Friday, August 17, 2012

You Didn't Build That Bridge

During his “you didn't build that” speech, Barack Obama said the following: “During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. Democratic and Republican administrations invested in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built them to the businesses that still use them today. And that's the true lesson of the past.”

I'll leave Hoover Dam for others, but let's take a look at the Golden Gate Bridge. So how much did the federal government invest in the Golden Gate Bridge? Zero. Zilch. Nada. It was strictly a local project, with cooperation from the state government and opposition from the federal government. Financing the project was almost as difficult as building the bridge itself. Preliminary plans to construct a bridge from San Francisco began in 1915. It was strongly opposed by the Southern Pacific Railroad which had a near-monopoly on the ferries that crisscrossed San Francisco Bay. But local residents wanted their bridge, and when Southern Pacific filed suit to stop the project, the locals boycotted the ferries.

The federal government, via the War Department, opposed the project as well. They contended that the major ports of San Francisco and Oakland would be put in jeopardy if a ship crashed into one of the towers and blocked the harbor entrance. The Secretary of War never visited the site so he was unaware that three or four ships could crash into the pillars and still not block the harbor. He was also basing his objections on a plan which had already been abandoned (a double cantilever design which was much closer to the water than the final soaring cable design).

So how did the financing work? The citizens of San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma and Del Norte counties (with special districts in Napa and Sonoma counties) voted to issue bonds to pay for the bridge. The timing couldn't have been worse. The bonds were authorized in 1929 and issued between 1929 and 1932. Almost none were purchased as a result of the stock market crash. So, did the federal government rush in to bail out the project? Nope. A certain A. P. Giannini, who had almost single-handedly rebuilt San Francisco after the Great Earthquake and Fire, used his resources to purchase all the bonds. His major resource was the Bank of America, which he had founded originally as the local San Francisco Bank of Italy. He changed the name of the bank after the Quake to give it more universal appeal. In those days, Bank of America was a bailor rather than a bailee.

The bondholders (BofA later sold many of the bonds to private investors) were paid in full with appropriate interest by the Bridge Authority from automobile tolls, though it did take thirty-four years. The return on investment was quite healthy. Although the state of California had little involvement, the creation of a special bridge district required state approval, which was granted in 1923. The locals had taken a big risk (on the theory that only great risk can produce great projects—a very American concept). They did not want outsiders interfering, and they knew that they would get no financial assistance from the state or federal government. The result was one of the most beautiful and breath-taking structures in the entire world.

How different this project was from federal projects. The locals maintained and maintain local control. The project was ultimately paid for solely by those who actually use the bridge, in the form of bridge tolls. When asked by A. P. Giannini how long the bridge would last, chief architect Joseph Strauss replied: “Forever.” To this day (after the bridge was fully paid-off in 1971), the local project is self-financed. In fact, it is so successful that it also helps to fund mass transit for those who will be using the bridge on public transportation, and even helps to finance the adjunct ferries.

While the federal-state project which became the San Francisco-Oakland Transbay Bridge (the Bay Bridge) suffered major damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the Golden Gate barely noticed. The Bay Bridge authority is in constant financial trouble, and the entire stretch from Yerba Buena Island to Oakland is in the process of being completely replaced. In the 60s, that same stretch had gotten a needed facelift which included the approach to Yerba Buena Island which locals affectionately called “the hump.” Naturally, there was a big scandal afterwards which showed that the very expensive hump was unnecessary.

The original traffic plans had to be modified. Originally the Bay Bridge had two levels of two-way traffic, cars on top, trucks, buses and heavy vehicles on the bottom. It didn't work, so now all westbound traffic travels on the one-way upper level and all eastbound traffic travels on the lower deck. So now the Bay Bridge is very much comparable to Hoover Dam historically. The Golden Gate Bridge bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Hoover Dam project, except possibly for the success of each.

Obama, who has repeated the Golden Gate Bridge falsehood many times since he first mentioned it in his State of the Union address, has proven that he is as incompetent as an historian as he is as a president.

49 comments:

Patriot said...

