How to Re-Invent Roads

 

Building highways in British Columbia can bring challenges not always faced in other provinces.  Mountains and snowpack and raging rivers can do that sort of thing.

When, last Wednesday, a massive atmospheric river took down all four of BC's mountain highways and both rail lines it was obvious that engineering standards of the past were no longer acceptable. This is no longer the Holocene. This is the Anthropocene.

You may have head that some of these roads are re-opening. That doesn't mean they're repaired. Temporary, limited traffic routes have been established but fixing the highways will take until 2022, perhaps longer.

The old roads won't return. The new roads will be designed by highway engineers but, this time, the road-builders will be guided by climate scientists.

The Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC), a climate analysis group based at the University of Victoria, projects a nearly fourfold increase in atmospheric rivers hitting western North America by the end of the 21st century and a median precipitation increase of 7 per cent by the 2050s. Regional variations in those projections vary wildly. In short: Sudden, levee-busting rains will be far more frequent.

“What we’re seeing right now bears out and validates a lot of the research that has been going on,” said Markus Schnorbus, lead hydrologist with PCIC. “Bouncing from one extreme to the next is a hallmark of climate change. Our historic experience will have no bearing on what we’ll experience in the future.”

The past will no longer define the future.

“We started to realize that if you only use historical data, you’re always going to be behind the game. We needed to use future data,” said Ian Pilkington, the province's chief engineer.

Based on the modelling, engineers might integrate bigger culverts and higher bridge decks to accommodate greater water volumes. To prevent instability in water-logged hills, designs might call for shallower slopes and drainage blankets, permeable material that controls seepage. And roadbeds can be armoured with boulders to prevent the kind of river erosion that washed away sections of the Coquihalla this week.

“What we’re seeing right now bears out and validates a lot of the research that has been going on,” said Markus Schnorbus, lead hydrologist with PCIC. “Bouncing from one extreme to the next is a hallmark of climate change. Our historic experience will have no bearing on what we’ll experience in the future.”

Comments

  1. Yes our highways will have to be re invented but do not lose sight of the fact that our fertile lands and those of other nations depend upon seasonal flooding.
    Think Nile valley and Bangladesh.
    We need to re invent our farming practices so as to protect farm animals as much as we need to upgrade our road systems.
    Subdivision building must stop in these areas which have been manipulated by the real estate industry.
    In retrospect the Campbell Clarke years have come back to haunt us.

    TB

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the Nile is a poor example, TB. The flooding there is needed to support agriculture along the river's banks. Floodwaters deliver not only water but also nutrients. Beyond that it's scorching desert.

      The massively overdeveloped Fraser Valley is a mistake that inflicts permanent costs. We allowed the developers to hold sway with our councils and legislature for far too long - in the name of "progress" to be sure.

      It was probably in the mid-90s that the Vancouver Sun had a front page article about an Environment Canada survey that found the Lower Mainland/Fraser Valley had a population three times greater than its ecology could sustain. The answer? More development.

      Greed runs this province. It was also the default operating system of the BC Libs. That's how Christie Clark found herself not once but twice plastered on the front page of the New York Times.

      Delete
  2. "We needed to use future data,"

    A ministry for the future, eh? Neat idea.

    ReplyDelete

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