The Insane Math Behind the Trump Wall

The Insane Math Behind the Trump Wall
Trump photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr / CC BY-SA

By now, we’ve all heard endless discussions about Donald Trump’s Mexican border wall. With months left in the election, Trump’s position is not likely to change anytime soon. But there’s one major element that gets left out of all the bickering over who will pay for the wall and what it means for Trump politically: the jaw-dropping numbers.

Try taking massive, iconic landmarks from around the country – the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building – and multiplying their costs and materials by dozens or hundreds of times. Those are the kinds of costs the Trump Wall is looking at.

Let’s break it down.

Trump Border Wall: The Basic Numbers

First, Trump has made it clear that he is proposing a wall and not a simple security fence. Fortunately for us, he’s also been kind enough to share the proposed parameters of this wall on a number of occasions.

Trump has proposed a wall that goes five feet underground (to prevent tunneling), 35-40 feet in the air, and is made of precast concrete (pretty much the only solution, considering the blistering temperatures at the border). His proposal is for a wall that would only be about 1,000 miles: not the full length of the US Mexican border, but enough to cover the existing gaps.

How Much Will The Trump Wall Cost?

Well, that depends on who you believe. There’s past Donald Trump ($4 billion), other past Donald Trump ($7 billion), yet another past Donald Trump ($10 billion), and current Donald Trump ($12 billion). Then there are actual professionals with experience with large construction jobs. Frankly, we put our faith in the latter. So what do they have to say?

An engineer named Ali F. Rhuzkan did a materials estimate, before one IMGUR user added a cost estimate: both based on the assumption that the wall would be constructed as Trump envisioned above, but with one slight change. Rhuzkan assumed a 20 foot wall, not Trump’s brazen 35-40 foot idea. The results?

  • 167,272,000 cubic yards of cast-in-place concrete at $93/cubic yard = $15,556,296,000
  • 1,030,000 segments of 10’ pre-cast panels at $17/panel = $17,510,000
  • 2,500,000 tons of steel rebar at $600/ton = $1,500,000,000

That comes out to a total material cost estimate of $17,073,806,000.

Bear in mind, that’s not including labor costs. The Washington Post spoke with a retired estimator and economist from a large construction firm who estimated a minimum of 40,000 workers a year for at least four years. We at VIATechnik did our own labor cost calculations:

  • Based on the relative costs for Tucson, Arizona, a city near where much of the wall would be built, we estimate labor and equipment to be around $2,800,000,000. Our material estimates come out to $18,000,000,000, near Rhuzkan’s own calculations.

That’s a total of $20,800,000,000, plus an additional $750,000,000 per year for maintenance: nearly double what Trump estimated for a much higher wall.

For another comparison, the Corps of Engineers estimates between $16.4 and $70 million per mile. For Trump’s proposed 1,000 miles, that comes out to between $16.4 and $70 billion dollars.

So how much is it going to cost? Nobody really knows. What we do know for sure is that it’s going to be far more than Trump estimates, and Mexico is certainly not going to pay for it.

How does the wall compare to other major structures?

Trump’s Border Wall Goes Head to Head

Hoover Dam:

3,250,000 cubic yards of concrete, so the wall would use 51x the amount of concrete used in the Hoover Dam’s construction.

Golden Gate Bridge:

83,000 tons of steel and 389,000 cubic yards of concrete, so the wall would use 30x the steel and 430x the concrete used in the Golden Gate Bridge.

Empire State Building:

The skyscraper took 7,000,000 man hours to build, compared to 235,000,000 for the wall, so Trump’s wall would require 33x the amount of man hours to construct.

So Is Trump’s Border Wall Feasible?

In short: no. Even with these conservative estimates, the cost of the wall is astronomical and only set to rise with an annual $750 million dollar upkeep cost. If you add in the extra 15-20 feet Trump is proposing, all of these costs rise even higher.

Do you think our analysis is fair? Is there something we missed in calculating these costs? Let us know what you think about the feasibility of Trump’s border wall in the comments.


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