Inflation also affects infrastructure projects

Rising inflation in the United States is impacting large-scale infrastructure projects:

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The price of a foot of water pipe in Tucson, Arizona: up 19%. The cost of a ton of asphalt in a small Massachusetts town: up 37%. The estimate to build a new airport terminal in Des Moines, Iowa: 69% higher, with a several year delay.

Inflation is taking a toll on infrastructure projects across the U.S., driving up costs so much that state and local officials are postponing projects, scaling back others and reprioritizing their needs.

The price hikes already are diminishing the value of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan President Joe Biden signed into law just seven months ago. That law had included, among other things, a roughly 25% increase in regular highway program funding for states.

“Those dollars are essentially evaporating,” said Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “The cost of those projects is going up by 20%, by 30%, and just wiping out that increase from the federal government that they were so excited about earlier in the year.”

Because a number of these projects have to get done, it sounds like the primary effect of inflation is to delay projects. This has a cascading effect on getting better infrastructure in place, jobs, construction and its consequences, and more.

I wonder if there are any brewing stories where inflation plus cost overruns, which can happen on large complicated projects, lead to big price tags.

Google measures inflation by looking at web data

Once again drawing upon its access to  information, Google suggests it developing an alternative measure of inflation:

Google is using its vast database of web shopping data to construct the ‘Google Price Index’ – a daily measure of inflation that could one day provide an alternative to official statistics.

The work by Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, highlights how economic data can be gathered far more rapidly using online sources. The official Consumer Price Index data are collected by hand from shops, and only published monthly with a time lag of several weeks…

The GPI shows a “pretty good correlation” with the CPI for goods such as cameras and watches that are often sold on the web, but less so for others, such as car parts, that are infrequently traded online.

This bears watching as Google can access data and then analyze/summarize it at a much quicker speed than the government. But it will be interesting to see how Google gets around the issue of what is being sold online – the story also notes that Google’s index downplays the role of housing.

This could play out in a number of ways. Could this online index be improved so that markets were responding to Google’s data rather than the government’s data? Let’s say the government decides it likes Google’s approach. Does it develop the same or a similar algorithm within the government? Does it contract the task to Google?