Friday, September 21, 2012

Construction productivity and technology

When Keynes used the analogy of digging up holes and filling them up again as an example of fiscal stimulus he probably didn’t realize that he was describing an actual construction project that has been going on here for the past few months. Some of the jokes that are told about how many men does it take to dig a hole are especially true here.

Since April (I think), there has been a great deal of construction (of some kind) on perhaps a 5 mile stretch of Wisconsin Ave stretching first near the Safeway up to the intersection at Massachusetts near the National Cathedral. The project started up near here at the Safeway in small stretches moving up Wisconsin up to the Cathedral and then back down again and then back up again and so on....

At first I thought I knew what was going on - replacing street and traffic lights. First they tear up the middle two lanes of Wisconsin perhaps to lay some new cables. Then they put on the steel plates - sometime later when they are “partially” done they would lay down some temporary asphalt.  Then they tear up the sidewalk to install the lights - this would be done in stages involving different crews perhaps and on different days. First the foundations are laid - i.e. wiring, base, etc. Then the lights are attached to a temporary place near the old lights. Then the old lights are detached. Then the new lights are moved to their permanent locations. Then the sidewalk is temporarily patched. Then another crew comes in to put down a more permanent sidewalk.

Just when I thought they were done they seem to have gone back to tearing up the middle two lanes of Wisconsin Ave again - and now I have no idea what they’re doing. Is it a wonder that construction productivity has gone down? Or that construction technology has stagnated?

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