LawHawk.........up until earlier this year, even after living in the SF Bay area, I had no idea that the bridge was built entirely with private funds......specifically with BOA funding. To have our President re-write history to suit his government takeover and not be called on a simple historical accuracy by the media is irresponsible ton say the least. But then it wouldn't suit the narrative and help him get reelected.

Do you know if other large scale municipal projects we think are government funded were in fact privately owned? I'm thinking of the water project in "Chinatown" as one example (Was it in fact historically accurate?)

Would be an interesting way of looking at federal government owned land and the possibilities of private sector moxie, money and innovation taking over where the fed has just run out of our money and can't get anything done anymore.

BevfromNYC said...

Most of our rail system in the Northeast was financed and built by evil rail barons including the NYC Subway System.

Tehachapi Tom said...

Hawk
Fine example of the differences in privately run bridge vs government run bridge and in the same geographical area.
Bev is right on, in fact the transcontinental railroad was privately funded. The government later got involved by giving to the railroads broad swaths of land as an incentive, but not money. Palm Springs still shows that, with most of the area being a checkerboard,one color is or was railroad owned while the other color is American Indian owned.

bo is a corrupt waste of protoplasm, in private enterprise he would be in jail. I do not like him, that isn't to obvious is it.

tryanmax said...

Patriot, even the famous Chicago "L" in 0bama's adopted hometown was put up by private funds. It should have been left to rot in the 1940s when it ceased being profitable. But instead it was publicized and runs at a deficit to this day. (And is not in much better repair.) To be fair, there's no reason to think that Chicago's tax base couldn't fully support the CTA if it weren't for Chicago politics.

T-Rav said...

As a rule, government control and management doesn't result in the Golden Gate Bridge. It results in the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Tehachapi Tom said...

T-Rav
I like your comparison, it is most nearly the rule.

StanH said...

The truth matters not when talking to the hypnotized. Furthermore, that truth thingy that you engage in Lawhawk is not fair, do you realize how hard it is to create a false narrative and sustain it.

Oh Tom, it’s the “Intercontinental Railroad,” Barry says.

BevfromNYC said...

T-Rav - Add to that list of government funded and built projects - Central Artery/Tunnel Project (CA/T) (a/k/a The Big Dig) that collapsed and killed people. It was supposed to cost $2.8B and be completed by 1998. It ended up costing $14.8B and was completed in 2007. That's the Government spending OUR dollars.

And I have also told you about the NYC 2nd Avenue Subway line that was conceived and started in 1928 and 30 blocks will be completed in 2016. Yes, you read that right. 30 blocks in 88 years all on the Government dime...

T-Rav said...

Bev, we went through Boston on a family vacation in '05. I had heard of the "Big Dig" before, but that half-constructed mess....that made city traffic a freakin' nightmare. Or at least more of one than it apparently was already.

Given how much of present-day Boston is built on filled-in land from the bay, I would be nervous about any attempts to ring the city with tunnels like that.

T-Rav said...

Thanks Tom. :-)

LawHawkRFD said...

Patriot: I'll have to hit the books again. I got fascinated with the GG Bridge when I was very young, so it was easy to debunk the "you didn't build it" meme. Funny, though, how when you live somewhere you tend to know less about your own city than the tourists know.

Tennessee Jed said...

thanks for this extremely interesting bit of history. As Carson used to say, "I did not know that." Well, I guess I did know generally the part about Obama continuously repeating falsehoods. As Uncle Joey Biden almost famously said, the latter part is not a "BFD", and certainly is no less truthful than the lie Republicans have been spreading that Democrats are "gonna put y'all back in chains."

