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Numerous sources suggest the Egypt-Israel barrier cost about US $3m per mile when it was built in 2010-2013, and another 2% of that amount per year to maintain (wiki, Homeland Security report).

However, the last estimates by the Trump administration of the US-Mexico wall was $20m per mile (wiki), and the actual realized cost so far was around $30m / mile ($1.6B spent on the 52 miles built: source).

Since the Egypt-Israel barrier stopped 99.9% of illegal migrants from Africa (same sources as above), and that is the objective of the US-Mexico wall, why is there such a huge cost difference?

(There's inflation, but it's tiny compared to the 10x cost gap. Also a part of the cost is technology, which has become better and cheaper over the past decade.)

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    Part of the reason may be cost of labor. Most of the price of wall will end up being wages either direct or indirect for the construction materials. Labor costs probably are higher by a factor of 10 in the US compared to Egypt.
    – quarague
    Jun 13, 2021 at 8:57
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    Good point, I didn't know that. If it was build by Israel, salary costs won't explain the price difference.
    – quarague
    Jun 13, 2021 at 9:32
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    That could explain it if it was built by Egypt. However, it was built exclusively by Israel. The Israeli labor costs aren't that low. (And sorry, I was editing my comment for grammar, and it ended up switching order with your response ;))
    – MkV
    Jun 13, 2021 at 9:37
  • @MkV The cost you mentioned refers to an average cost of all the wall or an average of the sections built by Trump. The construction of the wall has been going on for quite some time. Sections on easy terrain were already built.
    – FluidCode
    Jun 13, 2021 at 10:10
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    @MkV It is a highly politicised project, it probably also has some political costs. I asked those question because I can't say how much is due to technical or political reasons.
    – FluidCode
    Jun 13, 2021 at 11:29

1 Answer 1

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There's a number of factors in play that differ between these cases.

  1. labor and material costs in the U.S. are among the highest in the world - the mean disposable income in the U.S. is nearly double that in Israel.
  2. While fuel costs are lower in the U.S. the industries that supply a project like this are dispersed over a much larger geography, resulting in longer logistics chains.
  3. The Trump Wall required the use of eminent domain for much of the land it was planned to cross. The takings power requires that landowners subject to eminent domain takings be paid 'fair market value' for the seized property. Usually a premium is paid as insurance against lawsuits. The Israel-Egypt border is largely uninhabited desert, generally speaking at most it's used by Bedouins.
  4. The Egypt-Israel border is fairly flat and consistent in biome with occasional mountains. By contrast, the U.S. border wall follows the course of the Rio Grande - but some distance from it. This is more rugged/variable terrain, and its eastern extent receives eight times the rainfall that Israel's border with Egypt sees (16-32" annually, which is 406-812mm vs. Israel's 1-100mm mean rainfall annually). Water is a huge problem for structures.

This is before getting into any differences in requisition/contracting practices and a slew of other potential factors including how much one or the other prioritized cost. In short, these are not comparable projects.

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  • Thanks for the answer! Do you know if the underlying technology (in particular the focus on the physical deterrent versus sensor detection) played a role as well? My guess is that maybe Israel wasn't planning to stop determined people from crossing, but rather just be alerted to that, so that they can send patrols to catch them. Perhaps the US wanted to focus more on the prevention? (Maybe because the US border has less personnel per mile, so sending patrols takes too long?) Prevention implies a bigger/ sturdier, and thus more expensive, structure.
    – MkV
    Jun 25, 2021 at 23:41
  • Sadly, that's outside my area of expertise. I'm a policy nerd, not an engineer. :) Jun 26, 2021 at 11:49
  • @MkV - From what the wikipedia article you linked in the question says, it sounds much the same in intent: It was intended to stop migrants and smuggling, and smugglers are among the people most determined to bypass restrictions like this fence. It's certainly possible the desired balance between passive security and active security is different in Israel than the US, but that's going to be something buried in internal policy documents and plans.
    – Bobson
    Jul 21, 2021 at 19:06

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