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Infrastructure – Not all its Cracked Up to Be

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How many times have you seen a road like this?

A pavement in this condition is a ticking timebomb ready to self destruct. An asphalt pavement is meant to serve as a wear course for vehicles to drive on safely, but just as important is it’s function as a barrier against the elements. When cracks like this occur, water can penetrate the base and sub base courses, breaking down the structural integrity of the road. The pavement also becomes much more susceptible to frost damage in cold climates.

Reading articles like the following is enough to make you wonder what it is going to cost to replace all the roads in Canada, (and the water and sewer pipes underneath as well)!

Infrastructure | The cracks are showing | Economist.com

For the past few years it has been hard to ignore America’s crumbling infrastructure, from the devastating breach of New Orleans’s levees after Hurricane Katrina to the collapse of a big bridge in Minneapolis last summer. In 2005 the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that $1.6 trillion was needed over five years to bring just the existing infrastructure into good repair. This does not account for future needs. By 2020 freight volumes are projected to be 70% greater than in 1998. By 2050 America’s population is expected to reach 420m, 50% more than in 2000. Much of this growth will take place in metropolitan areas, where the infrastructure is already run down.
If America does not act, says Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association (RPA), a body that plans for the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut region, it will have the infrastructure of a third-world country within a few decades. Economic growth will be constricted, and the quality of life will be diminished.

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Asphalt is possibly the best road surface we have available for most purposes, however, producing the amount of asphalt needed to fix all of these roads represents a massive energy and oil expense. Fortunately there are several technologies out there aiming to reduce the energy required to produce and lay asphalt, and in a lot of cases the existing road materials can be recycled and mixed into the new asphalt.

However, if the US needs $1.6 trillion over 5 years to bring things up to standard, Canada would have to have a proportionately similar figure for its situation. Where is the money going to come from to pay for this in the middle of the current economic climate?

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.