Yesterday's Oregonian brought the exciting news that Governor Kulongoski is proposing to spend $665 million (even with an "m" and not a "b," that's still real money) on an emergency communications system that will allow any public safety worker to talk with any other public safety worker. For comparison, New York (with a population 7 times ours) spent $1.2 billion on its system, and Utah (about our size and area) spent $70 million on its system that opened 7 years ago. (Adjust Utah's cost to be $120 million in inflation-adjusted dollars of today.)
Why so much? The article advances several reasons. First, the Oregon network would cover all the state, unlike Utah's network, which covers only about 1/3 of the state. Second, Oregon's radio infrastructure is in poor shape, and the towers and wires of the current system can't be reused.
Maybe $665 million is what it costs. It seems to me, however, that before the state commits itself to writing such a large check, it should survey other states to see what they use for communications networks, and what it cost to put the networks together. For example, we could ask whoever did Utah's system to give us a price estimate to build the same basic network before we go in for expensive custom design.