Monday, December 11, 2006

Building Major Infrastructure? Plan well.

There's a full page paid advertisement in today's paper about the Alaskan Way Viaduct (an aging elevated road that runs along Seattle's waterfront). The advertisement making the case against an elevated viaduct and for a tunnel. Think Big Dig, but is soft soil on the waterfront.

I agree with the main point: a big elevated road is a silly thing to have as the largest single features on our waterfront. If we can figure out how to get rid of it, there's views and economic development and just plain beauty to be had.

I do not think we should bury it under the waterfront. Sea level rise is almost inevitable. How much is not clear, but it wouldn't take much to stress Seattle. Has anyone done the engineering to determine how well the road would do if we buried it, and then sea level rose five feet? Or ten?

That kind of sea level rise is actually possible in the short term, although I'm still on the side that thinks it unlikely to happen in the next few years. But in our lifetimes? You bet. The current viaduct is over 50 years old. I doubt sea level will remain static between now and 2057.

Planning for other large engineering projects should take climate change into account. At least mitigate the more likely issues in advance. Pick a sea level to engineer around. Build to withstand weather extremes and more frequent storms. Make climate change part of the conversation.

No comments: