In the past two weeks, Canadians have seen the damage that heavy rains can do to the country’s infrastructure, be it washed out roads or destroyed levees.
Storms in British Columbia and Atlantic Canada have affected livelihoods, with damaged roads and rail lines cutting off communities and hampering key supply chain routes.
Quickly rebuilding infrastructure, such as roads, is vital, but given that climate change threatens severe weather events in the future, it is not an easy solution, experts say.
“It’s basically like a new design, just you’re running around with your hair on fire trying to make it faster than normal,” said Keith Porter, chief engineer at the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction.
“That might cost a bit more, but in light of the disaster, he may very well be willing to pay more for faster construction.”
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The unprecedented rains from atmospheric rivers in BC and the Maritime rivers have dropped hundreds of millimeters of rain, exceeding in days the totals that some regions see in an entire month.
Infrastructure repairs are underway in British Columbia even as the region prepares for another series of storms. The cost of damage from last week’s floods could make it the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.
Three municipalities in British Columbia were severely damaged: Abbotsford, Merritt and Hope. Heavy rains and landslides caused extreme damage to the Coquihalla Highway between Hope and Merritt.
While officials originally ordered commuters to use Highway 3 to Princeton from Hope as an alternative, that area suffered a new landslide Monday afternoon and has been reduced to a single lane for essential traffic only.
Elsewhere, some roads have been reopened with qualifications, but are in no way considered repaired.
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In Port-aux-Basques, NL, major repairs are underway on many roads, including the critical Trans-Canada Highway, which has been virtually impassable due to rain-related damage.
Although the water levels have dropped, the work is just beginning. Crews are bringing in materials and heavy equipment to build new culverts, a structure that sits under roads used to channel water.
“This is not a 48-hour solution,” Transport and Infrastructure Minister Elvis Loveless said Wednesday.
“It’s a big storm, we know that, but our teams are ready for the bad weather. It is a challenge, but one that we are prepared for and hopefully in time we will be able to get the roads up and running and get back to normal. “
Experts say that when it comes to repairing infrastructure after extreme weather events, time is of the essence.
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Glenn Milner, climate risk and engineering leader at the Climate Risk Institute, told Global News that after the affected area is deemed safe, engineers must investigate what went wrong and determine how to fix it.
“Was it a support culvert under the road, or was it simply a matter of the system’s capacity being over-capacity and that caused material degradation?” he said.
“(It’s) about knowing what caused the problem, but also recognizing that these things have far-reaching consequences in the supply chain and the economy.”
Once that’s done, you can begin designing the solution, Porter explained.
If the engineers decide to lay the road in the same location, they must reinforce the terrain and structure, and find a contractor who has the resources to do the job.
“You want the contractor to be able to hit the ground as quickly as possible as soon as the design is finished,” Porter said.
“Or maybe even the designer designs the thing in stages so the contractor can build the first part even before he’s done with the overall design.”
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While this work is being done, engineers can assess whether there is an alternative route available for the movement of goods and people, Milner said.
For example, they could be local roads designated as emergency routes or sea lanes for coastal communities that can use boats for transportation.
That is what is happening in Newfoundland. With the main road to Port-aux-Basques closed, the Crown corporation that operates ferry service to the city from Nova Scotia said Thursday it will temporarily reroute the crossing to Argentia in eastern Newfoundland so that people and supplies can reach the province.
While teams work to make repairs quickly, they must also consider how to improve the product, Milner said.
“We have to find out how in these cases, when we respond and react to failure, is there an opportunity to learn and take ourselves to a higher standard?” he said.
“The whole process itself can be pretty quick, but I think it’s important to pause and also think about the weather, what really caused this failure, and look at the extreme weather event that caused it.”
The British Columbia floods put the spotlight on Canadian infrastructure. Improve them now, experts say
Porter echoed Milner’s comments, saying that engineers should design infrastructure to adapt to the climate “within 75 to 100 years.”
“If you look at what the climate will be like in 75 to 100 years, then that’s what you design so that the thing works 100 years from now and doesn’t wash out,” he said.
“If we think about it that way, we can invest today to make sure our children and grandchildren reap the rewards of that investment in their time, so they don’t suffer the way we are suffering now.”
– with archives of The Canadian Press.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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