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View Diary: All Infrastructure Is Not Created Equal (284 comments)

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  •  The truth about concrete (10+ / 0-)

    No doubt concrete is more durable as a road product than asphalt; it's persistence may also have had a lot to do with the workmanship in the 30s.

    But people should also be aware: Environmentally, it is a hugely destructive material.

    Concrete is made of cement.

    Cement is generally made by (a) mining vast quantities of limestone, (b) mining vast quantities of coal, and (c) burning the coal to pulverize the limestone into powder. (A relatively small amount of additives, such as silica, also are in the mix.)

    Burning coal releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases and often heavy metals into the atmosphere. Limestone, too, typically contains sulphur which becomes SO2 in the process, as well as other impurities which are dangerous to release in such quantity.

    An increasing number of cement plants add toxic and other hazardous waste as fuel to the mix: industrial solvents, medical waste, plastics, garbage, PCB-laden dredge spoils, you name it. If it has "fuel value" to the company, and someone will pay them to burn it, they will if they can. And cement plants are not regulated as carefully as even commerical incincerators.

    Once the cement is made, it then typically is transported to concrete batch plants, where it is mixed and shipped. And then there is the actual process of laying the roads; each step means more fossil fuel use.

    The cement industry has a huge lobby which has managed to hold down a lot of legislation that would force them to evolve, and to minimize fines for noncompliance with existing weak rules.

    Now, to assess the bottom-line environmental impact of various road-building methods, one would also have to look at asphalt and other alternatives; I know less about those, and can't evaluate here which is more destructive. I might suppose that a concrete road which doesn't have to be re-done every year for 30 years is going to use less materials and waste less fuel than a shoddy one which has to be rebuilt constantly. (Some of this is by design -- make-work for DPWs which don't want to shrink their budgets, even if it means re-doing the same road over and over again.) To the extent that we will always have roads,  choices have to be made.

    But I do know that rather than burning tires for fuel in cement plants, they can be chipped and incorporated into roads and overpasses and other building projects -- and the results are generally more durable and less energy-intensive than ordinary roadways.

    Our society is also not yet fully up to speed in re-using concrete that has already been produced that often winds up in C&D landfills when buildings and other projects are demolished.

    Just thought I'd throw that in there. These materials all come from somewhere, and our focus on relentless growth (rather than quality and minimizing our footprint) often means picking the quickest and most destructive option. Let's make well-informed choices.

    "Animals are my friends. And I don't eat my friends." -- George Bernard Shaw

    by Hudson on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 07:20:31 AM PST

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    •  And while concrete roads double a road's lifetime (8+ / 0-)

      They also cost 4 or 5 times as much.  As oil depletes, auto roadways will begin to become artifacts.

      The USA needs to focus on railroad, especially fast electric passenger to ease airflight.  Done right, bullet trains could replace domestic air travel by 80%.

      To a Democrat, "democracy" means "free elections." To a Republican, "free markets."

      by XOVER on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:04:16 AM PST

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      •  I like the idea of replacing roads with rail. (7+ / 0-)

        People have lamented how hard it would be to wrest old rail back from its current "greenway" conversion.  Well hell, just use the roads.  The light rail I have experience with, in Minnesota's Twin Cities, runs along an old, straight road, Hiawatha, which (I think) has been downsized a bit to permit the trolley.

        I'm just old enough to remember what it was like before the interstate came to my part of Wisconsin.  You did have to wend slowly through cities, and in the summer, it was hard to cross the street in my little town, but so be it.  I will take that over sprawl and speeding.

        You won't have Putin's rearing head to kick around anymore.

        by rhubarb on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:13:56 AM PST

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        •  needs an integrated vision (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Hudson, rhubarb

          combining rail with Zip cars. Adopt the airline hub and spoke concept to ground transportation. Also love the idea that Paris has with regard to bicycles. As with fiber optics transportation has the "last mile" problem.

          •  Oh, NO, keepingitsraight, NOT the "hub and spoke" (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            idea -- that's how you end up with jams and delays (see the diary on air traffic control from Sunday for more).

            biofueled buses (WVO conversion diesel engines) would be good, but you'd need to set the routes up the way the NY / LA subways or the el in Chicago work: stops at convenient intervals along main lines and then 'satellite' stops out in the residential areas.

