Keeping the road above water

Colorado DOT contemplates its next move with recently repaired U.S. 34

Blog Entry December 02, 2013

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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When’s the flood?

 

That was heard back in school when you made the sorry decision to wear pants falling just short of the ankle line. Over in Colorado, transportation officials do not want to experience another day when they get caught with their pants down. The devastating flood that swept the region back in September destroyed bridges and pavements of all types, and is costing all kinds of money to reconstruct.

 

On Dec. 1, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proudly announced 27 routes met a deadline to be reopened. However, the fix was far from a permanent one, and now the Colorado Department of Transportation is trying to figure out how to survive the next great flood. Back in 1976, when the Big Thompson flood hit, the idea and goal was to make roads like U.S. 34 indestructible. However, when Mother Nature struck again over 30 years later the Superman of pavement buckled like a nerd wearing, well, floods. CDOT is determining whether it will toughen U.S. 34 again, or simply throw down a less expensive overlay.

 

Innovations have come a long way since 1976. I can confidently say this industry can build a much better road now than a few decades ago. However, exactly how much can the state of Colorado invest in U.S. 34 when it also is facing thousands of miles of repair for other stretches of roads and bridges? My guess is CDOT will find its solution somewhere in the middle, and hope the technology and techniques of today can pull U.S. 34 through a little better when the next great flood hits. As engineers, you design for bridges and pavement to withstand the most extreme of events, never knowing when, or if, they will ever happen. There may not be another flood in Big Thompson Canyon for another 100 years, and during that time U.S. 34 will most likely be completely reconstructed once or twice. Then again, raging waters could vent their anger again next summer. We just don’t know, but CDOT must prepare for the worst, and always ask itself, “When’s the flood?”

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