Monday, October 02, 2006

Peak Oil and Overpasses

I know it is a dangerous game to link every piece of news to peak oil. You will have to forgive me for stepping into this one. Over this past weekend there was a collapse of an overpass in Laval Quebec, a suburb north of Montreal. Two cars were flattened by the collapse killing five people. I was not surprised, have been expecting this sort of event to start occuring on a regular basis. And I expect it to be more so as we pass peak oil and start on the downslope on the other side of Hubbert's Peak.

People often point to the economic collapse of the Great Depression and say we got through that one and we'll get through the next one. Society didn't fall apart. The ubiquitous overpass is one very major difference between now and then. In this past half century the overpass has become as common as overflowing refuse containers on city streets. They are everywhere. I will be journeying to London Ontario in a week and a half and I will be driving under at least a hundred overpasses on that trip.

Canadian highway infrastructure, especially those bridges and overpasses, will be severely tested on the other side of peak oil. And the reasons are fairly simple.

* It is probable that highway maintenance will decline for lack of funds, or privatized off to the lowest bidder.
* Our weather extremes take a tremendous toll on highway infrastructure, that being one of the major reasons for our high maintenance costs. Extremes of temperature constantly expand and contract the bridge structure causing stress fractures in the concrete and even in the rebar.
* Our obsessive overuse of corroding salt on our highways takes a heavy toll, especially on bridges, overpasses, and elevated sections of highways.

If one looks at the chain of events in the Laval overpass collapse you can see these future problems dramatically. Over an hour before the collapse the roads department was called by citizens reporting chunks of concrete falling from the overpass on to the roadway. A roads crew showed up at the site, picked up the chunks of fallen concrete and left (they have since claimed that they were going to request an inspection later). An hour after the picked up those fallen pieces the whole one side of the overpass collapsed. That overpass was only 36 years old and was designed to last for sixty. And this was the second overpass collapse in the same area.

Welcome to peak oil highways.

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