Today.” Official Data, 2021.

26.) Burlingame, Michael. “Abraham Lincoln: Campaign Election.” President History. Abraham Lincoln. Accessed October 26, 2021.

27.) "Asa Whitney (1791-1874) and Early Plans for a Transcontinental Railroad | American Experience | PBS" n.d. Accessed October 27, 2021.

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

Ambrose, Stephen E. Nothing Like It in the World : the Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869 New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.

Borneman, Walter R. Rival Rails: the Race to Build America's Greatest Transcontinental Railroad. 1st ed. New York. Random House, 2010.

Chang, Gordon H., Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Hilton Obenzinger, and Roland Hsu. The Chinese and the Iron Road : Building the Transcontinental Railroad Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2019.

Webb, Robert N. The Illustrated True Book of American Railroads. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1957. Especially the Section Titled: "The Race Across the Continent," Chapter VI, pages 72 - 91.

Maginot Line

Summary of the Maginot Line[edit | edit source]

Portions of the fortifications of the Maginot Line.

The Maginot Line was a series of static defenses constructed by France along the Eastern French border, with its strongest fortifications along the German and Italian borders. In World War I, France suffered 1.4 Million casualties and the collapse of their infrastructure, crippling their production and leaving France with a massive deficit. Following the war, French officials believed that the Germans would inevitably remilitarize their border and attempt domination again. Their most suitable plan for preventing another war was to maintain troops in the German province of Rhineland. This was not possible due to the agreements reached in the Treaty of Versailles. The desperation of loss and collapse looming over them, the weary country attempted to reinvent their military strategies. The teams tasked with finding a solution created various offensive and defensive strategies, including the construction of the Maginot Line. [59]

Conceptually, the Maginot Line was intended to serve a few main purposes:

  • Prevent a German surprise attack and redirect German forces to force them to travel through Switzerland and Belgium to keep the war off of French soil.
  • To save manpower and cover the time required to mobilize the French military -- which could potentially take as long as 2-3 weeks.

The project was first backed by Marshal Joseph Joffree, who wished to create a series of stationary fortifications along the border, and Marshal Philippe Pétain, who wished to militarize the entire French border. Although they were opposed by many modernists within the French government that preferred investments in armor or aircraft, the French Minister of War -- and World War I veteran, -- André Maginot, was a key supporter and eventually pushed the French Government into authorizing construction. The wall was designed primarily by Paul Painlevé and was constructed between 1929 and 1938. [60]

When planning for war with Germany and designing the Maginot Line, the French were preparing for la Guerre de Longue Durée, or the war of long duration. It was suspected that German resources would not last in the long run. If they could defend their most vulnerable border, they would not have to expend massive casualties preparing in offensive battles. While the Maginot Line may have been an effective counter to attrition warfare, it was not well equipped for the advanced technology and tactics of the Second World War, primarily German tanks and their blitzkrieg doctrine. Additionally, their reliance on Belgium cooperation left them exposed for an attack along their shared border in the North.

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

1918: End of First World War (November 11th).

1925: The Maginot Line receives approval as a defensive project with supposed inclusion of adaptability for various military operations.

1929: Construction of the Maginot Line begins. France institutes the 1 year draft, a re-imagining of military service[61].

1935: Belgium declares neutrality, attempting to avoid bloodshed on their soil.

1939: Start of Second World War with invasion of Poland (September 1st).

1940: Battle of France (May 10th - June 25th), Maginot Line is defeated by German tanks and French forces are overrun. France surrenders to Germany and is occupied.

1944: The Allies mount an assault on France, storming the beaches on the coast of normandy.

1945: The Second World War in Europe ends in May of 1945, with the complete surrender of the Axis in September of that year.

List of Actors[edit | edit source]

André Maginot (1877-1932)

André Maginot (1877-1932): Maginot started his career in government in 1910 as a member of the Chamber of Deputies, a part of parliament during the third republic, before becoming an undersecretary of war in 1913. With the onset of the First World War, he joined as a common footsoldier and received a crippling injury, relegating him back to politics. Later he would serve as minister of war and it was during this time that his advocacy of what would become the Maginot Line began to produce results in around 1929. He would direct efforts in its construction for several years until his death in 1932.[62]

Joseph Joffre (1852-1931): Proponent of first defensive strategy, clustered fortifications of many soldiers. Joffre was a French general and the head of the French Army from 1911 to 1916, after which he fell out of favor due to heavy French casualties and was relegated to non-vital military functions, a post he later resigned from. It would be his final post, and would not hold any military or political title afterwards.[63]

Paul Reynaud (1878-1966): Modernist who opposed the construction of the line. Reynaud was a French politician who served in many posts during his long career in the French government both pre-war and postwar. He assumed the post of prime minister for a short time during the Battle of France, and was later arrested by the Germans and remained in prison until being freed by the allies.[64]

Philippe Pétain (1856-1951): Wanted to militarize the entire border. Pétain had a controversial history. During the First World War he was a celebrated general, but after the French defeat during the Battle of France and the establishment of the Vichy government with him as its leader, he was seen as a collaborator with the Germans and was later sentenced to life imprisonment.[65]

Marie Louie Guillaumat (1863-1940): General during World War One that was active in the debates over the Maginot line. He believed in the necessity of static defenses, also advocating for leaving the ample space necessary for military operations. He was also the leader of the occupation of the Rhineland, and the Minister of War for a short time in 1926.[66]

Aftermath of World War I[edit | edit source]

In the aftermath of WWI, France’s population, infrastructure and national pride were completely decimated by four years of war that saw an unmatched intensity. During the war German forces had systematically destroyed their coal mines, and other industries were often half as productive as they were in the pre-war years.[67] While WWI was described by many politicians and historians of the time as “the war to end all wars”, some in France following the war knew that this may not be the case in the long run. So naturally there were many dialogues among the Entente powers after the war on how to prevent something like WWI from occurring again. What was developed was the Versailles Treaty, which returned the Northeastern provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to France [68] and severely limited Germany’s capability to wage war in the future by essentially dismantling its military power to a small defense force. Additionally, the treaty allowed France to maintain a small force in the German Province of Rhineland. The placement of these troops was controversial among the French and ultimately they were removed in 1929. At the time, this was the effective border control of the country, ensuring that Germany would not be able to mobilize on their shared border. As a result of this planned withdrawal, France’s military and political leadership began to seriously consider strategies of containment and defense. The Maginot Line was the result of these tumultuous back and forth conversations. It was completed well into the 1930’s. Just in time, as it seemed to all of Europe that another war with Germany was inevitable. The rise of the Nazi party in Germany signified a collapse of the tenets of the Treaty of Versailles, and the end of a short lived era of peace.

Just in time, as to all of Europe, it seemed another war was just around the corner. Nazi tyranny had eroded the peace and stability of the treaty of Versailles and brought Europe to the brink of conflict once again.

Construction and Financing[edit | edit source]

Upon its completion, the Maginot Line was wildly over budget. Initially, the project was funded with a grant of 3 billion Francs (or $3.88 billion in 2019 USD), however, upon its completion it cost nearly 5-7 billion francs, or between $6-9 billion in 2019 USD. [69] As a point of reference, the French budget for a year hovered around 15 billion francs. After nearly a decade of construction, the Maginot Line spanned 280 miles and utilized 55 thousand tons of steel and 1.5 million cubic meters of concrete. [70]

Design Influences[edit | edit source]

The Maginot Line was designed to withstand the full might of the German Forces, including heavy artillery fire and poison gases. In some ways, the Maginot Line was essentially a permanent line of trench systems that allowed for the continued presence of French forces immediately on the French border. One of the largest sections of the Maginot Line lies near Rochonvillers facing the border with Luxembourg. This was one of the first sections of the Maginot Line that was built, with the area being a high priority to secure. When designing this section of the Line, the French were inspired by Colonel Tricaud’s ideas published in the Revue du Génie in 1917. It was described as a fort palmé, which is a dispersed set of fortifications fanning out from an expansive subterranean trunk. This was eventually the design for the entirety of the Maginot Line. [71]

Pushback from Allies[edit | edit source]

Some French allies, most notably Belgium, were immediately apprehensive of the proposed Maginot Line, as the presence of the fortifications essentially forced an invading army from the east to potentially divert troops around the fortifications if they wished to move further west into France. In response to this, the initial plans for the Line were scaled back considerably, leaving a gap in the fortifications on France’s shared border with Belgium.

