Plenty of money

30 Jan

Welcome dear reader, let me tell you what I learned today because if I don’t I am afraid I will pull my hair out.

Here in central Japan its business as usual. What I mean by that is that there is a continuation of pork barrel pet projects of marginal use to the general public. The politicians sell the idea as a jobs project and the government based entities sell bonds to the general public pension funds. Work begins and there is enough money left over to pay a variety of slush funds, drinking parties and other assorted billings so that the old boys club gets their pound of flesh. I don’t want to be overly critical but sometimes I really just am left shaking my head at the futility of this mindset.

A prime example of this comes from the newspaper in my mailbox today. For the last 20 or so years the government of Shizuoka prefecture has been building a toll road in the foothills off the Pacific coast. In itself a toll road is probably a good idea as the revenue generated will theoretically more than offset the costs of the project. Yet there is already a multiple lane toll road along the coast of Suruga Bay. So the “new” toll road actually doesn’t provide any new utility but rather adds better access for drivers within the prefecture who were already using the “old” toll road.

Something just doesn’t seem right, so I took a closer look at the story. The road itself is 162 kilometers long, laid out along the ridge of foothills and through a variety of tunnels when necessary. Its an engineering masterpiece in a country known for windy roads this new one is as straight as an arrow. Its a very impressive photo.

Then at the end of the article it mentions the cost. The project cost over 1 trillion 6 hundred billion yen. Yes that’s right folks, 1,600,000,000,000 yen. At 76 yen to the dollar I will let you do the math, but trust me its a lot of money. Factor the cost per kilo if you really want to puke.

Yet the road itself doesn’t serve any new drivers. It simply expands road capacity. That’s a lot of money to pay for a wider road in a country that is slowly going bankrupt. While a road supporter could argue that the tolls will pay off the bonds over time, I am pretty certain that the capacity didn’t need a 1.6 trillion yen expansion. Then again the Japan highway road corporation is a massive project and it does provide many jobs…

I guess I am left asking the question “what price must we pay for development” and more importantly could the money have been better spent elsewhere ?

I am sure the answer is as simple as it seems.


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