Decision-Making on Mega-Projects

Decision-Making on Mega-Projects

Cost–benefit Analysis, Planning and Innovation

Transport Economics, Management and Policy series

Edited by Hugo Priemus, Bent Flyvbjerg and Bert van Wee

This book enlarges the understanding of decision-making on mega-projects and suggest recommendations for a more effective, efficient and democratic approach. Authors from different scientific disciplines address various aspects of the decision-making process, such as management characteristics and cost–benefit analysis, planning and innovation and competition and institutions. The subject matter is highly diverse, but certain questions remain at the forefront. For example, how do we deal with protracted preparation processes, how do we tackle risks and uncertainties, and how can we best divide the risks and responsibilities among the private and public players throughout the different phases of the project?

Chapter 12: The Cost of the Technological Sublime: Daring Ingenuity and the New San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge

Karen Trapenberg Frick

Subjects: business and management, operations management, development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics, public sector economics, regional economics, transport, environment, transport, urban and regional studies, transport


Karen Trapenberg Frick 12.1 INTRODUCTION Mega-projects are often captivating to political leaders and the public because of their colossal size and the technical hurdles they overcome. This feature of major infrastructure in the landscape has been termed the ‘technological sublime’ (Marx, 1964; 2000; Nye, 1994). This chapter uses the concept of the sublime to contribute a new dimension to understanding the evolution of mega-project design and optimism bias. The case of the new San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge in Northern California is used to demonstrate how the technological sublime dramatically influenced bridge design, project outcomes, public debate, and the lack of accountability for its excessive cost overruns. According to David Nye (1994: xvi), the technological sublime ‘is about repeated experiences of awe and wonder, often tinged with an element of terror, which people have had when confronted with particular natural sites, architectural forms and technological achievements’. In the Bay Bridge case, the goal of developing a sublime, new structure became the focal point of the public debate and drove the design and funding process. The project’s initial purpose was to replace the bridge’s east span, which collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Debate focused on designing a ‘signature’ bridge – a bridge that signifies the technological and aesthetic triumph of the region over the San Francisco Bay, a geologically complicated body of water, and thereby leave a unique signature on the landscape. This daring ingenuity spoke to the interest of many in the Bay Area, but not all,...

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