Maginot Line Composition[edit | edit source]

Construction specifications for the Maginot line included 100km of tunnels, 12 million cubic meters of earthworks, 1.5 million cubic meters of concrete, 150,000 tons of steel, and 450 km of roads and railways. This material was used to construct, among other defenses, more than 50 massive manned underground fortresses, called ouvrages.[2]

These underground structures were built 100 or more feet below hills and had stairways that personnel could access. They had a living quarters on the side facing the homeland, and a combat zone on the other edge. The largest of these Ouvrages had about 5 miles of tunnels. Each one was comparable to a small town, featuring dentist chairs, morgues, and prison cells. They each had a considerable population, housing between 500 to 1000 men in every fortress. Each fort had multiple cannons housed in small domes that could rise and retract. These domes had a diorama of the corresponding countryside which was intended to allow operators to visualize coordinates that were relayed.[1]

In their design of these ouvrages, the French ensured that their troops would have ample tools at their disposal. The outcroppings of the fortresses were equipped with grenades that could be released with the pull of a switch. These were intended to be released if ground troops were able to approach the domes. If the tunnels of the line were breached, parts of the tunnel could be blown up while troops retreated. In addition, each ouvrage had an escape hatch that featured a ladder stretching to the surface. The exit to this hatch was covered in dirt, which would fall into the tunnel if and when the hatch was opened.[1]

Between these fortresses were smaller fortifications. The ouvrages were within artillery range of these fortifications and each other, allowing for a strategy of friendly fire known as delousing. As an additional defense, the countryside was lined with spikes to prevent the progression of enemy tanks. These less grandiose measures ensured that the line would prove difficult to even approach.

Ultimately, for all it’s ingenuity, the Maginot line was an entirely static defense, featuring none of the adaptable measures that Pierre Guillaumat was an advocate of. Without these provisions, the Line was susceptible to new and unexpected military strategies.

Maps[edit | edit source]

Map of fortifications on the Maginot Line.

World War II[edit | edit source]

Evolution of the Manstein Plan, or Plan Yellow, to invade France.

While the Maginot Line was designed and constructed primarily to divert a German invasion, in 1940 the German forces crafted an invasion plan to go around the major fortifications. Large sections of the French border were unsecured by the Line, notably the shared border with Belgium. Despite Belgium's neutrality, in their Manstein Plan the German army marched in a sickle shape through Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands to take advantage of the hole in the French defense line. This plan had risks, but recent changes in the balance of power gave the Germans an increased edge. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed in 1939 between the Germans and the Soviet Union gave Germany among many things access to Soviet resources like iron and oil. This allowed Germany, who was previously constrained by allied blockades to field a larger force. [72][73]

As the Germans advanced towards the English Channel, the German troops easily overran French defenses and crossed into France, while the Luftwaffe flew over the Maginot Line. Over the next several weeks, the Germans successfully surrounded the Line and cut it off from the rest of the country, eventually forcing France to fall. When the Allied forces entered France in 1944, the Maginot Line -- still held by the Germans -- was largely bypassed. [74]

By the end of the battle of France, the Ouvrages were still well supplied, and their troops in high spirits. Many of them thought the word of surrender was merely a German lie. They ultimately surrendered when French officials finally arrived to declare that the battle was lost. The Maginot line saw limited use by the Germans, who used various areas as storage. The Americans used the line briefly after they secured French borders.[2]

Assessment of the Maginot Line[edit | edit source]

While the Maginot Line did not fall during the siege of France, it was incapable of securing the entirety of the French border. There were essentially four segments of the border that required fortifications or a means of protection. These were the Northern Border with the country of Belgium, the Northeastern border with Germany where the Maginot Line was constructed, the Eastern border with Germany which had the natural defenses of the Rhine River, and finally the countries borders with Switzerland and Italy in the Southeast, which were fortified lightly with a defense colloquially referred to as the “little Maginot”.

The limited scope of the project, while defending the country's most vulnerable borders, encouraged the Germans to invade Belgium in the North in order to gain access to Paris and the shoreline. It was for this reason that maintaining good relations with Belgium was considered essential. There was much deliberation over what to do with this segment of the border. Fears of stoking resentment halted progress on permanent fortifications. France was optimistic that an alliance with Belgium would allow for a joint offense if the country was invaded. France hoped to mobilize a vehicular brigade that would rush to rescue. These hopes were dashed as Belgium continued to disentangle themselves from cooperative treaties, declaring neutrality in 1935. Despite this, the French never secured  the border with a proper defensive line and ultimately chose to rush into Belgium when Germany began their assault. The Armenes forest was a natural choice for Germany, as through this path lay the least secure portions of France's defenses.

The Rhine River in the East was considered a natural defense, which was why it was overlooked for the most part. There were multiple Casemates along the French side of the border, which could suppress advancements along the river. Advanced military antiaircraft and anti tank machines were able to pierce these structures and render them useless. Thus German troops were able to advance on this front as well.

When Italy decided to enter the war, they attempted to cross into French territory through the Southeastern defenses; this proved entirely too difficult because of the terrain of the alps.

Ultimately, the Line was a powerful fortification that protected the northeastern border. Despite this the lack of defenses at key locations rendered the entire line useless. It was the tactical decisions made during the planning process that rendered the wall an unfavorable defense. The unwillingness of France to engage offensive warfare entrenched their hopes in a wall that was doomed to fail.


National Defense is a difficult thing to measure in terms of efficiency. How can one place a value on a nation's freedom and continued prosperity? If the Maginot line was successful in its defense of the French border, we would be able to consider it a priceless investment, commanding a resilience able to change the path of the most devastating war in human history. Of course, this is not how it’s history played out.

If we disregard it’s outright failure, the wall still served some purposes. The line had a valuable effect as a deterrent from invasions, even if this effect was not strong enough. Additionally, It can be argued that it offered a sense of security that contributed to the social and economic wellbeing of France and her people. Though the tag of 7 billion francs is a considerably high price to pay for such paltry benefits. The line failed it’s real purpose of securing the border from all future invasions.

The money spent securing the Maginot Line might have been better spent on investments in newer technology and defenses along other areas of the border.


During the postwar era of the 1920’s, citizens of France, both the farming peasantry and factory laborers were most concerned with their ability to recover and get back to their normal lives. A main selling point of the Maginot line by its proponents would be that it would be a massive infrastructure project that allowed for many people who did not have jobs to then work on the line itself and the industries that would benefit from the fortifications being erected in the first place. One could see a project of this magnitude slightly similar to the American infrastructure projects that were established in the midst of The Great Depression.


The Maginot Line was equipped to deal with the worst military advancements that WW1 had to offer. It has proper anti-tank measures and cannons that can recede underground. Given that plans for the wall were written up directly after WW1 they had few considerations for future military technology.

If the constructors of the Maginot Line considered the potentiality of air-warfare. They may have divested the money for the project differently. Air-Warfare exposes the weaknesses of both natural barriers mentioned earlier. Both of these defenses would need further fortifications. Perhaps the French would have had to settle for fewer large fortresses in favor of small outposts equipped with anti-aircraft machinery.

In addition to this, the Maginot line was designed without the consideration of the ideas surrounding the early adoption of the concepts known as maneuver warfare and combined arms strategy by the German army in the early phases of WW2. Due to this, even if the Maginot Line was used to its fullest extent in the hypothetical situation, the French forces would still more than likely be completely overrun in a matter of weeks, the only difference being a higher German and French casualty count.