            John Edwards:"One America does the work, another America reaps the rewards. One America pays the taxes, another America gets the tax breaks."

            by BlackSheep1 on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 09:04:20 AM PST

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        •  Can we replace "light" with "mono?" (1+ / 0-)
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          I've become a fan of monorails and the thing that attracts me the most about them is the freedom from grade crossings - so much better for overlaying onto existing infrastructure.  Monorails can run on-ground and below ground but the real virtue shows when you can just bridge over streets, farms, rail yards, etc.

          Why don't you see more monorails?  Fewer people make money from monorails.  As long as Government hops in bed with vendors and contractors, the more money that flows to them, the better.  Government does not have to make design decisions that way, and that's why we need real public servants, not cash-flingers.

          •  We tried this in Seattle (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Hudson, Brooke In Seattle

            We passed an ordinance mandating a new monorail system (separate from the one built by no-longer-extant Alweg for the 1962 World's Fair) but due to a mix of bureaucratic bungling of the project and persistence from anti-monorail activists, the project was put to a revote several times and eventually killed.

            I would still love to see a monorail system built here in Seattle, but the focus (and the opposition) has shifted to light rail.

            We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.

            Now the real work begins.

            by Omir the Storyteller on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 10:58:27 AM PST

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          •  Nice point. Tnx. n/t (0+ / 0-)

            You won't have Putin's rearing head to kick around anymore.

            by rhubarb on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 12:18:53 PM PST

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        •  It wasn't that long ago (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Hudson, AJ in Camden

          that the Interstate was still being built. I remember driving from Billings, Montana to Denver a number of times in the early 80s and there was still a stretch of highway down near the Montana/Wyoming border where you had to exit I-90 and return to US 87.

          I will however also admit to being old enough that I remember traveling two- or four-lane highways peppered with Burma-Shave signs and the like. I have grown used to the indulgent look from my kids and grandkids when I tell them about this.

          We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.

          Now the real work begins.

          by Omir the Storyteller on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 10:51:59 AM PST

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        •  so do I, long term (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Hudson, rhubarb

          short-term, we can use portions of the rights of way, especially interstates and 4-lanes with a median, as places to put the rail trackage in place. As peak oil and disgust with traffic eats into the driving demand, than pavement can and should be ripped up in favor of more rail.

          "Without our playstations, we are a third world nation"-Ani DiFranco

          by NoMoreLies on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 05:55:37 PM PST

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    •  Great point, and it was also explained well (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      by George Monbiot in his book Heat: How to stop the planet from burning.

      You won't have Putin's rearing head to kick around anymore.

      by rhubarb on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:10:18 AM PST

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    •  We mix our own concrete (3+ / 0-)

      on site with special permits. It's filthy. And constructing concrete roads in an existing city is filthy. It's risk/reward. But I love my work. I have accepted that my health will suffer. If it won't something else will, right?

      I personally do not condone reusing concrete. Concrete never stops being reactive. The dust. It's horrible.

      by plok on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:35:37 AM PST

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    •  Thanks for thoughtful post (0+ / 0-)

      Agree that making cement is a very energy intensive manufacturing process.  It's not clear to me that burning tires in the cement kiln is a bad thing, however.  It replaces the amount of coal that needs to mined and would otherwise be burned to make the cement.  And coal contains mercury, which tires do not.  Also, I've seen mountains of used tires, no doubt far exceeding potential civil engineering uses such as their use in roads, etc.  I support tires in civil engineering project, but there are tons of tires remaining that have to go somewhere.  Also, can you say more on how concrete can be re-used?  Thanks

    •  Hudson, I'm curious -- do you know anything about (0+ / 0-)

      brick roads?

      We have some in Lubbock that date back to the 1920s (yes, really! The 1920s -- they were the first 'paved' streets in the city, which turned 100 years old in 2008). Where these have not been "modernized" they're still more durable than asphalt. Yes, they're noisy. Oddly, though, they don't get as slick in the rain/snow/sleet as the smoother asphalt.

      They're very costly to replace PRIMARILY because nobody knows how to build them any more. The materials compare favorably in price with a from-scratch asphalt road (not with a sealcoat/blacktop covering only, though).

      Of course, our city water system dates back to before WWII as well, and breaks in it are a huge source of trouble here.

      John Edwards:"One America does the work, another America reaps the rewards. One America pays the taxes, another America gets the tax breaks."

      by BlackSheep1 on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 09:01:31 AM PST

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