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.