If the Maginot Line was built with consideration of air warfare, possibly with greater air defense capability in order to mitigate the risk by German dive bombers,  the money for the project may have been divested differently. The French would have probably divested less money towards creating single massive fortresses and more on smaller structures along farther west and south.

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

  1. What happened between the conclusion of World War I and the onset of World War II to render a defense investment like the Maginot Line nearly useless?
  2. Did the Maginot Line, simply by existing, make neighboring countries like Belgium and The Netherlands into even bigger targets?
  3. What measures do you think France could have taken to ensure a successful defense of their border?

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c d e f g Stewart-Muniz, S. (2015, November 9). All aboard Florida: Miami to Orlando Rail Service. The Real Deal South Florida. Retrieved October 23, 2022. Invalid <ref> tag; name ":0" defined multiple times with different content
  2. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando. (2018, January 11). Timeline: History of Florida's Brightline High-speed train service. WKMG. Retrieved October 20, 2022 Invalid <ref> tag; name ":1" defined multiple times with different content
  3. a b Solomon, Joshua (June 24, 2019). "Virgin Trains' Orlando leg underway as railroad eyes expansions to Tampa, Las Vegas". TCPalm. Retrieved October 22, 2022.
  4. Bryan, S. (2020, April 1). As Brightline suspends service, 250 employees lose their jobs. Sun Sentinel. Retrieved October 25, 2022.
  5. a b c d e f g h i j k l Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named :2
  6. Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named :3
  7. a b c d e Railway Technology. (2022, July 6). Brightline High-speed rail project, Florida. Retrieved October 25, 2022.
  8. Chardy, Alfonso (August 25, 2014). "Work begins — finally — on Miami-to-Orlando fast train". Miami Herald. Retrieved October 21, 2022.
  9. Robbins, John Charles (September 27, 2016). "Brightline passenger rail service 65% built". Miami Today. Retrieved October 19, 2022.
  10. Turnbell, Michael (January 20, 2015). "Rail picks contractor for Fort Lauderdale, WPB stations". Sun Sentinel. Retrieved October 21, 2022.
  11. Neale, R. (2019, October 22). Virgin Trains rail construction to trigger beachline expressway nighttime closures. Florida Today. Retrieved October 18, 2022.
  12. Herzog. (n.d.). Brightline Phase 2 expansion.  Retrieved October 20, 2022.
  13. Sherman, S. (2022, July 21). The train connecting Miami and Orlando just got 2 new sets of cars - which arrived after a 3,000-mile journey across 10 states. Retrieved October 20, 2022.
  14. Luczak, M. (2022, October 5). Transit briefs: Brightline, MBTA, NYMTA, SEPTA, WMATA. Railway Age. Retrieved October 20, 2022.
  15. a b c d e f g h i j Brightline. (November 2021). Microsoft PowerPoint - Brightline FDFC Presentation 11.3.21 vF ( [Powerpoint slides]. Retrieved Oct 20, 2022.
  16. a b Wilson, B. (2022, June 2). Brightline's Tampa rail line receives a burst of funding. Railway Track and Structures. Retrieved October 25, 2022.
  17. Lloyd, S. (2022, June 1). Brightline receives federal grant for rail line connecting Disney Springs, Orlando International Airport, and Tampa. WDW News Today. Retrieved October 25, 2022.
  18. Barnett, C. (2021, December 8). A $1 billion brightline deal takes first steps toward the muni market. Bond Buyer. Retrieved October 25, 2022.
  19. Crossen Law Firm. (2022, August 17).'s%20deadliest%20train%20is%20called,t%20even%20travel%20very%20far
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  35. New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. (n.d.). Central Park. Central Park : NYC Parks. Retrieved October 21, 2022, from
  36. THIRTEEN Media With Impact. (2022, February 3). Did You Know? Fun Facts About NYC's Parks. Treasures of New York. Retrieved October 21, 2022, from
  37. Kang, T. (2017, June 1). 160 years of Central Park: A brief history. Central Park Conservancy. Retrieved October 21, 2022, from
  38. Miller. (2022). Before Central Park. Columbia University Press.
  39. Before Central Park: The Story of Seneca Village. Central Park Conservancy. (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2022, from
  40. How the Obelisk Made its Home in Central Park. Central Park Conservancy. (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2022, from
  41. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Manhattan. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 31, 2022, from
  42. Restoration of the Ravine. Central Park Conservancy. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2022, from
  43. Restoration of the Conservatory Garden. Central Park Conservancy. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2022, from
  44. Blackmar, E., & Rosenzweig, R. (2020, March 9). History of Central Park. Retrieved November 1, 2022, from
  45. Safari Playground Reconstruction. Central Park Conservancy. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2022, from
  46. Central Park Conservancy. (2015). The Central Park Effect: Assessing the Value of Central Park’s Contribution to New York City’s Economy. SCRIBD.
  47. Crompton, J. L. (2021). A Review of the Economic Data Emanating from the Development of Central Park and Its Influence on the Construction of Early Urban Parks in the United States. Journal of Planning History, 20(2), 134–156.
  48. Cooke, O. (2007). A Class Approach to Municipal Privatization: The Privatization of New York City’s Central Park. International Labor and Working-Class History, 71, 112–132.
  59. “” Accessed November 3, 2021.
  60. “The Maginot Line: An Indestructible Inheritance.” Taylor & Francis. Accessed November 3, 2021.
  61. Gibson, Irving M. “The Maginot Line.” The Journal of Modern History, vol. 17, no. 2, 1945, pp. 130–146.,
  62. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "André Maginot." Encyclopedia Britannica, February 13, 2021.
  63. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Joseph-Jacques-Césaire Joffre." Encyclopedia Britannica, May 13, 2021.
  64. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Paul Reynaud." Encyclopedia Britannica, October 11, 2021.
  65. Blond, G.. "Philippe Pétain." Encyclopedia Britannica, July 19, 2021.
  66. BNF catalogue général. Catalogue Général. (n.d.). Retrieved November 2, 2021, from
  67. Jeze, Gaston. The Economic and Financial Position of France in 1920 - JSTOR.
  68. Kaufmann, J. E., and H. W. Kaufmann. Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II. Stackpole, 2007.
  69. Scott, Rune. “The Maginot Line: The 'F-35' of World War II Never Stood a Chance.” The National Interest. The Center for the National Interest, November 9, 2019.
  70. Roberts, Andrew. The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. New York: Harper Perennial, 2012.
  71. Kaufmann, J. E., and H. W. Kaufmann. Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2007.
  72. Passera, Rudy. “The Maginot Line, Scapegoat of the French Defeat in May 1940.” English. Accessed November 3, 2021.
  73. “Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact, 1939 Secret Supplementary.” Accessed November 2, 2021.
  74. Zaloga, Steve. Operation Nordwind, 1945: Hitler's Last Offensive in the West. Oxford: Osprey Publ., 2010.

Additional Readings[edit | edit source]

Allcorn, William, and Vincent Boulanger. The Maginot Line 1928-45. Osprey, 2003.

Kaufmann, J. E., and H. W. Kaufmann. Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II. Stackpole, 2007.

Channel Tunnel

Channel Tunnel Portal in France.

The Channel Tunnel also called "the Chunnel" is a 51-kilometer/31-mile rail tunnel beneath the English Channel. It connects south-east England and northern France. The Chunnel consists of two rail tunnels and a service tunnel in the middle used for maintenance and emergency evacuation. The tunnel carries high-speed passenger trains operated by Eurostar, the Eurotunnel Shuttle for both passenger and cargo road vehicles, and international freight trains[1][2].

Trains passing through the tunnel can travel at a top speed of 160 kilometers per hour. Plans to build a cross-Channel fixed link appeared as early as 1802; around twelve early proposals were made from both countries but with no success. Eventually, the current tunnel project was organized and constructed starting in 1988. It was opened for service in June 1994, costing almost 15 billion dollars in today's money. The project was privately financed by a consortium of British and French corporations and banks[3][4].

