Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future Casebook/Printable version

Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future Casebook

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Dutch Dikes

Summary of Dutch DikesEdit

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 EventsEdit

8th centuryEdit

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 WorksEdit

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 WorksEdit

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.

Netherland map showing the Delta Rivers in the Southwestern region of the country

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 ActorsEdit

-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 financingEdit

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

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]

Future construction of Dutch Dikes.jpg
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 CaseEdit

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 IssuesEdit

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 / takeawaysEdit

 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 QuestionEdit

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?


-“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.


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 InstitutionsEdit

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 InstitutionsEdit

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 InstitutionsEdit

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 PlanEdit

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

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).


Big Dig Map.png


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.


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


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 WrongEdit

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 IssuesEdit

Acquiring FundingEdit

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…” [1] 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 OppositionEdit

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”[2] , 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 [3].

Financing and Funding the Project - Cost OverrunsEdit

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 [1]. An initial 755 million dollars was approved that year to begin the project, though almost immediately the beginning of construction was delayed [2]. 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 [3] [4] 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 [5]. The cost overrun came from several areas [6].

Technical issuesEdit

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.


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 PhilosophyEdit

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” [7]. 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.


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.


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% [8] . The issues are troubling, however it does not appear as though the Commonwealth has capitulated under this debt.

Local Concerns and MitigationEdit

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” [9], 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 DigEdit

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 [10].

Discussion QuestionsEdit

  • 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 ReadingsEdit

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.


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 TunnelEdit

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].


  • 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 EventsEdit

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]


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]


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.


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 FinancingEdit

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.



  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 QuestionsEdit

  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?


- "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


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.


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.


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.


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 TechnologyEdit

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].

Radar Bundeswehr.jpg


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.

Radio 180 Revinge 2019.jpg


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 ControlEdit

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].


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 RolloutEdit

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].


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 NextGenEdit

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 QuestionsEdit

  • 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?


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 SummaryEdit

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

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 EventsEdit

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 ActorsEdit

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]


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 alsos 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]


Map of Louisiana Levee System


New Orleans West Bank.png

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


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 IssuesEdit

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]


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.


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 QuestionsEdit

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?


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 ReadingsEdit

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


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 ActorsEdit

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]


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 LocationsEdit

Maps of Locations (Mark).jpg

File:Map of Locations 2.jpg

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

Risk AllocationEdit

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 ProcessEdit

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]


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 StructureEdit

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 StructureEdit

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 IssuesEdit

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.


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/TakeawaysEdit

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 QuestionsEdit

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?


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 ReadingEdit

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 LineEdit

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. [11]

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. [12]

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 EventsEdit

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[13].

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 ActorsEdit

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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]

Aftermath of World War IEdit

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.[19] 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 [20] 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 FinancingEdit

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. [21] 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. [22]

Design InfluencesEdit

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. [23]

Pushback from AlliesEdit

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 CompositionEdit

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.[24]

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.[25]

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.[25]

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.


Map of fortifications on the Maginot Line.

World War IIEdit

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. [26][27]

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. [28]

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.[24]

Assessment of the Maginot LineEdit

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 QuestionsEdit

  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?


  11. “” Accessed November 3, 2021.
  12. “The Maginot Line: An Indestructible Inheritance.” Taylor & Francis. Accessed November 3, 2021.
  13. Gibson, Irving M. “The Maginot Line.” The Journal of Modern History, vol. 17, no. 2, 1945, pp. 130–146.,
  14. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "André Maginot." Encyclopedia Britannica, February 13, 2021.
  15. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Joseph-Jacques-Césaire Joffre." Encyclopedia Britannica, May 13, 2021.
  16. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Paul Reynaud." Encyclopedia Britannica, October 11, 2021.
  17. Blond, G.. "Philippe Pétain." Encyclopedia Britannica, July 19, 2021.
  18. BNF catalogue général. Catalogue Général. (n.d.). Retrieved November 2, 2021, from
  19. Jeze, Gaston. The Economic and Financial Position of France in 1920 - JSTOR.
  20. Kaufmann, J. E., and H. W. Kaufmann. Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II. Stackpole, 2007.
  21. 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.
  22. Roberts, Andrew. The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. New York: Harper Perennial, 2012.
  23. Kaufmann, J. E., and H. W. Kaufmann. Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2007.
  24. a b Allcorn, William, and Vincent Boulanger. The Maginot Line 1928-45. Osprey, 2003.
  25. a b Chelminski, Rudolph. The Maginot Line.
  26. Passera, Rudy. “The Maginot Line, Scapegoat of the French Defeat in May 1940.” English. Accessed November 3, 2021.
  27. “Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact, 1939 Secret Supplementary.” Accessed November 2, 2021.
  28. Zaloga, Steve. Operation Nordwind, 1945: Hitler's Last Offensive in the West. Oxford: Osprey Publ., 2010.

Additional ReadingsEdit

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].


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].


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 DiagramsEdit

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 IssuesEdit


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 ArrangementsEdit

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 + FinancingEdit


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 TakeawaysEdit

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 QuestionsEdit

  • 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 ReadingsEdit

"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.,


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 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


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 InstitutionsEdit

Private Sector Actors and InstitutionsEdit

Six Companies, Inc.Edit

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 VentureEdit
  • 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 InstitutionsEdit

United States Federal GovernmentEdit

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 1922Edit

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 EventsEdit

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 LocationsEdit

Hover Dam 2.png
NPS lake-mead-backcountry-hoover-dam-map.pdf

Risk AllocationEdit

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 IssuesEdit


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 CaseEdit


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 QuestionsEdit

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 / TakeawaysEdit

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 ReadingsEdit

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.



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