Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How Much Will the Wall Cost?

What would a wall between the US and Mexico actually cost?

Our border with Mexico is about 2,000 miles long.  1989 to be exact, but we can round this off, I think.

How much would it cost to build a wall that long?

Well, let's assume we make it from cinder blocks, which are 8" tall and 16" long.  The cost $1.25 at Home Depot, but assuming we buy in bulk, we can round this off to a buck a block, I think.   Hey, this is a government contract we're talking about here.  Don't expect lowest possible costs!

The wall should be 20 feet high, I think, otherwise why bother?   And we would need a foundation or footing for the wall, at least a foot wide and three feet deep to provide support in the desert sand and help prevent people from tunneling through.

So the wall would need to be 30 blocks high.   And for 2000 miles of it, you'd need 237,600,000 blocks.  That's a quarter of a Billion dollars at a buck a block, just for the materials.

For our footer, well, we'd be looking at a cubic yard of concrete for every three feet of wall, based on our assumptions.  At $90 a cubic yard, factor in another $316,800,000 for concrete.   We're up to over half a Billion dollars here.

Of course, I have not factored in the cost of the cement to build the wall - to tie the blocks together.  After all, a stack of concrete blocks could just be pushed over, if there was no cement holding them together.

And maybe you'd need to fill that wall with concrete and rebar- or make if from concrete reinforced with rebar.  A hollow cinderblock wall could be punched through with a sledgehammer in a manner of minutes.

Say we wanted to make the wall solid concrete, a foot thick and 20 feet high.  A cubic yard is 27 cubic feet.   Throwing in our footings, we could round off to one cubic yard per linear foot of wall, or $90 a foot.  That brings our concrete cost to $950,400,000 or a cool Billion even.

This does not include rebar, of course.  Or concertina wire at the top.  Or the labor to build the wall.  Or the excess cost of shipping materials to some of the most remote spots in our country - as well as establishing work camps for all the laborers.  The exact cost is hard to calculate.

Fortunately, we do have some idea of costs of previous walls.   During the Bush era, 670 miles of wall was built at a cost of $2.4 billion.  Presuming we want to keep this part, the remaining part of the wall (1330 miles) would cost another 4.7 Billion, which I think you can easily round up to 5 Billion.  Factor in that the un-walled sections are in some of the most remote and difficult areas, and maybe 6 or 7 Billion is a better guess.  And there has been inflation since the Bush era.   Maybe $10 Billion?

Putting this in perspective, the F-35 program is expected to cost $1 Trillion (A thousand Billions), but that is over the lifetime of the fighter aircraft - each plane is about $85 million each.  So for the cost of about 60 F-35 joint strike fighters, you could build the wall, I guess.

The problem is, the wall, once built, isn't self-maintaining.   It would not deter people who are bent on a better life.   A simple ladder would be enough to breach it, unless it was patrolled day and night.

So the real cost is the hundreds, if not thousands, of border patrol guards you would have to hire, pay, and fund the retirement of, in order to keep the wall from being just a minor inconvenience for migrants.

Say each 100 miles of wall was patrolled by three guards in SUVs who worked in three shifts.   That would mean 60 guards in all.   Of course, 100 miles is a long way, and even at 50 mph, it would take two hours driving on dirt roads to patrol each section.   All the migrants would have to do is wait for the patrol to go by and they would be set.  So you would need at least twice that number, if not more.   Or electronic monitoring systems (even more expense) and a candre of guards to monitor those as well.  You see where this going - you can build a wall fairly cheaply, but to build an effective wall, you need a lot of manpower and equipment to patrol and maintain it.

You know, a few drones with infrared cameras might be a cheaper alternative.  Just saying.

Each of those guards will have to be paid, with taxes and overhead, about $100,000 a year, with benefits, as starting salaries are about $49,000 a year.  At 120 guards, we'd be looking at $12 million a year or so - plus the cost of their SUVs.

Now you understand why the border patrol union endorsed Trump - their dues income will be skyrocketing if this is implemented.

Good high-paying union jobs - isn't that what he promised?