Getlink, formerly known as the Eurotunnel Group, is a public company based in Paris that manages and operates the Channel Tunnel, the Eurotunnel Shuttle train service, and earns revenue on other passenger and freight trains that operate through the tunnel. Since 1994, over 450 million passengers have traveled through the tunnel using Eurostar or Eurotunnel Shuttles and over 430 million tons of goods have been shipped through the tunnel[5].

Actors[edit | edit source]

The French Government, led by French president François Mitterrand and The British Government, led by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signed the Treaty of Canterbury, where the two governments came together to allow the tunnel to be built[6].

The Channel Tunnel Group/France Manche (CTG-FM)

The British Channel Tunnel Group consisted of two banks and five construction companies. France–Manche consisted of three banks and five construction companies[7]. This organization originally proposed and planned the tunnel.


Getlink, formerly the Eurotunnel Group, is a company based in Paris that manages and operates the Channel Tunnel. Getlink also operates "Le shuttle", the railway shuttle service operated by between France and Britain. It transports passenger and commercial road vehicles under the Channel Tunnel by rail[8].

TransManche Link

TML was a group of British and French construction companies responsible for building the Channel Tunnel. At its peak it employed almost 14,500 people and spent more than $5.5 million per day[9].


Eurostar is a high-speed rail service connecting the United Kingdom with France and Belgium. The company operates the only passenger-rail service through the Channel Tunnel, but is separate from Getlink[10].

Timeline[edit | edit source]

The Beginning of the Chunnel

            The idea for a Channel Tunnel, also known as the Chunnel, was first conceived in the year 1802 by French miner Albert Mathieu. Mathieu’s plan involved creating an artificial island in the middle of the English Channel where two tunnels from the English and French sides would meet. The means of transport would be horse drawn carriages, these would then switch out when meeting at the middle island. This plan would not gain any real traction and would later fail. However, this would start centuries of attempts at a similar tunnel that would try to connect the British isles to mainland Europe[11].

            In the 1830s, decades after Mathieu’s first proposal, French engineer Aimé Thomé de Gamond would conduct the first geological and hydrographical surveys of the channel tunnel. His work on these surveys would continue until 1856 when he finally presented his findings to Napoleon the 3rd. De Gamond would present his own version of a channel tunnel, the first since Albert Mathieu over 50 years before. This proposal would have been a railway instead of the previous horse drawn method. De Gamond’s plan would ultimately fail as well. On the English side politicians and statesmen like George Ward Hunt, William Low and Sir John Hawkshaw would make similar pushes for a channel tunnel. However, these English statesmen would be even less successful than their French counterparts[11][12].

First Chunnel Attempt

        The First attempt at the building of a channel tunnel would occur in 1876. An agreement was reached by the French and English to create pilot tunnels. This was to ensure that both sides would be willing to commit to the building of the actual tunnel. The first digging would commence in 1881 on both the French and the English sides. Leading the French team was Alexandre Lavalley (contactor of the Suez Canal) and leading the English side Sir Edward Watkin (British Railway entrepreneur). Both sides had successful first digs, however a year into digging, pressure from British media and politicians would cause the English side to end construction. This led to the ultimate failure of the project as the French could not continue their digging without British approval[11].

Pre-Modern Attempts

            British prime minister David Lloyd George would be the first person to revive the channel tunnel project. He would make this proposal at the Paris Peace conference following the end of World war 1. However, due to paranoia and nationalism in the years following the war, the project was unable to regain any steam even with the support from the former prime minister. The British public and politicians wanted to protect the British isles after seeing the devastation caused by World war 1 on mainland Europe.

            Not long after though the use of the airplane would cause these fears to change. French and British airpower became so strong that the English channel was virtually useless as a strategic point. There was no longer a defense reason against the building of the tunnel. Talks would begin between the two countries with new geological and technical surveys being conducted in 1964 and 1965. Nearly a decade later construction of the Channel Tunnel would begin in 1974. However, after a year of construction of the project, the British Government would indefinitely suspend the project[11][12]

Building of the Chunnel

        The British cancelation of the project would last until 1987. In the treaty of canterbury, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and French prime minister Francois Mitterrand would agree on terms that would allow for the project to proceed. The first drilling of the tunnel would commence the following year. The French would begin their construction in the June of 1988, while the British began their drilling in the December of that same year.

            In the first few months of the project, accidental deaths caused construction to slow down with new safety protocols needing to be implemented. Although, this would not stop the project. Late in the year of 1990, tunnels from both sides of the channel would meet underneath the english channel. Construction and finalizing of the project would happen over the course of the 4 years following this moment. Finally on may 6th, 1994, Queen Elizabeth the second and French prime minister Francois Mitterrand would hold a ceremony commencing the opening of the tunnel[11][12].

Maps and Diagrams[edit | edit source]

Geological Cross-Section of the English Channel and the Chunnel
Geological Cross-Section of the English Channel and the Chunnel
Organizational Chart of the Channel Tunnel
Map of the Channel Tunnel
Cross-Section of the Channel Tunnel, showing the Two Travel Tunnels and the Middle Service Tunnel

Policy Issues[edit | edit source]


The digging of the tunnel was an important and also one of the most complicated parts of building the tunnel. The geological layers of rock that make up the earth under the english channel were permeable layers of chalk. This meant was that the engineers needed to pick a deep layer of rock in order to prevent water from eroding parts of the tunnel. To do this, engineers would choose the "chalk marl" layer. The chalk marl layer was chosen due to its low permeability protecting the tunnel's from erosion, as well as for safety purposes due to this layer having low flint levels. This would later help prevent fires during the dig.

Part of this geological process also included the removal of fossils as well. While fossil digging was not an initial intention of geological surveys, digging uncovered highly fossilized layers of the Holocene and late Glacial eras. The resulting excavations were able to help scientists provide a more detailed picture of life that existed 13,000 years ago within the English Channel Valley[13].


The English Channel separates mainland Europe from the British isles. This separation over millenniums has aided in the repelling of invaders from the island. So for the British, creating a tunnel that on some level would render the defense of the channel harder, if not useless, was not something they were keen on. However, as decades progressed the threat of the Channel Tunnel to the British isles defenses weakened. The invention of the airplane and mass use of it in war changed warfare allowing for enemies to simply bomb the isles. With no real defense reason left holding back the British, construction of the tunnel was finally able to happen.

Migrants in the past few years have shown, however, that while a military threat may not exist, a security one does. Back in 2015, the migrant crisis faced by Europe began to put a strain on countries' migrant processing systems. This led to a mass of migrants simply going wherever they wanted to within the EU. Many migrants, after reaching Europe, would decide to make the further journey to Britain. With English being a much more commonly spoken language by these migrants, the UK seemed like a better choice to settle in. Since the UK was still in the EU at the time, freedom of movement would allow for these migrants to attempt just that[14].

In these attempts to cross, migrants would either try to sneak onto trains to the UK or much more dangerously, they would make attempts at entering the tunnel to cross. Many migrants over the years have died or been detained trying to make this dangerous journey. Although, in recent years both the UK and French governments have committed resources combating this problem by ramping up security at both stations and the tunnel entrance. While this has prevented further deaths from migrants entering the tunnel, migrants are now choosing to try and cross the channel itself, which can be just as dangerous[15].

Regional Growth and Development

A promise of expanded regional growth in the regions of Kent, UK and Calais, France, helped get public support. Both regions were relatively low income and underdeveloped regions of the UK and France. The project was projected to produce thousands of permanent jobs for both regions and be an economic engine. However, with many of the jobs requiring high skilled labour it was projected before the project even began that 40% of all the jobs required would have to come from labour outside the region. The tunnel has reportedly had little to no direct economic impact on the local economies since its opening. Calais in France does see economic subsidies from the EU for development purposes, however, Kent in the UK did not see any even when the UK was still in the EU. However, there are no reports that indicate that the subsidies received by Calais have anything to do with the presence of the Chunnel itself. The channel tunnel has however been able to facilitate expanded trade between mainland europe and the British isles with 25% of all imports from europe now coming through the tunnel[16].

