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How to make roads and bridges more resilient?

As Hurricane Ian makes its way up the East Coast, the state of Florida is assessing the damage the storm has inflicted on its roads and bridges. At least two major bridges appear to have been destroyed, including the Sanibel Causeway, meaning thousands of people on Sanibel Island are cut off from the mainland. Many roads are closed and a team of 100 engineers inspect other bridges.

The price to pay to rebuild all this infrastructure will be high and, with climate change, it can be difficult to prepare for a future very different from yesterday.

There are things we can do to make roads and bridges more storm resistant: build them higher off the ground, place them in places less likely to flood, and add features that absorb or deflect storms. ‘water.

“So it can be things like permeable pavement. It can be things like culverts, drainage ditches,” said Melissa Roberts of the American Flood Coalition.

But the federal government offers no incentive to do things differently in disaster reconstruction.

“By default, it rebuilds things exactly the same way it did before,” Roberts said.

And the problem is that the times before are not likely to return.

Maria Lehman is the new president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. She herself has worked on bridges and is part of the engineering firm GHD.

“Some of the things that Florida saw, I mean they saw a foot of water in 24 hours,” Lehman said. “Nothing was designed for that.”

Lehman said designing and building stronger structures may cost more, but it’s still cheaper than rebuilding after the next hurricane.

“You are going to pay me now or you are going to pay me later,” she said.

Another challenge is that people don’t always want the changes that come with resilient infrastructure. Sometimes higher roads accommodate less traffic, for example.

“Hearing that roads are getting narrower or fewer lanes makes people nervous about being able to carry on their business as they always have,” said Kyle Spencer, resilience manager for the port city of Norfolk. , Virginia.

In the short term, Norfolk is experimenting with installing sensors on its roads so that it can notify residents when one is flooded.

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