Bids closed for Trump border wall submissions this week. Hundreds of plans will soon be under review, and before too long the American people should get some idea of what they’ll be investing in.
For those who are unaware, Donald Trump signed an executive order on January 25 promising to, “secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.”
The proposed wall will run along approximately 2,000 miles of the southern U.S. border with Mexico. Its construction, which will add to approximately 650 miles of border fence already in place, is not entirely unprecedented.
Over the course of the last 100 years, other nations have built physical land barriers to restrict mobility across established borders. The vast majority of these barriers were erected for the purposes of curtailing illegal immigration and terrorism, while others have come to be as a result of conflict between groups or nations.
Some of the most notable, comparable barriers in existence include the Indo-Bangladeshi barrier fence (2,030 mi-the fence has been under construction for years and is still being built), the Moroccan Western Sahara Wall (1,700 mi), and the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan barrier fence (1,056 mi).
What sets this project apart from these other barriers is its set of design requirements. Other extensive barrier systems of this size are often simple barbed or razor wire fences. In the case of the Moroccan wall, it is primarily an earthen military fortification bolstered by what could be the longest minefield in the world.
The completed border wall will need to be more than a simple wire fence. Specifications request that it be resistant to tunneling, climbing, and breaches of more than 12 inches in diameter. The wall is also not intended to be a fortification, but instead as a simple impediment to movement.
In order to accomplish all of these objectives, the wall would need to extend below ground level and be high enough to deter climbing. It would also need to be thick enough to resist quite a bit of punishment (including explosives and vehicles).
Furthermore, since the wall is not a fortification, it is not likely to be augmented with landmines or military installations. A wire border fence would probably not be electrified either, as is the case in some other countries (but who knows).
One of the most common suggestions has been a wall at least one foot thick of concrete reinforced with steel rebar 20-30 feet high extending several feet down into the ground. One can assume that a significant portion of the submitted proposals will resemble this basic idea.
This type of structure is relatively expensive and becomes a heavier burden when stretched over the distance that the project entails. If a wall of this kind were to be built, the cost of steel and concrete alone could easily run over $10 billion.
Plans that utilize little to no concrete are also likely to be submitted. For instance, a barrier could be formed with hardened earth or metal sheets. These designs will need to meet the other criteria in order to be selected.
Estimates of the project’s total cost have varied. The wall does not need to span the entire border, as part is already fenced and as a portion of it is already rendered non-traversable by natural obstacles. Parts of the wall could also be built differently (possibly at less expense) than the rest depending on the advantages or disadvantages offered by geography.
In order for the project to be completed, the federal government will also be required to purchase (seize) land along the border from private citizens. Legal battles over the land purchases could potentially go on for years.
The project has not been popular with many of the largest contractors. One of the most prominent reasons for this is the potential for political backlash (both domestic and international).
In some states, contractors involved in the project could even risk losing millions. Multiple California cities, for example, have implemented legislation that would prevent participating firms from obtaining public contracts.
Despite this possibility, there are still hundreds of interested firms. Customs and Border Protection also intends to provide a sizable percentage of construction subcontracts to small firms.
Several bids will be chosen from the pool of submissions. Each of those bidders will then be asked to build a “prototype” wall on a parcel of federal land in southern California. The prototypes will cost a few hundred thousand dollars apiece.
Most of the more practical proposals remain secret for now. Soon, however, the plans will become public. Already known are quite a few creative and interesting proposals that stand little chance of being accepted.
Among the absurd plans is the “nuclear waste wall”, which would feature a simple chain link fence toward the Mexican side of the border, flanked by a line of sensors, then a 100 foot (minimum) deep trench filled with nuclear waste, then a set of railroad tracks, then a 30 foot wall optionally powered by a power generation facility fed by the nuclear waste. Setting aside the environmental and public health hazards, this plan would go a long way toward thwarting pesky tunneling efforts.
The “Otra Nation” plan does not even include a wall, but instead proposes the creation of a ‘regenerative, co-nation zone’ along the border. Part of this proposal is a $1 trillion ‘hyper loop’ that would create quick and sustainable transportation through the corridor. This proposal offers much food for thought, and is worth pondering as construction of the border wall inevitably goes forward in one form or another.