Daphne Bramham: Highways need to be built to higher standards

Now that the climate is changing rapidly, it is becoming increasingly important to get it right when it is first built or repaired.

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For good reason, British Columbia’s Ministry of Transport once described the Kokihara Highway as a bridge engineer’s dream. Today it’s like an engineer’s nightmare.


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Until last weekend, there were 18 highway interchanges, 38 bridges and elevated roads, 19 vehicle underpasses, and 50 pipeline intersections. This is an average of 1 for every 3,158 meters.

Currently, the 46-kilometer section connecting Merritt and the Spences Bridge has virtually disappeared, with significant damage reported in 18 locations, including four bridges.

In aerial photography, part of the highway appears to have been swallowed by the river. The bridge struck a deep gap, and after the storm rained an unprecedented amount of rain on the already moist landscape, the other bridges were torn from the surface of the road.

The government states that the damage between Hope and Merit is serious. Until next week, we don’t know how many underpasses, interchanges, bridges and pipeline intersections need repair. At that time, British Columbia Transport Minister Rob Fleming wants to get more information about the damage, not just about what to do about them.


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According to Fleming, work is underway to reopen the Kokihara Highway between Hope and Merritt to commercial traffic by late January, while Highway 7 between Hope and Agashiz remains open, but a travel ban. It is under.

“Overall, about 20 sites were badly damaged or washed away,” he said. “This will be a daunting task to get the highway back to full function.”

Future work involves challenges.

Temperatures in western Canada are rising faster than in other regions, with disastrous predictions that by 2100 it will rise by an average of 8 degrees Celsius.

Climate change makes it even more difficult to rebuild roads and bridges in difficult terrain that has already been transformed by atmospheric rivers last week.


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According to Surya Swarna, a professor of engineering and PhD student at Carleton University, this needs to be done in a different way.

Kokihara and all other damaged roads need to be redesigned to handle both hot and cold temperatures. Also, rain and snow fall faster and harder than ever before.

“Water is the enemy of the road,” Hossein said. The biggest concern is to make sure that there is enough culvert to divert the water so that the highway base is not eroded. When the base layer is eroded, roads become unstable and bridges collapse.

Pavement materials also need to be adapted. More specifically, the binder that holds the asphalt together should be designed to different standards.


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It is currently designed to withstand temperatures in the range of 58 degrees Celsius to -28 degrees Celsius. However, a recent study by Hossein and Swarna shows that it is not enough.

In the United States, where temperatures have reached a new “normal” level, Swarna said road maintenance, which previously required eight months, will need to be done six months later.

He was in Sally, measuring the temperature of the road during the heat dome last summer. The highest reading is 63.5 degrees Celsius, 5.5 degrees above the temperature at which the asphalt begins to melt. At 63.5 degrees, a day’s worth of traffic will cause a year’s worth of damage.

Conversely, when the temperature drops below -28 degrees, the pavement shatters.

In both cases, water tends to penetrate the base, making it unstable and eroding. According to Carleton engineers who have already discussed the study with both the federal and state governments, the standards need to be changed for that.


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If anyone in BC wants to make a call, both are enthusiastic to help.

Serious concerns about Coquihalla’s ability to withstand climate change were the subject of a 2010 engineering report for the British Columbia Government. Of particular concern was the rather flashy name “Pineapple Express” because the atmospheric river was called at the time.

After investigating a 46-kilometer section along the Nicolm River, engineers concluded that atmospheric rivers pose a “significant risk.”

“Infrastructure is already vulnerable to high-intensity rainfall events,” he said. “The team concluded that this (drainage management) is exacerbated by climate change and poses major challenges to the continued operation and maintenance of highways.”


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We urged the government to carry out “infrastructure failure modeling” with climate change as a variable.

It is not clear if that was done.But in 2019, the state government released a preliminary assessment of British Columbia’s climate change risk.

After what happened here in the last few weeks, the conclusion would be funny if they weren’t so tragic.

To be fair, it accurately predicted the high risk of serious wildfires and heat waves.

However, between 2019 and 2050 BC, moderate floods, severe river floods, extreme rainfall, and the risk of landslides were considered moderate.

If the report is based on federal, state, local, and agency plans for emergencies … well, we know how it’s going.


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Even before climate change, Coquihara’s dangerous terrain makes it one of Canada’s most dangerous highways, the “extreme highway” as calls it, and for that reason “the whole of North America.” I made it one of the worst roads in winter. ” Twisting, bending and frequently changing weather.

Concerns arose as highways were being built on the quality of work done by non-union contractors in a state where construction unions had previously locked large projects. Those claims were never substantiated.

Subsequent investigative commissions discovered a surprising lack of construction cost control in a hurry to meet Prime Minister Bill Bennett’s deadline to prepare for the Vancouver International Transport Expo. ..

The cost has doubled to $ 1 billion. That’s $ 2021, which is equivalent to $ 2.86 billion.

Even well-managed infrastructure projects always cost huge amounts of money. So is the repair that follows the catastrophic event.

With the climate changing rapidly, the next (almost unavoidable) “unprecedented” event has occurred as it is becoming increasingly important to make correct adjustments when first constructed or repaired. You don’t have to start over later.

Twitter: @bramham_daphne



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Daphne Bramham: Highways need to be built to higher standards

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