Cost to renovate Longfellow Bridge compared to its construction cost

The Longfellow Bridge here in Cambridge, built in 1906, is going to be partially shut down for the next three years. The project is forecast to cost about $260 million, though previous construction cost forecasts in Massachusetts have been optimistic (e.g., the Big Dig was originally planned at $2.8 billion but ended up costing close to $15 billion). The project has already generated some controversy due to the fact that Governor Deval Patrick imposed a rule that excluded non-union workers from contributing (Boston Globe editorial).

I was interested to know how the cost of renovating the bridge compared to the cost of its construction but none of the news articles on the subject of the bridge project mentioned the original cost. Nor does Wikipedia. I found a “Cambridge Bridge Commission Report” on that on pages 53 and 54 summarizes the cost. The “total paid for new bridge” was about $2.5 million. In today’s dollars that’s approximately $65 million. In other words, assuming that this project comes in within its budget, renovating the bridge will cost roughly 4X what it cost to build.

If you’d like to play with the figures, I hired Cristian Blendea of Bucharest, Romania (via to prepare an Excel spreadsheet with all of the numbers from the book: Longfellow-Bridge-Construction-Cost

[When the project is all done, the current four lanes for cars (two in each direction) will be reduced to three (just one lane from Boston to Cambridge), so if examined in terms of cost per lane of travel, it was $16.25 million to construct and will be $86.67 million to renovate, a 5X increase in cost.]

6 thoughts on “Cost to renovate Longfellow Bridge compared to its construction cost

  1. That sounds relatively cheap. The Tappan Zee bridge in NY, completed in 1955 at a cost of $81 million ($700 million adjusted for inflation) is due to be replaced at an estimated cost of $5 to $6 billion. That’s a 7X increase in 60 years, compared to a 4X increase in 110 years. Suddenly the Longfellow project doesn’t sound so bad.

  2. The increased price is a *good* thing. For a start, labor is now more expensive than it was in 1906, as people aren’t willing to risk their lives and break their backs for the prices that were paid one hundred years ago to desperate immigrants ( I would be interested to know what those rates were, by the way).
    Secondly, materials and services are likely more expensive today as externalities that weren’t considered one hundred years ago are now factored in (air pollution, carbon emissions etc). Those costs were there even 100 years ago, but were borne blindly by society at large as opposed to paid for by the commissioners of the works.
    Finally, there is something to be said for maintaining instead of simply destroying and rebuilding. It might be cheaper to buy a new inkjet printer than buying new cartridges, but is that the “right” thing to do?

  3. My grandfather supervised construction of bridges, including the Robert E. Lee Bridge in Richmond: approximately $80 million in today’s dollars, three lanes in each direction, roughly twice as long as the Longfellow bridge, and includes a pedestrian walkway under the automotive lanes. Perhaps not as visually interesting as the Longfellow, but functional.

  4. The port of Long Beach is replacing the Gerald Desmond Bridge, which is 44 years old. The new bridge will be bigger and higher (to allow large ships to pass under it). The original bridge was built at a cost of $20 million ($132 million in 2012 dollars). The replacement bridge will cost $1 billion. I would have expected more progress in construction technology in 44 years.

  5. Good for you, Phil, for posting the name of your hired guru. I hope it gets him more work.

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