As technology, machinery, and methods have steadily improved over time, the size and scope of what builders can create has rapidly accelerated. The world’s largest projects under construction today span the globe, and even beyond. There are unique hurdles that mega-projects involve, from governmental red tape, to public criticism, to the construction project management challenges that accompany such a massive undertaking. Here are seven of the world’s largest construction projects currently in the works, from unthinkably large airports, to man-made rivers decades in the making, to a theme park that puts Disneyworld to shame.
1. Al Maktoum International Airport, Dubai, UAE
Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is no stranger to construction mega-projects, already home to Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world since its completion in 2009. It stands to reason that a region so familiar with massive-scale projects would have an airport to match. The Al Maktoum International Airport takes the prize as the world’s largest construction project currently under construction. Spanning more than 21 miles, the mega-project has moved into an expansion phase, at a cost of $32 billion. A completion date is not yet known, but once finished the expanded airport will be able to handle 200 wide-body aircraft at a time and accommodate as many as 200 million passengers per year. The total cost of the airport mega-project is expected to exceed $82 billion.
2. The International Space Station, Space
Continually occupied since the year 2000 with a rotating crew of astronauts from over a dozen nations around the world, the International Space Station (ISS) is the world’s largest man-made structure ever put into space. It has two bathrooms, a fully functional gym facility, and a 360-degree bay window. Circling the earth every 90 minutes from 248 miles above the planet’s surface, the 861,000 pound ISS has a currently scheduled construction price tag of over $60 billion. A planned expansion, which could see it used as an off-earth habitat, could bring the total cost to over $1 trillion.
3. Dubailand, Dubai, UAE
Another mega-project on our list that will call Dubai home is the $64 billion Dubailand, an entertainment complex of a scale and size the earth has never seen before. Three Walt Disney Worlds could comfortably fit inside the 278 square kilometer complex, which is slated to include theme parks, sports venues, health facilities, science attractions, eco-tourism, and hotels. The finished project will include the world’s largest hotel, featuring 6,500 rooms and a 10 million square-foot mall. First announced in 2003, the construction mega-project has hit many roadblocks along the way, including the 2008 global recession, during which construction halted for more than 5 years. As of now, Dubailand is expected to open for business sometime in 2025.
4. South-North Water Transfer Project, China
China is the world’s most populous nation, home to almost 1.5 billion people. Nearly 50% of the population lives in the north of the country, but the region contains only 20% of China’s water resources. With such a massive population to support, China is in the process of building three enormous canals, each more than 600 miles long, to supply water to the north. To say the project is complex is a bit of an understatement, as the time horizon for completion is expected to be 48 years. Once finished, the nearly $80 billion project will supply residents of the north with 44.8 billion cubic meters of water every year.
5. California High-Speed Railway, California, USA
Despite its immense size and wealth, the United States has long lagged Europe and Asia when it comes to high-speed rail systems. An early indicator that might be changing comes via the California high-speed railway project, under construction since 2015 and slated for completion in 2029. The railway project will connect 8 of the 10 largest cities in the Golden State, and the all-electric bullet train will be powered by renewable energy and able to reach speeds up to 200 miles per hour. Original estimates for the project put the cost at around $33 billion, but it’s been beset by cost overruns, with the price tag since ballooning to at least $100 billion.
6. Jubail II, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s Jubail II is an industrial city project that has been in the works for over 22 years. Dubbed the world’s largest civil engineering project, it began its second phase in 2014 at a cost of $11 billion. When complete, currently slated for sometime in 2024, Jubail II will include 100 industrial plants, miles of railways, highways, and roads, an 800,000 cubic-meter water desalination plant (one of the world’s largest), and an oil refinery capable of producing 350,000 barrels per day. In peak construction season, more than 20,000 construction workers are on site at any given time.
7. The Great Man-Made River Project, Libya
In the works since 1985, the Great Man-Made River (GMR) project is the world’s largest irrigation project. Once complete, scheduled for around 2030, it will irrigate more than 350,000 acres of land, greatly improving the availability of drinkable water to most of the desert nation’s cities, up to 6.5 million cubic meters per day. Using a vast pipeline system, the river will take its water from the underground Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System. The project includes the world’s largest network of underground pipes and aqueducts, spanning over 1,750 miles.