A plan for 700 more miles of fencing along the southwest U.S. border—part of a immigration-bill deal forged in the Senate this week—would come with a mammoth and unpredictable price tag, judging by past efforts.
The original legislation crafted by the bipartisan Gang of Eight set aside $1.5 billion for fencing—and that was before a deal was struck with Republican senators to add more to the massive border security and fencing proposal. So how much would a new bigger border fence cost?
Customs and Border Protection spent $2.4 billion between 2006 and 2009 to complete 670 miles of border fence, and the vast majority of that was single-layer—one line of fencing designed to keep either pedestrians or vehicles from crossing into the United States, according to a Government Accountability Office report.
The new plan calls for a double-layer fence—two parallel barriers on either side of a corridor manned by Border Patrol—that would require more land acquisition, more supplies and more labor to build.
There is no firm cost for the fence outlined in the "border surge" agreement announced Thursday, and the price of previous fence construction has varied wildly.
A 2009 analysis by the GAO found that the cost of pedestrian fencing ranged between $400,000 and $15 million per mile with an average of $3.9 million a mile. The price of less expensive vehicle fencing ran anywhere from $200,000 to $1.8 million a mile, for an average of $1 million a mile.
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That same year, Customs and Border Protection set aside $58 million to build a 3.5 mile stretch of fence along "difficult terrain" in San Diego, according to the GAO, an investigative arm of Congress.
"The per mile costs to build the fencing varied considerably because of the type of fencing, topography, materials used, land acquisition costs, and labor costs, among other things," the office's report said.
For example, while some 2008 contracts were being finalized, estimates began to balloon because the construction boom in Texas led to labor shortages and rising steel and cement prices, budget watchdogs noted.