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I recall a story set in Florida containing a quip along the lines of "the Mexicans, in all their ignorance, built a highway through mountains in six months, but it takes real Americans to know how to turn widening a straight and level road into a multiyear project." I'm trying to find the actual quote, but recall neither the author nor title of the story. I think it was a detective novel written in the 80s, but have no confidence in that recollection.

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I found a quote that contains elements from what you remember, but with a different view on those "real Americans":

Florida is full of longrange, unending road jobs that break the backs, pocketbooks and hearts of the roadside businesses. The primitive, inefficient, childlike Mexicans somehow manage to survey, engineer and complete eighty miles of high-speed divided highway through raw mountains and across raging torrents in six months. But the big highway contractors in Florida take a year and a half turning fifteen miles of two-lane road across absolutely flat country into four-lane divided highway.

The quote is from the novel Pale Grey for Guilt (1968, part of the Travis McGee series) by John D. MacDonald (1916–1986), which was republished in 2013 with a foreword by Lee Child.

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  • The line about Mexico feels like this is what I remember, but I'm guessing that in the 30 some years since I've read it, I've misremembered the statement about contractors.
    – Randall
    Feb 3 at 22:19

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