Just look at the new Bay Bridge, which won't open for two decades after the 1989 Loma Prieta quake damaged the original span.
But the reconstruction of the Oakland freeway maze, portions of which melted in a fuel truck crash Sunday, seem likely to avoid protracted debate and delays.
In a rare moment of harmony, politicians, transportation leaders and environmental activists who push for transit investment agree the maze needs to be repaired as quickly as humanly possible.
"I wish I could make a statement about global climate change, but given how crucial the maze is to our transportation system, I don't think people will have patience for a debate on reducing our dependence on automobiles right now," said Stuart Cohen with the Bay Area Transportation and Land Use Coalition, an Oakland-based pro-transit, environmental lobbying group. "If we had time, we could talk about adding carpool and bus lanes, but there's no political will to draw this out."
No one is considering relocating or abandoning the maze, either.
Unlike the quake-damaged Embarcadero and Cypress freeways and Bay Bridge, which bogged down for months in contentious hearings, the maze reconstruction seems headed for a speedy political resolution.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared the maze repair an emergency, which means it is exempt from typical environmental regulations that can tack years onto the schedule.
Congressional, state and local politicians such as U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer flocked to the site Sunday and Monday, where some timed their appearances for the 11 p.m. news.
Reps. Ellen Tauscher,
D-Alamo, and Barbara Lee,
D-Oakland, have pledged to push for repair dollars. The work may qualify for federal emergency relief funds.
"There's a big movement by everybody to get this done and get it done fast," said California Transportation Commission Chairman Jim Ghielmetti, owner of Pleasanton-based Signature Properties. "If someone tried to get in the way or wanted to stop it, the political pressure would come to bear on that group or individual."
Instead, Ghielmetti said, the hurdles will be on the ground, such as the availability of steel.
But the continued harmonious political atmosphere could hinge on Caltrans' performance. Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Randy Rentschler, whose Bay Area agency hasn't always heaped praise on Caltrans, is optimistic about the outcome.
"This project plays directly to Caltrans' strengths," Rentschler said. "Caltrans is very serious about its mission, and this is a project where they can focus and get it done."
Caltrans often earns homage for repairing within two years Los Angeles area freeways damaged in the 1994 Northridge quake.