December 27, 2012

Column | Korky Koroluk

Infrastructure a 2012 focal point

The year just ending may be the year in which we finally began to realize that we need to pay more attention to our infrastructure.

We’ve known for years that our buried infrastructure needed work, but politicians quick to be photographed at the opening of a new building, aren’t as quick to pose beside a sewer pipe. And they control the money.

Federal and provincial governments allocated funds for infrastructure work, of course, and that helped. As well, the federal government has recently reaffirmed its intention to develop a long-term infrastructure plan. There are no details yet.

In September, we had the national infrastructure report card from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. To my mind, the most important thing that did was to shine a light on the need for better infrastructure management.

Korky Koroluk

Of course, when a culvert under an Ottawa expressway collapsed, creating a sinkhole that swallowed a car, we were reminded again of the importance of infrastructure management. A robot had inspected it, but missed a deficiency.

The price was the cost of an emergency repair that caused several days of traffic chaos as commuters found their usual route to and from work either closed or seriously slowed. And, of course, the poor guy who fell in with his car was left with bumps and bruises and a hefty insurance claim. Abnormal weather events were frequent enough that infrastructure is likely to be front and centre in many Canadian communities in 2013. Of course, we got another reminder when Superstorm Sandy brought havoc to New York City.

Sandy drove home the need for coastal cities to have protection from rising ocean levels caused by global warming. Those rising levels alone have caused flooding in a few places around the world, even without a major storm.

But when Sandy neared New York City, it did what all ocean traffic does: it entered the funnel-like approach that leads traffic directly to the city. Add that, and a high tide, to the higher ocean level, and disaster was inevitable.

New York City is something of a special case because of its geography, but all coastal cities are at risk and flood defences are a necessity.

Rob Andrews, a senior executive with AECOM in Los Angeles, recently said that climate-change adaptation and water security are two major global trends that are driving a lot of big projects.

He pointed out that Australia went from record-breaking drought to severe flooding and the change-over was quick. As a result, major flood-protection works have had to be reconstructed. In the United Kingdom, intense rain and flooding followed major droughts. Sewage and water systems were flooded, bringing into sharp focus the need to upgrade the protection of the systems.

In Quebec City, a new flood management system will evaluate areas that could be hit with floods. It will include the ability to monitor and control water systems in the event of a major storm.

And very recently, Michael Atkinson, president of the Canadian Construction Association, warned that preparing infrastructure to withstand climate change was part of our infrastructure challenge.

As reported by Kelly Lapointe of Daily Commercial News, Atkinson said that there is “no question” that climate-change adaptation “will be a major theme of infrastructure strategy in Canada. . . .”

A little-reported study was released recently which pulls together a lot of the individual research results of people in the field of earth-system science. Its conclusion?

The official United Nations forecasts regarding climate change have been far too conservative. It’s happening faster than anyone predicted, which is something many scientists have been saying privately for several years.

Climate change and infrastructure. If the year just ending brought focus to those two subjects, perhaps the coming year is when we might, finally, become truly serious about finding (and building) solutions.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

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