How on earth could a public toilet cost $1.7 million and take three years to build? The short answer is "San Francisco" and its "maze of planning, permitting, reviews, and public outreach" to get anything done.
From Yahoo News:
First, an architect needs to draw plans for the toilet, which will then be presented to the public for feedback. The Arts Commission's Civic Design Review committee will be responsible for conducting a "multi-phase review" of the project, like it does for all projects on public lands. According to the Arts Commission's website, "the committee evaluates each project's design, scale and massing for accessibility, safety and aesthetic merit." The review process "ensures that each project's design is appropriate to its context in the urban environment, and that structures of the highest design quality reflect their civic stature."
Before the project is put out for bid, it will be subject to review under the California Environmental Quality Act, according to the Chronicle. The public toilet will be built by union workers who will "earn a living wage and benefits," according to a joint statement from Rec and Parks Department and the Department of Public Works, which added that, "While this isn't the cheapest way to build, it reflects San Francisco's values."
The Golden Gate Bridge took less than 4.5 years to build. I imagine if they tried to build it now, it would never happen.