The author is a political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The World Cup Bridge, which opened in September 2021, started construction in 2010. While it was supposed to be completed by 2015, the budget was not allocated in time. It took 11 years to partially open. The full opening — which includes connecting all roads — is planned for this December. As it took seven years longer than planned, the project was accused of “teaspoon construction.” It is a newly coined term referring to a slow construction project that might as well have been done with a teaspoon. Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon complained that there is criticism of the teaspoon budget allocation.
There are other examples of teaspoon construction beside the World Cup Bridge. The double-track railway project between Suwon and Incheon took more than 15 years to build. Construction began in 2004, but the opening date was postponed to 2017 from 2013, and then to 2021. The recently-opened 65.7-kilometer double-track train between Busan and Ulsan was planned for 2010. Construction was delayed by more than 10 years. Just like the World Cup Bridge, only a small budget was allocated on the costly social overhead capital (SOC) construction.
As the construction period extends, the project cost rapidly increases. The delay of the Suwon-Incheon train project resulted in an increase in the budget from 571 billion won ($479 million) to 2 trillion won. Construction companies are also burdened with the indirect cost of labor and office operation as construction takes longer. But there is a simple reason why construction takes so long: There are simply too many projects in progress. The general consensus is that a tsunami of civil engineering promises by politicians every election is beyond what the government can afford.
For the March 9 presidential election, trillion-won civil engineering promises have been made. Ruling Democratic Party (DP) candidate Lee Jae-myung plans to put Seoul subway line No. 1 underground, extend lines No. 2 and No. 7 and put the Gyeongin Highway underground. Opposition People Power Party (PPP) candidate Yoon Suk-yeol wants to add GTX D, E and F lines and and a new GTX in Busan, Ulsan and the South Gyeongsang area. He also wants both the Gyeongin Railway and Gyeongin Highway to go underground.
These plans raise questions: How long will it take? When will construction begin? All these projects do is raise the hopes of local residents and increase political distrust.