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: Many of San Francisco's landmarks were built by the railroad barons or named after them. The Flood Mansion (now the home of the California Historical Society) and the Mark Hopkins Hotel (Top 'O the Mark). The cable cars were originally privately owned. Across the Bay, much of the early building at the private College of California (today, the University of California at Berkeley) was paid for or financed by mining moguls like William Randolph Hearst. And then there's that private university in Palo Alto named after the son of railroad baron Leland Stanford.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: In Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Southern Pacific Railroad owned many of the trolleys, buses and trains. Southern Pacific ran one of the first light rail systems in the country (the "red cars") which lasted right into the 1950's before the automobile sealed their final fate. As a young kid, I loved going to the Huntington Park SP station (named after railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington) for the ride into magical downtown Los Angeles. The light rail cars ended up being dumped in Santa Monica Bay where they have served for decades as fish sanctuaries.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: Ironically, some of the same engineers who designed the GG Bridge were involved in the Tacoma Narrows fiasco. For some reason, with no studies to support it, the engineers of the GG Bridge intuited that the strong winds blowing in from the Pacific and accelerated by the narrow opening of the Golden Gate could be a serious problem, so they put slits in the roadway to relieve the pressure. The Tacoma Narrows engineers failed to do that, and the rest, as they say, is history.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: What Biden should have said is "this is a big SNAFU."

LawHawkRFD said...

Stan: I forgot we live in a world of "your truth, but not my truth."

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: The Boston "Big Dig" is about as classic an example of government boondoggling as you can get.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: I went through the same thing when they had Seattle all torn up in the 60s to build the freeways and interchanges for the completion of the 101/I5 passages. I had wanted to see the newly-constructed Space Needle, but after hours of just sitting on the crammed roadways, I kept going on my way to visit British Columbia. The improved highways were a necessity, but the lack of government coordination on the projects made Seattle and its environs a nightmare for years.

T-Rav said...

LawHawk, there was a good article on Cracked.com some time ago discussing just that thing. The bridge attracted a lot of attention when it opened because it had such solid, massive construction. Apparently someone thought all that block of concrete and metal would stand anything the wind could throw at it. Yeah, about that.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: It really was an interesting divergence between two different thoughts on engineering bridges in high-wind areas. The Narrows bridge, built about ten years after the Golden Gate, had more advanced studies of wind factors, but the engineers ignored them. Somehow, the chief engineers on the Golden Gate project had better "gut instincts." Galloping Gertie went down, teaching engineers that nature is a more powerful force than steel and concrete.

Individualist said...

Lawhawk

The Golden Gate Bridge was funded by the federal government in its entirety....

Also we have alwaqys been at War with Eurasia.....

Tennessee Jed said...

On a peripherally related topic which was covered yesterday by the good folks at Commentarama, I thought the piece from the Washington Examiner posted by Drudge about Hillary shooting down Valerie Jarrett fascinating. It was exactly as I had imagined and for the very same reasons. Look for Hil in 2016. If I was Biden, I'd tell Obama to go bite himself :)

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: The toll for the publicly operated, privately-owned Golden Gate Bridge is $6.00 for a passenger car ($5.00 for FasTrak users). The toll on the publicly-owned copycat Verazzano-Narrows Bridge is $13.00 ($9.60 for E-ZPass users). The Staten Island residents (and some city dwellers) say the toll is kept high to "prevent urban sprawl into Staten Island"). The toll on the Golden Gate Bridge is based on usage and a sufficient profit to fund the authority's other projects.

LawHawkRFD said...

Indi: Oh, Big Brother! LOL

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: I think posting one link wouldn't crash the Blogger spam filter. Can you do that for us?

I've been watching the USA Network TV series "Political Animals" rather avidly. It's a thinly-disguised fantasy about Hillary Clinton, complete with a weak and vacillating president (from her own party) and her desire to run for the presidency again. Of course to make it more scandal-friendly, they've added her gay, drug-addled suicidal pianist son who wants to run a fabulous night club and a [former] husband who is more like Lyndon Johnson than Bill Clinton.

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - sadly I am technologically incompetent to do so. It is the lead article on Drudge so readers can link right from Commentarama to Drudge and then link to the article. Or . . . maybe one of our young studs like Tryanmax or T-Rav would have the savvy.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: OK. That will work. I'm going to take a look at it right now.

BevfromNYC said...

Ah, yes, Lawhawk, but then how do they justify the same tolls on all the other bridges and tunnels. Of course the last thing I think of when thinking of New York City is, of course, "urban sprawl".

T-Rav said...