A plan to open a second tunnel has also been in talks since the opening of the first one. Back when Margaret Thatcher had finally agreed to the project, part of the deal was that firm Eurotunnel would provide a plan for a second tunnel by the year 2000.  The firm was able to meet their deadline and published their proposal, however there has been no real push for the second tunnel propsed by the firm other than Thatcher herself. Thatcher advocated that a second tunnel be built and that it allow drivers to freely cross it. This plan was deemed much too dangerous as a crash or accident would be much more likely in such a tunnel. While there continues to be no push to build a second tunnel, especially since capacity of the current one sits at only 50%, in recent years driverless technology has convinced many that such a tunnel might be feasible[17][18].

Institutional Arrangements[edit | edit source]

The Channel Tunnel is unique in that it is both a public private partnership and an intergovernmental project. It is a partnership between British private actors, French public actors, the British government, and the French government. In 1985 the Channel Tunnel Group, consisting of two british Banks and five British construction companies, and France-Manche, consisting of three French banks and five French construction companies combined to form Channel Tunnel Group/France-Manche (CTG/F-M) and presented a proposal to the French and British Governments to build the Channel Tunnel.

In 1986 the British and the French signed the Canterbury Treaty which authorized the building of a tunnel between the two nations and set out a framework for how the project was to be managed. The treaty also created the Intergovernmental Commission (IGC) which would represent the governments and oversee the construction and operation of the tunnel. A month later the Concession Agreement was signed giving CTG/F-M the authority to design, finance, construct, and operate the Channel Tunnel for 55 years before transferring it to the governments of the UK and France.[19]

After the signing of the Concession Agreement CGT/F-M was absorbed by the newly created Eurotunnel Group(now known as Getlink.) Eurotunnel contracted with TransManche Link (TML) to construct the tunnel. TML was comprised of Translink and TransManche. Translink was formed by the five construction companies originally a part of the Channel Tunnel group and was responsible for building the British terminal and boring the northern half of the tunnel. TransManche was likewise formed by the five construction companies originally a part of France-Manche and responsible for building the French Terminal and boring the southern half of the tunnel. Once the Construction was complete control of the tunnels was returned to Eurotunnel and TML was dissolved.

Funding + Financing[edit | edit source]


Funding was always a major concern for the Channel tunnel. Initial estimates put the cost of the tunnel at £4.8 billion. Eurotunnel planned to raise £6 billion to cover these costs as well as any overruns the project may produce. When the tunnel opened in 1994 over £10 billion had been spent on the project. The budget overruns stem from three main sources: unfixed costs at the time the estimate was made, changes to the design mandated by the IGC, and the sheer size of the project. When the estimate was created in 1986 the only cost that had been fixed in any of the contracts that had been signed was the cost of the tunneling, the cost of the equipment and the rest of the construction had not yet been agreed on. Both the Treaty of Canterbury and the Concession Agreement gave broad oversight powers to the IGC both during construction and operation. The IGC used these powers several times to increase expectations for safety, security, and environmental protections on the project. All of these changes increased the cost of construction and were not anticipated in the original estimate. Finally, the Channel Tunnel was a mega project and mega projects rarely finish on time or on budget. It is clear that Eurotunnel expected overruns as their original plan was to raise £6 billion in capital which would have covered a 25% budget overrun. Tolls and usage fees were intended to pay back the loans required to finance the project as well as the maintenance and operations, and even turn a profit.[20]


The project was 100% financed by private capital. Margret Thatcher was opposed to the use of public funding for the project. The British were also opposed to the use of public loans for the project to avoid any public risk should the venture fail. This created additional difficulties in financing the project. Eurotunnel had to cover costs with private loans which have much higher interest rates than publicly secured loans; this combined with the project overruns made the project much more expensive than was originally imagined.[19] There were several points during the construction of the tunnel when it was unclear whether Eurotunnel would be able to continue construction of the tunnel as a look through any major British newspaper from the 1990s would confirm.

The tunnel has also experienced much less traffic than was initially estimated. All operational and maintenance financing comes from tolls and usage fees. This is the only way in which the governments of either country financially contribute to the project as the eurostar, the publicly owned passenger rail service between the UK, France, and Belgium does pay guaranteed usage fees to use the route. Lower revenue and higher interest payments than originally anticipated created years of financial uncertainty for the Eurotunnel.The company stayed afloat mostly through debt restructuring and obtaining extensions to their operating period granted in the concession agreement, first to 65 years then to 99 years. Eurotunnel paid its first dividend in 2008, twenty years after building began, at €0.04 per share. Dividend rates had risen as high as €0.41 per share in 2020 but dropped back to €0.05 per share in 2021 as the company reported a net loss of €113 million for the 2020 fiscal year largely due to a drop in usage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.[21]

Narrative of the Case, Lessons, and Takeaways[edit | edit source]

The Channel Tunnel is an important piece of infrastructure that links England/Scotland/Wales to mainland Europe. The tunnel was centuries in the making, and was the result of careful planning between French and British parties. After the Treaty of Canterbury in 1987, the tunnel would be built. The tunnel was financed through completely private funds. Although the tunnel had less traffic than initially expected and went over budget, it eventually started paying dividends to investors more than twenty years after its completion. From a traveler's point of view, the tunnel has been a great success that has made crossing the English channel more convenient, faster, and cheaper for both personal and commercial uses. In 2017, the chunnel facilitated the passage of over 20 million passengers and 1.6 million commercial trucks. However for investors, the tunnel has never met passenger expectations with the costs still outweighing the benefits by roughly £8 billion[22].


Overall, the tunnel has a mixed record on efficiency. The channel offers marginal improvements on time and experience crossing the English channel, compared to the only option of ferries that existed before. The journey time by car in le shuttle is roughly 40 minutes through the channel tunnel compared to roughly 90 minutes on a ferry. In addition, the tunnel provides more frequent service than the ferries[23]. In addition, the addition of new options to cross the channel by both car and rail has resulted in cheaper options for consumers due to more competition. On the other hand, it is still hard to call the project “efficient” due to the fact that the project was a disaster for investors. Even with the efficiency improvements for travelers, the tunnel’s exorbitant costs make it hard to justify overall[22]. However, the tunnel did have other ripple effects that are hard to quantify in a cost-benefit analysis, including further investment in Europe's high speed rail network, economic development, and more connectivity between the content and the UK[24].


The tunnel is managed through the private companies and investors that built the tunnel, and this structure will be maintained until 2086. However, safety, security, and economic regulation is managed through the Channel Tunnel Intergovernmental Commission (IGC) that is a joint venture of the British and French governments[25]. There have been safety incidents since the tunnel has opened. The most serious was a fire in 1996 that burned for 12 hours and forced the tunnel to be closed for over a month. Safety plans were disregarded and there were communication difficulties between french and english firefighters. While no one died, there were serious injuries and damage to the tunnel. While other fires have occurred since, none have been as bad as this one.[26]


Although the tunnel from first glance only serves as a rail tunnel, it provides multiple ways of transit across the English channel. The tunnel has high speed passenger rail operated by Eurostar, vehicle and commercial vehicle traffic operated by shuttles, and traditional freight rail trains[27]. Since the tunnel has been built, there have been multiple crises that have hit the tunnel. In the aftermath of Brexit going into effect throughout 2020, there has yet to be an agreement on whether UK or EU rail safety standards will apply in the tunnel[28]. Furthermore, new travel and freight restrictions have affected travelers and freight traffic. While the most disastrous potential outcomes for the tunnel from Brexit have been avoided, the new cross-border travel situation has reduced travel across the tunnel. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic severely reduced travel in the tunnel. In February 2021, passenger numbers were down 71% and freight traffic was down 31% compared to the year before. This was due to the combined effect of both Brexit and the pandemic[29]. As mentioned earlier, the operators of the tunnel lost €113 million in FY 2020. In recent years the tunnel has also had to deal with a surge of migrants and an immigration crisis. At the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015, over 37,000 migrants tried to flee to the UK using the Chunnel in a 7 month period. Calais, the French side of the tunnel, became home to thousands of migrants living in temporary camps, and the governments of the UK and France were forced to spend millions of dollars reinforcing security[30].

