Have you reached out to Bent Flyvbjerg at Oxford? See his recent book "How big things get done". He has spent a career studying megaprojects and I am sure has a wealth of information for you

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Great book.

Brian, it would be great to see a guest post from Bent here.

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Just to clarify, are you collecting failed megaprojects as well? And what thresholds count as megaprojects, given the failure state? Or possibly: what failure metrics would be interesting to learn about, given the megaproject state? Or both?

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Yes, like the US Superconducting Supercollider.


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Another item in the gray area would be large scientific instruments, where funding is very hard to track as the sources are many and one had to define when a project is really finished. E.g. is a project finished on first "detection" or when it is wound down?

Take for example LIGO (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LIGO). Many problems here, first problem, are "twin" detectors a single or separate projects? Then do all stages count? E.g. design, ramp up, construction, commissioning, and all scientific work from say 1994 to 2015 (first detection)? If so, this could lead to a total figure of $2bn (which would fall short on 100k hours with 2015 per capita GDP by a factor of three). Nowadays, more than 1000 scientists are working to measure/enhance it. If that counted, it would march towards your cut-off pretty quickly.

So, is it a mega project? Or is it "just" CERN/SKA scale ones?

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Sep 7, 2023·edited Sep 7, 2023

Fantastic collection of information! It looks like some of the nuclear power plants are listed with a completion date of 2007, although many were completed in the 1980s (when counting later phased additions to the project) or earlier. For these, the commissioning year (i.e., the start of operations) was listed as the start date, when in fact that is usually the year of completion of the construction megaproject. I suspect that's an artifact of Wikipedia or the EIA (here: https://www.eia.gov/nuclear/state/archive/2010/california/ ) listing the construction cost inflation-adjusted to 2007 dollar values based on when the source report was created. I've fixed the ones in California I happened to know about.

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Amazing collection! I tried to do this on a much smaller scale years ago, categorizing them in orders of magnitude: https://futureblind.com/p/the-scale-of-large-projects

I was also thinking along the same lines for measuring the size of the project, getting to: "Man-years + Value of Raw Materials (possibly in ounces of gold)". Dividing project cost by GDP/cap is great proxy.

I wonder if it would be possible for a historian to chime in and get good estimates from very old megaprojects like the pyramids or the Great Wall of China.

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Not sure where to find the numbers from a source more solid than Wikipedia, but GPS should be on the list.

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Some additional areas to look for $1B+ projects:

Most of the 104 US Nuclear Power Plants

Deep water Gulf of Mexico platforms like Tahiti, Thunderhorse,Anchor

Major oil and gas pipelines like Big Inch, Keystone XL

Oil refineries and petrochemical facilities

Hydroelectric projects like Hoover Dam, Grand Coulee Dam , TVA dams

Electricity Grid

Ports like Houston Ship Channel, Long Beach

There are thousands of mega projects. I worked on quite a few over a 45 year career.

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Thank you for all your columns, and for initiating this database. While a good idea, I have following comments in re database: (a) add column re location, (b) seems US-centric, (c) you recognize that $1 billion is not a good criteria, and 1 k-yr is better, but a number of the projects (eg, LIRR 3rd track, or F22, are hardly megaprojects, rather routine even if costly, so a better criteria is needed ((admittedly, its all in eye of beholder) (d) a number of cols have div by 0, need to fix; (e) project owner would also be another col to add. These are ideas for improvement, thanks for initiating this.

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For smaller countries, megaprojects are much more challenging and tend to become much more central to the national psychie(even if they are largely unknown outside of those countries).

For example, the Snowy River Project for Australia or the Canadian National transcontinental railroad for Canada. Indeed, that latter led directly to the forging of the Canadian nation's structure and self-image of today.

See: https://www.amazon.com/Last-Spike-Great-Railway-1881-1885/dp/0385658419/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?crid=6AN4VGJ85FCK&keywords=pierre+burton+books&qid=1694365298&sprefix=pierre+burton%2Caps%2C1014&sr=8-1

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I had heard the F-16 cost less than similar projects. $4.3 billion inflation-adjusted looks good even next to other planes from that time period, much less the F-22 and B-2. Was the F-35 on the list?

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There is an apples to oranges comparison there. The F-22 numbers are an estimate of total program cost (development and production) from beginning of development to end of production in 2011. The F-16 figure of then-year costs of $891M, inflation-adjusted to $4.4B, is only for development, and it's from 1976. The 1976 figures include another $13B in then-year money for production up to that date. But F-16s are still being produced, and the current models have integrated lots of additional development work in the years since 1976.

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