An AP story this week (here) quoted Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov as saying, “We’ll never solve the problem of traffic under [Moscow mayor Yuri] Luzhkov, no matter how much money is allocated for road construction. The exorbitant prices are directly linked to corruption and ties between road builders and authorities. Traffic jams are about corruption.”
Nemtsov said he compiled road building costs “from open sources to shed light on the 17-year tenure” of Moscow’s mayor. In China, the United States and Europe, he said, new roads cost between $4.8 million and $9.6 million per mile. But construction of Moscow’s new fourth ring road, he reportedly told the AP, is expected to cost a whopping $380 million per mile.
We wondered: Can road construction costs be used as a universal indicator of corruption? Is there a standard scale against which anomalies will reveal or at least suggest the presence of graft? The short answer is, probably not.
Road-building projects, it turns out, are like fingerprints and snowflakes: no two are alike. Terrain, accessibility, soil conditions, climate, elevations, man-made and natural obstructions, drainage requirements — they all impact costs. Toss in different currency values, labor and equipment expenses, financing charges and so on, and the math can make you giddy. So in most cases, comparing road-building costs around the world probably can’t prove the presence (or absence) of corruption beyond a reasonable doubt.
Back in Moscow, we haven’t been able to verify the numbers in the AP story. But if the budget for the new ring road is really $380 million per mile or $72,000 per foot, then Neil Young got it right: “The cupboards are bare but the streets are paved with gold.”
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Seasons Change. It’s been a long time since we headed back to school after Labor Day. We remember the fluttery sensation and sweaty palms, mixed with the afterglow of another New Hampshire summer. September always signaled the start of a new work year and still does, no matter where we happen to be.
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Words we like. From Kurt Vonnegut:
There are now at least a hundred creative writing programs in American colleges and universities, and even in Leipzig, Germany, as I would discover when I was there last October. That the subject is taught anywhere, given the daunting odds against anyone making a living writing stories or poems, might appear to be a scandal, as would be courses in pharmacy, if there were no such thing as drugstores.