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

  • How will Brexit and the aftermath of the pandemic affect the future of the tunnel?
  • In your opinion, was the decision to make the tunnel rail instead of road correct?
  • Should the chunnel and other similarly important pieces of infrastructure have been financed through private funds or public funds?

Additional Readings[edit | edit source]

"The Regional Impact of the Channel Tunnel Throughout the Community." European Commission, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1996,

Goldsmith, Hugh, and Patrick Boeuf. “Digging beneath the Iron Triangle: The Chunnel with 2020 Hindsight.” Journal of Mega Infrastructure & Sustainable Development, vol. 1, no. 1, Routledge, Jan. 2019, pp. 79–93,

R W Vickerman (1987) The Channel Tunnel and regional development: a critique of an infra-structure-led growth project, Project Appraisal, 2:1, 31-40, DOI: 10.1080/02688867.1987.9726592

Ziegelmeir, Michael. “Privatizing the ‘Chunnel’ Project - Success or Failure? - A Governance Analysis of a Public-Private-Partnership in High-Speed Rail.” Mar. 2019, pp. 1–25.,

References[edit | edit source]

Hoover Dam

George Mason University | 조지메이슨대학교

This casebook is a case study on the Hoover Dam by Leul Lakew, Abrar Samimi-Darzi, Cooper Gandy, and Karen Herrera as part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-004 (Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government) / CEIE 499-001 (Special Topics in Civil Engineering) Fall 2021 capstone course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering. Modeled after the Transportation Systems Casebook. Under the instruction of Prof. Jonathan Gifford.

[References - Part 1 [31]]

Hoover Dam at Night

Summary[edit | edit source]

The Hoover Dam (formerly know as the Boulder Dam) is located in Clark County, Nevada, and Mohave County, Arizona in the United States. Originally proposed in 1922 by Arthur Powell Davis, the Hoover Dam was meant to prevent flooding, divert water to budding communities, and generate hydroelectric power. The proposition for the dam would be authorized in 1928 by president Coolidge, signed in as “The Boulder Canyon Project Act” it appropriated an estimated $165 million for the project. Being built in the Black Canyon of the Colorado river the Hoover Dam would begin construction in 1931, the Dam would be built by Six Companies Inc. At the time of construction, the Hoover Dam would be both the largest concrete structure and dam ever built. With construction taking place during the Great Depression the construction of the dam attracted tens of thousands of workers to travel to Nevada in order to find work, many of them going to; at the time; the small city of Las Vegas.

The construction of the dam was surrounded by controversy and pushback. Due to the nature and sheer size of the project, many of the techniques used during construction were experimental and untested. With a price tag of $165 million attached to it, many policymakers were hesitant about the project, worrying about the potential failure of the dam and that the diverted water would go almost exclusively to California. This problem would be solved by then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover who created the 1922 Colorado River Compact which divided the water proportionally among the seven states affected by the dam. Several years after the Colorado River Compact was signed construction of the dam would begin.

Annotated List of Key Actors and Institutions[edit | edit source]

Private Sector Actors and Institutions[edit | edit source]

Six Companies, Inc.[edit | edit source]

The Hoover Dam was built by the Six Companies, Inc. which was a joint venture made up of eight companies, the first five of which were Morrison-Knudsen Co., Utah Construction Co., J. F. Shea Co., Pacific Bridge Co., MacDonald & Kahn Ltd.; the next three companies that make up the Six Companies are [Another Joint Venture] Company consisting of W. A. Bechtel Co., Henry J. Kaiser Co., Ltd. (also known as Kaiser Paving Co. Ltd.), and the Warren Brothers Company (also known as the Warren Brothers of Massachusetts).[32][33][19][22][34]

  1. Morrison-Knudsen Co. (Morrison & Knudsen Co.): was a construction company headquartered in Boise, Idaho,[22] founded by Harry Morrison and Morris Knudsen[35].
  2. Utah Construction Co. (Utah Construction Company): was a construction company headquartered in Ogden, Utah.
    • Two of its key leaders Edmund O. Wattis and William H. Wattis took a leading role in the creating the organizational structure and incorporation of the Six Companies Joint Venture. [22]
  3. J. F. Shea Co.: is a construction company that at the time of the Hoover Dam's construction was based out of Portland, Oregon.[22]
  4. Pacific Bridge Co. (Pacific Bridge Company): was an engineering firm[36] and construction company based out of Portland, Oregon.[22]
  5. MacDonald & Kahn Ltd. (MacDonald & Kahn Construction Co.): is a construction company headquartered in San Francisco, California[22]
  6. [Another Joint Venture] Company (due to the companies not having enough money to enter as individual partners to the Six Companies, they combined their resources to qualify):
    1. W. A. Bechtel Co.: is an infrastructure construction, engineering, and energy company that which at the time of the construction of the Hoover Dam was based in San Francisco, California[22] but its successor corporation[37] has since relocated its headquarters to Reston, Virginia[38].
    2. Henry J. Kaiser Co., Ltd. (also known as Kaiser Paving Co. Ltd.): was a road paving and construction company originally operating in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada) and Washington State (United States),[39] but by the start of the Hoover Dam construction it had already relocated to Oakland, California (United States)[22].
    3. Warren Brothers Company (also known as the Warren Brothers of Massachusetts): was coal tar, asphalt, and pavement producing company based out of Boston, Massachusetts.[19]
Unified Structure of the Six Companies Joint Venture[edit | edit source]
  • Frank T. Crowe, a civil engineer, former General Superintendent of Construction of the United States Reclamation Service (now knows as the Bureau of Reclamation), at the time employed by Morrison-Knudsen Co. was designated the (Six Companies) joint venture's lead General Superintendent for Hoover Dam due to his prior technical experience in dam building and water reclamation.[22]
  • Henry John Kaiser of Henry J. Kaiser Co., Ltd., was one of two architects who designed the Hoover Dam.[11]
  • Gordon Bernie Kaufmann, was one of two architects who designed the Hoover Dam.[11]

Public Sector Actors and Institutions[edit | edit source]

United States Federal Government[edit | edit source]

The Federal Government of the United States of America played a key role in the building of the Hoover Dam and related Boulder Canyon Projects dealing with the Colorado River System and Colorado River Basin. [12][40][41] The United States Government is also the current owner of dam.

  • United States Congress
    • Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928, introduced by Senator Hiram Johnson (R-CA) and Representative Phil Swing (R, CA-11) [40][42] was the law that commissioned the construction of a dam and appropriated money designated for the Department of the Interior to hire a firm or firms to construct the Boulder Dam (now known as the Hoover Dam)[41][43]
  • Executive Office of the President of the United States: Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States, signs the Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928 into law.[42]
  • Department of the Interior (DOI): was the lead government department that handled the government side of planning the Boulder Canyon Project[41]
    • United States Bureau of Reclamation: is the agency within the Department of the Interior that commissioned the bid looking for companies to that would build the dam, it eventually chose the joint venture known as the Six Companies, Inc.. The Bureau of Reclamation is currently the operator of the Hoover Dam.[41][22]
    • United States Geological Survey (USGS):
      • Arthur P. Davis (Arthur Powell Davis), one of the first people to propose the building of a dam on the Colorado River.

Signatories to the Colorado River Compact of 1922[edit | edit source]

The Colorado River Compact of 1922 is an interstate compact between seven Colorado River Basin states and the United States Government that deals with the sharing of water resources between the states relating to the Colorado River on which the Boulder Dam (and other Boulder Canyon Projects) are built on. [12]

  • State of Arizona: represented by Commissioner W.S. Norviel
  • State of California: represented by Commissioner W.F. McClure
  • State of Colorado: represented by Commissioner Delph E. Carpenter
  • State of Nevada: represented by Commissioner J.G. Scrugham
  • State of New Mexico: represented by Commissioner Stephen B. Davis, Jr.
  • State of Utah: represented by Commissioner R.E. Caldwell
  • State of Wyoming: represented by Commissioner Frank C. Emerson
  • United States of America (U.S. Federal Government): represented by Herbert Hoover as Representative of the United States Government[12] in an appointed position and was simultaneously holding the position of Secretary of Commerce - Department of Commerce (he later becomes a President of the United States).

