Groundbreaking for the Empire State Building was on March 17, 1930. Construction soon began and the building officially opened May 1, 1931 — just 410 days, during the Great Depression. The Pentagon was built-in just 16 months, during wartime. After seeing reconstruction of Manhattan’s West Side Highway take 35 years (construction of the George Washington Bridge took 39 months), Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan despaired that whereas America once celebrated people who built things, it now honors those who block building.
Today’s long lag between the conception and execution of infrastructure projects is one reason they are dubious as countercyclical economic stimulants, and as jobs programs for the unemployed. The economist Milton Friedman said that once, while he was taken to see a canal that was being dug, he expressed astonishment that there was no heavy earth-moving machinery, only men with shovels. A government official said that was because the project was a jobs program. Well, then, Friedman replied, shouldn’t they use spoons rather than shovels?