- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2017

President Trump’s wall across the U.S.-Mexico border could reach nearly $70 billion in total costs, congressional Democrats predicted Tuesday in a new report that builds on worst-case scenarios.

With Homeland Security officials refusing to detail costs themselves, Democrats on the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee stepped in to fill the gap, guessing that the government would spend nearly $40 million a mile — or about 15 times as expensive as the current per-mile estimates from the government’s top accountant.

Democrats acknowledged they were extrapolating, but said without better numbers or a cost analysis from Homeland Security, they had little else to work with in trying to figure out how much taxpayers could be on the hook for

In their report, Democrats also said the current thinking at Customs and Border Protection, the border security agency, is that some 1,827 miles of the 1,950-mile dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico is suitable for building a wall.

“At $36.6 million per mile, a 1,827-mile border wall could cost more than $66.9 billion. That amounts to a total cost to every American man, woman, and child of over $200 for border wall construction,” the Democrats said in their report.

The costs could rise if the U.S. ends up involved in protracted battles with landowners over the siting of the wall, the committee report said.

Democrats calculated the wall’s costs by using the Trump administration’s 2017 and 2018 estimates for prototypes and other early construction.

Fencing built over the last few years averaged $4.8 million per mile, according to the Government Accountability Office. But Mr. Trump’s budget outlines project costs of $16 million per mile for wall construction in 2017 and nearly $37 million per mile in 2018.

Mr. Trump and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly have brushed aside efforts to pin down the wall’s costs, saying they’re still trying to decide what a wall will look like, what it’ll be made out of and how tall it will be — and each of those factors will help determine costs.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that’s overseeing the wall, said the money requested in the 2017 and 2018 budgets goes beyond just construction of the wall, so it’s impossible to gauge the cost of a wall from those numbers.

Past estimates, meanwhile, are specific to their times and locations, the agency said, urging patience until a final wall design is selected.

“Until prototypes are completed and evaluated and design determinations are made, CBP cannot provide a more detailed estimate of the total cost of border barrier system,” a spokesman said.

Currently there are some 354 miles of fencing and another 300 miles of vehicle barriers blockading the 1,950-mile border.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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