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

Timeline of events:

May 1869 - Major John Wesley Powell (a one-armed Civil War veteran, and Director, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)) makes his first recorded trip through the Grand Canyon and down the length of the Colorado River to record topography information for public use/intel.

April 1902 - President Theodore Roosevelt signs the Reclamation Act. Reclamation Service engineers begin investigating the Colorado River for possible uses.

March 1905 -  Rains cause the Colorado River to flood into the Imperial Valley, creating an inland sea across a hundred and fifty square miles. About $3 million in damages were done before the water levels reached normal.

April 1920 - Congress passes the Kinkaid Act authorizing the Secretary of Interior to investigate the Imperial Valley inland sea formation.

February 1922 - Arthur P. Davis (responding to congress regarding the Kinkaid Act. after his investigation) proposed the construction of a high dam on the Colorado River. He stated the government could recoup the cost of construction by selling the electric power generated by the dam to the cities in Southern California.

December 1928 - The Boulder Canyon Project Act, introduced by Senator Hiram Johnson and Representative Phil Swing, both of California, passes in the House and Senate and is signed by President Calvin Coolidge.

June 1929 - Herbert Hoover takes charge of negotiations as six of seven basin states approves the Colorado River Compact. The basin states include Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Arizona did not approve the dam construction.

March 1931 - The Bureau of Reclamation opens bids for the construction of the dam. The winning bid was $48,890,995 to a private joint venture made of 6 renowned construction and design firms.

November 1932 - November: The Colorado River is diverted around the dam site.

June 1933 - First concrete is poured at Hoover Dam site.

February 1935 - The Hoover Dam starts impounding water in Lake Mead.

May 1935 - The last concrete is poured at the dam site.

September 1935 - President Franklin D. Roosevelt attends and speaks at the dedication of Boulder (Hoover) Dam.

March 1947 - House Resolution 140, officially declaring that the dam at Boulder Canyon be named Hoover Dam, for former President Herbert Hoover, is introduced to Congress. It is passed two days later, moves on to be approved in the Senate.

April 1947 - President Harry S. Truman signs a resolution officially declaring that the dam at Boulder Canyon be named Hoover Dam.

Present-day - The water level in the largest reservoir of the United States (Lake Meade) is the lowest it has ever been. Starting 2022, water allocations would be cut over the next year. The biggest cut will come to Arizona, 8 percent.

Maps of Locations[edit | edit source]

Risk Allocation[edit | edit source]

Being the biggest concrete structure of the time the Hoover Dam had a lot of risks involved in its construction. There was a significant amount of risk placed on the government, which had appropriated $165 million or $2.6 billion today. As previously mentioned a lot of the construction methods used for the Hoover Dam were experimental and largely untested. This put a lot of pressure on the government as if this project failed there would be a lot of negative attention put on them, and when combined with the upcoming depression would have shifted public perception against the government.

The further risk was involved with the 7 states who stood to benefit from the Dam. As if the dam failed many of the cities that formed around the river likely wouldn’t have prospered if the dam failed and would have hurt the development of the southwest. Without the Dam, the lack of irrigation water in these cities would devastate the farming industry in these areas. Even there is the risk of the dam breaking. If the Dam were to break more than 3.5 trillion gallons of water would set loose and cause massive damage to everything in its path. And all of the cities that rely on the water from the dam would dry up and suffer from massive droughts.

During its construction, there were a lot of risks put onto the workers who had to construct the dam. Beyond the risks that come with building a dam, due to the lack of tested construction techniques and bad weather, an official count stated that 96  workers died during construction. Further deaths that weren’t included in the official counts were deaths by pneumonia, heatstroke, or other deaths caused by things not immediately related to the Dam.

Policy and Technical Issues[edit | edit source]


The beginning to the creation of the Hoover Dam involved the diversion of tunnels, these tunnels served as waterway sources. Due to so many rocks being in the way, engineers had to use dynamites in certain sections to remove the rocks. This project was created due to its engineering and with the help of workers. From this point on, workers had to then shovel 382 cubic meters of deposits to reach the bedrock layer. On June 6, 1933, concrete was applied to the base of the dam. Then again on May 29, 1935, another layer of concrete was applied to finish this portion of the project.  This was one of the most important things that led to the building of the Hoover Dam but was a challenge that the engineers faced. The use of concrete would take too long to dry which would lead to the project being delayed by years. The solution to this problem was to use rows and columns and using pumps that would transfer cold water through pipes. This was a success since they were able to build the dam 2 years before its expected built time.

The Dam was created in interlocking blocks, the biggest blocks measured at 25 x 60 feet, and the smallest block measured at 25 x 25 feet. The engineers had to become creative as to how they chose to deliver the concrete. They decided to use buckets to transfer the concrete into the blocks. From this point on, “Pullers'' would pack the concrete in place. This was an important part to the project, since if done wrong air pockets could later form.


In 1922 the Federal director Arthur Powell Davis designed a plan to propose to congress called the “ Boulder Canyon Project” to propose to congress. This plan indicated that with the benefits to building the dam would include flooding control, irrigation, it would incorporate the use and sale of hydroelectric power. Congress was hesitant to sign off on the project due to it costing nearly $165 million dollars. Something that helped the Hoover Dam be built was The Colorado River Compact, which was created in 1922 by Herbert Hoover.  This made sure that the water was dispersed evenly between the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, and California.  Due to the contribution of the president in December 1928, the Hoover Dam was named after the president.

The Hoover Dam faced economic issues due to the time frame.  The Hoover Dam was built during the Great Depression, which made it difficult to fund and workers were needed. In order to solve this problem, the state of Nevada built 5,000 houses for the workers in Boulder City.  This became an incentive for many jobless men facing difficulties during the Great Depression. The city had no elected officials and was run by the U.S by the U.S Bureau of Reclamation. To bring revenue the construction of the Boulder Dam hotel had also been done. This hotel was used to host events and have important political figures come and bring awareness to the Dam.


The construction of the Dam has brought negative impacts to the environment. For starters, the Dam has disturbed the aquatic life and ecosystem. For starters, it has led to the destruction of many habitats. This has led to water flow direction changing drastically, which has led to an increase in sediments into the water. The Dam has lowered the water temperature and due to this many fish have died. Studies have stated that 76% of the wildlife population has been lost. Dams have also been linked to the destruction of many ecosystems.  There are raising concerts due to the water drought that has been occurring throughout the years. The water level has dropped 1,071.56 feet and has raised some concerns. Due to the drought, many farmers have been affected and have abandoned their farms.

Water Rights:

In the 1890’s water stopped flowing down the Hila River and was now being distributed to other areas to help local farmers, settlers etc. Many of the Native Americans were left with no water, which affected their crop growth. In 1908 this went to court and the supreme court was not able to make any changes to this. In order for the Hoover Dam to be built, they had to include providing a water source for the Pima tribe. They came to an agreement which later on ended being one of the reasons as to how the Dam was built. Sadly, nothing really changed and the tribe was not getting enough water. As a result of this, they were not able to economically grow and many died. Many believe that the building of the Dam killed more than 500 Native Americans. Arizona ended up benefiting from the water source the dam was able to provide.

