Infrastructure Costs

American Economic Journal: Applied (2023)

89 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2019 Last revised: 30 Oct 2023

See all articles by Leah Brooks

Leah Brooks

George Washington University - Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration

Zachary D. Liscow

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: December 1, 2021


There is widespread consensus that US infrastructure quality has been on the decline. In response, politicians across the ideological spectrum have called for increased infrastructure spending. Although the cost of infrastructure determines how much physical output each dollar of spending yields, we know surprisingly little about these costs across time and place. We help to fill this gap by using data we digitized on the Interstate highway system—one of the nation’s most valuable infrastructure assets—to document spending per mile over the history of its construction.

We make two main contributions. First, we find that real spending per mile on Interstate construction increased more than three-fold from the 1960s to the 1980s. The increase does not appear to come from states building “easy” miles first, since the increase is roughly unchanged conditional on pre-existing observable geographic cost determinants. Second, we provide suggestive evidence of the determinants of the increase in spending per mile. Increases in per -unit labor or materials prices are inconsistent with the pattern of the increase. But increases in income and housing prices explain about half of the increase in spending per mile. We find suggestive evidence that the rise of “citizen voice” in government decision-making caused increased expenditure per mile.

Keywords: infrastructure, highways, public participation, environmental review

JEL Classification: H4, H5, H7, K0, N4, N7, N9, R4

Suggested Citation

Brooks, Leah and Liscow, Zachary D., Infrastructure Costs (December 1, 2021). American Economic Journal: Applied (2023), Available at SSRN: or

Leah Brooks

George Washington University - Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration ( email )

805 21st Street, NW
Suite 601
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Zachary D. Liscow (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

127 Wall St.
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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