Here is a list of the world’s most expensive engineering projects with estimated costs and short descriptions of each project (sources: iCivilEngineer, China Daily, Wikipedia). Some of the projects are already completed, some are under construction, so the cost estimates are not definitive.
5. Gerald R. Ford Class Aircraft Carrier: 8.1 billion USD
Artist’s concept of CVN 21 one of a new class of aircraft carriers
The Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers (CVN-78) will be the next generation supercarrier for the United States Navy. Construction began in the spring of 2007, and is planned to finish in 2015. With the addition of the most modern equipment and automation they will reduce the crew requirement and the total cost of future aircraft carriers.
Carriers of the Ford class will incorporate many new design features: new nuclear reactor design, stealthier features to reduce radar profile, electromagnetic catapults, advanced arresting gear, and reduced crewing requirements. It will be constructed at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Virginia, the only shipyard in the U.S. capable of building nuclear powered aircraft carriers. It is estimated to cost at least $8.1 billion excluding the $5 billion spent on research and development. A total of three carriers has been authorized for construction, but eleven carriers could be constructed over the life of the program.
4. Big Dig, Boston: 14.6 billion USD
Interstate I-93 Tunnel in Boston, part of the Big Dig; photography by Rene Schwietzke
The Big Dig is a megaproject that rerouted the Central Artery, the chief highway through the heart of Boston, into a 3.5 mile tunnel under the city. When the project concluded on December 31, 2007, it was the most expensive highway project in the U.S. The project incurred criminal arrests, escalating costs, death, leaks, and charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials.
This project was developed in response to traffic congestion on Boston’s streets, which were laid out before the advent of the automobile. The project faced several environmental and engineering obstacles. The area through which the tunnels were to be dug was largely landfill, and included existing subway lines, pipes and utility lines, many unexpected geological barriers, glacial debris, foundations of buried houses, sunken ships, etc. Unusual engineering challenges required unusual solutions and methods to address them. Engineers figured out the safest way to build the tunnel without endangering the existing highway above.
By the January 13, 2006, Big Dig was completed. It remains the largest and most complex highway and tunnel project in the nation’s history.
3. Three Gorges Dam, China: 24 billion USD
Three Gorges Dam in construction 2002; photography by Frank Matthes
The Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric river dam that spans the Yangtze River in Sandouping, China. This is the largest hydroelectric power station in the world. The original plan of the project was completed in 2008. Six additional generators in the underground power plant will be installed until around 2011, when total electric generating capacity of the dam will reach 22,500 MW.
Some interesting facts: the concrete dam wall is 2,309 meters long, 101 meters high, 115 meters thick on the bottom and 40 meters thick on top. The project used 27,200,000 cubic meters of concrete, 463,000 tonnes of steel (enough to build 63 Eiffel Towers), and moved about 102,600,000 cubic meters of earth. When the water level is maximum at 91 meters above river level, the reservoir created by the Three Gorges Dam is about 660 kilometers in length and 1.12 kilometers in width on average. The total surface area of the reservoir is 1045 km2. The reservoir will flood a total area of 632 km2 of land.
The dam provides a vast amount of clean electricity, controls flooding, and enhances navigation. However, it has also flooded cultural and archaeological sites, displaced more than million people, and is causing dramatic ecological changes. The decision to build the dam has been deeply controversial.
2. Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository Project: 57 billion USD
Looking west atop Yucca Mountain towards Beatty and Death Valley
The U.S. Department of Energy have been studying Yucca Mountain, Nevada, since 1978 to determine whether it would be suitable for a long-term geologic repository for high-level radioactive waste, a result of nuclear power generation and national defense programs. Yucca Mountain is located in a remote desert within the secure boundaries of the Nevada Test Site in Nye County, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Yucca Mountain was created by several large eruptions from a caldera volcano and is composed of layers of tuff. Tuff has special physical and chemical characteristics that make it a suitable material to entomb radioactive waste for the hundreds of thousands of years required for the waste to become safe through radioactive decay. After 20 years of research and carefully planned scientific field work, the Department of Energy has found that the repository brings together the location and natural barriers most likely to protect the safety of the public, including those Americans living in the immediate vicinity.
The Obama Administration rejected the use of the site in the 2009 United States Federal Budget proposal, which would eliminate all funding except that needed to answer inquiries from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, while the Administration devises a new strategy toward nuclear waste disposal. On March 5, 2009, Energy Secretary told a Senate hearing that the Yucca Mountain site no longer was viewed as an option for storing reactor waste.
1. International Space Station: 80 billion USD
International Space Station as seen from the departing Space Shuttle Atlantis; source: NASA
The International Space Station (ISS) is a joint project among the space agencies of the United States (NASA), Japan (JAXA), Russia (RKA), Canada (CSA) and the European Space Agency. The space station is in a low Earth orbit, at an altitude of 350 km, and you can see it from Earth’s surface even with the naked eye.
The International Space Station is the largest research laboratory ever launched into orbit. Long-term expedition crews conduct science across a variety of fields: life sciences, human research, Earth observation, physical sciences, education and technology demonstrations. Scientific findings are being published every month. ISS provides educational opportunities for students back home on Earth, including educational demonstrations, student-developed experiments, student participation in ISS experiments, ISS engineering activities, and NASA investigator experiments.
As a multinational project, the financial and legal aspects of the ISS are complex. Giving a precise cost estimate is not straightforward, because it is not easy to determine which costs should actually be attributed to the programme. Cost estimates range from 35 billion to 100 billion