Ask and ye shall receive, Jed. LINK

I wonder if this is proof Obama's associates are officially in "rats off a sinking ship" mode. It certainly hasn't been an encouraging week.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: Right now it's still the lead article on Drudge: "Hillary Said No."

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: Thanks for the link.

Obama is soon going to be down to his own hardcore support staff and not much more. But he can still count on the lackadaisical attitude of many Democrats.

BevfromNYC said...

Oh, and, like you had Hopkins, Hearst and Stanford, we in NYC have Carnegie, Mellon, Rockefellar, Gould etc. You know all of those names that adorn our oldedst buildings were built by...the Government. Oh, and who would think that Lincoln Center would have the most eeeevil of villianous robber barons - David H. Koch - one of the famed and eeeevil conservative Koch Brother - adorn one their famed buildings. How dare he support the Opera and the Ballet with his ill gotten gains?

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: We also had Durant (the vicious railroad tycoon depicted in the AMC series Hell on Wheels). I love the Koch connection to the Lincoln Center!

AndrewPrice said...

Nice bridge. ;)

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: Thanks. I built it. LOL

tryanmax said...

Hawk, 0bama still has the support of over-the-hill irrelevant rock-n-rollers. IowaHawk is having a hey-day on twitter over an op-ed penned by former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello that rips into Paul Ryan. Why did he pen the attack? Because Ryan mentioned he likes RATM music.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: That sounds about right. I'm sure a lot of other rock stars will support Obama as soon as they get out of rehab.

IowaHawk is one of the best satirists, ever.

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: I just saw the Obama letter to Romney. What a jerk. Give us five years of your taxes and we'll stop saying anything at all about them. First, Obama is a pathological liar, so Romney knew it was a trap. Second, as the attacks start, including demanding another five years, Obama would deny any connection to them and claim he can't control "overenthusiastic" PACs.

obiwan2009 said...

Hawk, IMO, I just am honestly entertained by the haggling on the tax return issue, I remember it seemed just yesterday when the one was asking for ten years, and now he lowers it to five. If anything, it sounds like an entertaining auction, in reverse, and I want to see how much lower the bids can get.

Patti said...

barry is a wannbe, so he projects with all his might to make us believe that he knows what he's talking about. his biggest mistake is disregarding a little know research tool called TEH INTERNETS! it's this magical place where folks can fact-check in a matter of minutes.

hello! fellow lib, al gore, should have filled him in, after all, he invented the ding-dang thang.

T-Rav said...

Tom Morello's net worth: $60 million. Paul Ryan's net worth: $4.5 million.

LawHawkRFD said...

obiwan: Even with loaded dice Obama can't seem to win. I'm waiting for him to offer Romney two years of tax returns in exchange for a doctored photocopy of O's high school grades.

LawHawkRFD said...

Patti: The only proper purpose of the Interwebs is raising Democratic funds from po' folks. Everything else is a lie.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: Which means that by Obama standards, Morello is middle class and Ryan is super-rich. Ignore the numbers, it's the "feeling" that counts.

LawHawkRFD said...

Vogons: You bureaucrats always stick together. By the way, I hope your intergalactic highway fares better than the feeder roads to the Bay Bridge did during the '89 Loma Prieta Quake. The biggest single death toll was the pancaking of the double-deck Cypress Freeway leading to the Bay Bridge. Different government architects, though.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: I probably wouldn't have known that little historical tidbit if I hadn't received my B.A. in history with an emphasis on the American City from the Civil War through 1941. I'm probably the only person you know who can bore people to death with discussions of the "streetcar suburbs" of New York and San Francisco.

BTW: And don't forget all those Muslims who didn't get credit for their work on the bridge. Muslims have played a major part in the development of America since the Revolution. In fact it was a Muslim who invented the cable suspension bridge. Right?

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

I had totally forgot about the Muslim contribution. Must have been omitted by the Christian History Books. Or is it the Jewish ones? Buddhist? Oh, wait a second I know. The Shinto History Books.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: Give it awhile. After they're done with the public school history textbooks written in politically correctese, there will no mention of Christians and plenty of Muslims. After all, look how long it took non-Muslims to build the World Trade Towers versus how little time it took for Islamists to bring them down.

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