Narrative of the Case[edit | edit source]


Diagram of the Hoover Dam
Diagram of the Hoover Dam

During the late 1890s, the United States was trying to develop the southwest, and the Colorado River was seen as an ideal source of water for budding cities. Initial attempts to use the river's resources were done by creating a canal to divert the water for irrigation purposes. While the canal did provide enough water to encourage settlement of the surrounding valley, the canal would soon prove to be too costly to maintain and operate and would eventually breach and flow into the Salton Sink, filling it up creating the Salton Sea. [1] In 1902 the Edison Electric Company would survey the river in hopes of creating a hydroelectric dam, but due to technological limits of the time, the project would end up falling through. However, Arthur Powell Davis would take that idea and expand upon it, proposing what would eventually become the Hoover Dam. After his initial proposal was rejected in 1922, Davis would work with the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and would create a new report suggesting to build a dam on the Colorado River at Boulder Canyon for flood control and hydroelectric power generation.  Despite initially being called the Boulder Canyon Project, the dam would end up being constructed in Black Canyon after the BOR investigated the site and found Black Canyon to have the ideal conditions for construction. The Hoover Dam would be the victim of immense scrutiny and criticism, as the states involved were worried that the water and power generated by the Dam wouldn’t be split equally and the flourishing California would reap most of the benefits. In order to relieve this criticism Delph Carpenter; a Colorado Attorney would propose that the seven states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) should form an interstate compact. After meeting with then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, the Colorado River Compact would be signed in November of 1922. [5] Even with the Colorado River Compact, the dam would suffer heavy scrutiny, especially after the failure of St. Francis Dam in California which was similar in design to what the Hoover Dam was proposed to be. After this incident congress issued a board of engineers to review the dam, they would find the project feasible but still cautioned them to be constructed with great care. On December 21, 1928, President Coolidge would sign the bill that authorized the Boulder Canyon Project Act, appropriating an estimated $165 million for the project. A consortium called Six Companies Inc. would eventually win the bid to construct the dam.


Since the dam needs to be constructed on a dry riverbed, the Colorado River water had to be diverted first. Four, 56 feet wide diversion tunnels were built (two on each side of the river) by blasting through the canyon using dynamite. Then workers used hammers to further break down rocks from the canyon. Then they used the excavated rocks to create cofferdams to force the water flow into the diversion tunnels.

Once the dry riverbed was exposed, the workers had to smooth the canyon surface to prevent leaks and allow the installation of the designed dam. The Hoover Dam uses a gravity-arch design which enables it to stay in place using the weight of its concrete and the weight of the water it holds, forcing it into the canyon floor and walls, which is why it is important for the surfaces of the canyon to be smooth. The concept of hardhats was also invented during this phase of the Hoover Dam’s construction.

If the entire dam’s concrete was poured in a single pour, the concrete would dry for 125 years and would also break under its own weight. So the dam was divided into several rectangular moulded sections. The moulds were fitted with steel pipes that carried river water through them so the concrete would cure faster. Once that section cured, they built a mould section above it using the same method until the entire wall of the dam was built. As the wall got taller, it got harder to get concrete up to where it had to be. So they designed suspension cables which carried buckets of concrete above. Almost 90 million cubic feet of concrete was used to build the dam. This was the largest concrete structure that had ever been built. The 726 feet high dam was complete and the diversion tunnels were sealed shut, creating the reservoir we know today as Lake Meade. The power plant component of the structure was constructed during the structure of the main dam. The hydroelectric facility produces 4.2 billion kilowatt-hours.

Impact and Operations

Today, the Hoover Dam is owned by the United States Government and is operated by the United States Bureau of Reclamation. The Hoover Dam brought an innovative way of generating water known as Hydropower. Hydropower helped energize many mills and factories.  The creation of Hydropower also helped many farmers since now they would have a water source. The Dam became not only the biggest project to be built but also became the largest Electric power. During this time period, this project helped provide jobs at a time where it was really needed. The Hoover Dam also brought attraction to the West and increased tourism, ultimately leading to an increase of both social and economic growth. Currently the Hoover Dam produces 4 billion kilowatt-hours per year and for electrical power it serves the states of Nevada, Arizona, and California.[44]

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

What can we do to combat the drought that is threatening the Hoover Dam and bring the water level back up to its original state?

If the Hoover Dam does dry up, what would be a viable alternative to provide the states that rely on it with new power and water?

Without the Hoover Dam, how do you think the American Southwest would have developed?

Lesson Learned / Takeaways[edit | edit source]

1. Using federal funding to pay for domestic infrastructure, which generates revenue (in this case generation of electricity), is a very low risk investment of federal funds and has high long-term return. By 1987, the cost of construction of the Hoover Dam was paid back to federal funds with interest.

2. The sooner we understand our environment and agree on an end goal for development, the sooner we can act to improve our environment. The Colorado river was useful in this case because of its high slopes that carry water. We were able to harness the power of the flow of the river to generate electricity, irrigate farmland, prevent flooding, create jobs, and stimulate the economy. But this understanding of the environment and passing the bill to create this infrastructure was a 50-year process.

3. Due to climate change, we must build infrastructure that is meant to control a much larger range of water conditions. Southwestern states are experiencing the longest drought in U.S. history. We must increase the range for the conditions which our water resource infrastructure must control. This is done by designing water resource infrastructure which can handle significant changes in water conditions such as flow rate and velocity.

Additional Readings[edit | edit source]

Change Name of Boulder Dam to Hoover Dam. (1947). [s.n.].

Dunar, & McBride, D. (1993). Building Hoover Dam : an oral history of the Great Depression . Maxwell Macmillan International.

Hiltzik. (2010). Colossus : Hoover Dam and the making of the American century (1st Free Press hardcover ed.). Free Press.


References[edit | edit source]

  8. Topham, Gwyn. “Eurotunnel Renamed Getlink in Preparation for Post-Brexit Era.” The Guardian, 20 Nov. 2017. The Guardian,
  9. Lemley, Jack. “The Channel Tunnel - Creating a Modern Wonder of the World.” Project Managemnt Institute, July 1992,
  11. a b c d e f g Invalid <ref> tag; name ":2" defined multiple times with different content Invalid <ref> tag; name ":2" defined multiple times with different content
  12. a b c d e f “The Channel Tunnel Case Study.” The Global Infrastructure Hub, 30 Nov. 2020, Invalid <ref> tag; name ":3" defined multiple times with different content Invalid <ref> tag; name ":3" defined multiple times with different content Invalid <ref> tag; name ":3" defined multiple times with different content
  13. Rankin, Bill, and Ron Williams. “Channel Tunnel.” The Geological Society of London, 2012,
  14. “Channel Tunnel: ‘2,000 Migrants’ Tried to Enter.” BBC News, 28 July 2015.
  15. Strauss, Marina. “Migrant and Refugee Crossings of English Channel Increasing, despite Risks.” Deutsche Welle, 6 Aug. 2021.,
  16. Vickerman, R. W. “The Channel Tunnel and Regional Development: A Critique of an Infra-Structure-Led Growth Project.” Project Appraisal, vol. 2, no. 1, Taylor & Francis, Mar. 1987, pp. 31–40,
  17. Baraniuk, Chris. “The Channel Tunnel That Was Never Built.” BBC, 23 Aug. 2017,
  18. Wallis, Shani. “Channel Tunnel Handshake of History.” Tunnel Talk, Dec. 2010,
  19. a b c d Global Infrastructure Hub. (2020, November 30). The Channel Tunnel. Global Infrastructure Hub - A G20 INITIATIVE. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from Invalid <ref> tag; name ":1" defined multiple times with different content Invalid <ref> tag; name ":1" defined multiple times with different content
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Leul Lakew, Abrar Samimi-Darzi, Cooper Gandy, Karen Herrera; (Hoover Dam Group / Group 5). “Hoover Dam (Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future Casebook/Hoover Dam).” Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future Casebook: George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government -  Volgenau School of Engineering (GOVT 490-004 Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government / CEIE 499-001 Special Topics in Civil Engineering - Fall 2021), Nov. 2021,,_Present,_and_Future_Casebook/Hoover_Dam.

Leul Lakew, Abrar Samimi-Darzi, Cooper Gandy, Karen Herrera - Hoover Dam Group). “Hoover Dam (Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future Casebook/Hoover Dam).” Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future Casebook: George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government - Volgenau School of Engineering, Fall 2021 (Nov. 2021),,_Present,_and_Future_Casebook/Hoover_Dam.